Ghost walks, palimpsest, psychogeography

(cc) Julian Kucklict on Flick

As a printmaker I was/am (?) obsessed with the subject of urban ‘witnesses’, Tinsley viaduct and the cooling towers outside Sheffield being a particular favourite subject for me. I painted, drew, photographed gasometers, weaving sheds, wind turbines and other edifices, old and new, that seem to have an all-knowing presence in the urban landscape.

I keep coming across ideas that remind me of this as I explore space, place and learning. 

This article on place and walking in Foreground explores similar ideas and introduces psychogeorgraohy: The city-as-palimpsest: A primer on ‘psychogeography’. It begins, ‘When people traverse cities, they also walk over the multitude of psychological experiences of a place – spanning trauma, ecstasy, and more. But how exactly does ‘psychogeography’ inform your sense of a city?’

While these ideas are somewhat fantastical for my usual consideration of learning spaces, they do resonate with ideas that I think are important about place making, belonging and identity by acknowledging the psychogeographical dimension of space that can capture us as we form our association with places. There is something we should not dismiss about the romantic pull of places, including learning spaces, in which one senses the experience of your predecessors. For me as a student it was the feeling that other students had used the printmaking facilities before me and gone on to graduate and make their way. 

Such resonances may be found in marks left in furnture, student work framed and mounted on walls, blog posts, alumni comments, or podcast feeds of student conversations. It is partly this that drives my interest in zoning learning space – that is, having spaces dedidicated to disciplines where students and staff can build associations, identities and memories. We see the valu of this in field trips and other infirmal spaces where experience is shared. It worries me that learning spaces are so often discussed in terms of financial invrstment when real value can come from shared experiences. Inviting or allowing for poetry readings or other performances or ‘exhibitions’ or ‘happenings’ or fesrivals in the spaces we use could change the feel of our learning environments and help to create a strong sense of belonging.

I was not familiar with the word palimpsest until recently. It describes a pliable animal skin used and reused as a parchment for writing. Its reuse creates a patina-like quality over time and with each new writing there is a strong sense of the act building upon and adding to a rich legacy.

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Studio for All – ecologically inclusive

I have met with a colleague today who comes from a studio-based discipline and is thinking through how she will engage her international students. Immediately I find two fascinating dimensions here – the studio as an inherently inclusive space i.e. one that is designed for student-led co-operation. Second, if we are talking about internationalisation, the need to explore its significance. For example, is our interest about,

  • international professional standards
  • internationalising the curriculum
  • inclusive curriculum
  • distance learning
  • student exchange and placement opportunities
  • collaborative provision
  • intercultural learning and experience

In this case I think we were talking about several aspects of internationalisation; however, we agreed that there is a danger of problematising the international student even where the ‘international dimension’ introduces specific experiential and practical matters. Instead, we noted that a more useful way of thinking about a learning space, in particular, the studio, is to adopt an ‘inclusivity for all’ outlook by adopting a learning ecologies philosophy. In this way, we appreciate that every student has their own history, present and future. and that a Studio for All philosophy is fundamentally inclusive. A studio space is one that is ideally co-operative and challenging, acknowledging that each student brings their experience and their aspirations to

While I have been thinking that a Studio for All philosophy is primarily interested in disciplinarity, the conversation this morning has made me aware that it needs to fundamentally consider inclusivity. This has led me to see an ideal studio space as being co-operative and challenging, one that acknowledges how each student brings their experience and their aspirations to the space and that, potentially, this brings benefits for all. Further, this reflects the social diversity they will experience in professional life beyond university.

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The future ain’t what it used to be – looking at key drivers for change in HE up to 2020 #uogapt

I was invited to be a panel member at the University of Greenwich’s APT 2017 conference in lieu of George Siemens who had been scheduled as keynote, but who was unable to make the journey over from Texas due to illness. Myself, Helen Beetham, Viv Rolfe and Liz Cable addressed the theme ‘The future ain’t what it used to be: inventing and re-imagining higher education practice’. That’s the sort of title I really like – whatever you say, tell us how things will be different.

And then we were joined by George Siemens, via Skype who became a ‘big brother’ figure to the panel, looming above us. Quite fitting.

George Siemens and the panel at APT

Thanks to Dom Pates for tweeting this picture

I prepared some notes prior to the panel and I have written these up to share here.

If I look ahead, reflecting on the first iteration of the TEF in part, but mostly looking at the student experience of learning at university, I believe we need to rethink and be clear about the changing purpose of a higher education. The drivers for this are the TEF, but more importantly, the driver of uncertainty around the future destinations for students and a graduate’s need for resilience and agility preoccupy me. Since the massification of higher education and the introduction of fees following the Dearing report (1997)  [see The Guardian’s 10 years on summary], the employability discourse has become omnipotent. While some academics may be scathing of this, I am not. However, I take a very broad view of what it means, noting the benefit from an employability focus for developing graduate aspirations and capabilities for lifelong and lifewide independent learning.

I would argue that the purpose of a higher education requires educators and students to pay much greater attention to:

  • the experience or learning,
  • developing our learning and lifelong identity,
  • developing learning habits, and
  • having the space to learn safely.

These foci affect student futures more than the epistemological knowledge around which we tend to design curricula, often superficially engaging students through the driver of assessment. We must look at how we challenge students through engaging pedagogies so that they become fluent in deeply interrogating knowledge and confident in interpreting and applying findings from their enquiry. In other words, excellent teaching is about developing excellent learning.

The name of the TEF suggests we need to value excellent teaching much more, but one of the lessons from the TEF (nb: the 10 lessons from the TEF from the Chair of the TEF panel is being updated at the time of posting) is that we need to understand and focus on student outcomesnot inputs such as teaching or ‘the content’ we give students.

That means, as academics, we need to understand what excellent learning means and how we can develop learning capability in our students. Learning capabilities, I argue, are not left to key skills developers, but fostered through the learning environments that academics construct pedagogically. Authentic learning and situated learning strategies allow us as academics to accommodate our students’ lifewide and lifelong learning needs, developing their expectations, so they develop the agility they now need through life.

However, generally, we are not set up to do this. At this conference, with its attention on technology, we can look to social media for learning for an example of the changing environment within university and life beyond.

Social media makes networked communality explicit. It empowers each one of us to ‘place make’. Social media gives us agency. When we use it wisely, we become responsible for ourselves and others. In a higher education learning space, we can develop our familiarity with networked living to become critical, digital placemakers. By developing good digital habits and ‘ways of being’ we become agile and responsible citizens, able to respond with confidence and authority to professional and personal opportunities and challenges.

However, this requires a step change – not just academic innovation around the edges. We need to develop student and academic expectations to create a shift from the relative safety of a knowledge and assessment paradigm to a capabilities paradigm in which knowledge is scrutinised by the learner through its critical application. If we can work out how to make this shift in our teaching and our infrastructure, we can begin to develop confident and agile graduates who are able to refresh their learning independently and socially throughout life.

This is partly about reframing employability to accommodate digital nomadicism through having good learning habits – employers want employees who can adapt, and graduates need to have a sense of their greater autonomy over their futures. Digital nomadicism suggests more of our students will be their own employers in the future (I am not sure if ‘self-employment’ will remain an adequate way of describing this as future life patterns and motivations are changing so much).

So, educators and students need to become much more engaged in the idea that a typical undergraduate experience is one that equips the graduate for uncertain futures by creating safe spaces within university to develop resilience and a student’s own sense of self.

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Studio for all #uogapt

I studied as an artist in a studio for five years. During this immersive experience in the 1990s I learnt about the role of the studio as a place and context for learning. Perhaps the strongest outcome of being an art student for me is best understood as that ‘way of being’ that the artist develops. Not the whimsical airs and affectations of the stereotype, but that way of seeing, thinking, experiencing the world and of valuing the aesthetic, and the meaning that comes from making through collaboration and co-operation. Donald Schön argued that studio-based learning can serve as a way for all students to learn to participate in the cultural practices of their discipline (Schön, 1985; 1987). The premise for my workshop last week at Greenwich was that studio-based disciplines produce creative students who excel in conceptual thinking. Furer, that studio ‘ways of learning’ can deliver immersive learning experiences for all. Conceptual knowledge and thinking, together with metacognitive self-knowledge, defines graduateness for me. I find it bizarre that often in higher education we tend to anchor our pedagogies to factual and procedural knowledge, seeing conceptual and metacognitive learning, not as a starting point, but as a desirable outcome enjoyed by the few. The studio inverts this, taking a need-to-know and just-in-time philosophy to technical matter. The studio does demand technical and epistemological fluency, but this comes through committing to and revealing our ontological fluency. First ‘we are’, then ‘we become’. On first look this is audacious, on second look it is focused and challenging.

The studio I used last week at #uogapt (Academic Practice & Technology Conference) was constructed by me and my participants through our collective commitment to using and exploring studio pedagogy. (It was really a classroom, but because we called it a studio it was a studio. ‘C’est n’est pas une pipe’!). What this means is ‘studio’ is much an attitudes as it is either a pedagogy or a space.

I knew that I needed to offer and explore these ideas about Studio for All with others because has been preoccupying me, while the 20 or so people who walked through the door to join me did so through their own volition, having their own reasons. That’s all a classroom cohort can know: we are here, and we each have good reason for being here. A learning space is not a learning space until it is shaped by the intentions and actions of the people using it. I immediately made this collective commitment real by involving everyone in moving four desks slightly to the right! It was a minor exertion, but a significant one. Find a way, any way, to get students to own the space! This action took less than 30 seconds, it involved strangers in introducing themselves, demonstrating their commitment to being there, and then co-operating in a trivial albeit important task. This allowed me to thank the participants and acknowledge their input before we had really started.

I was excited to be running a workshop on ‘Studio for All’ and had already had great fun with playing with the ideas by designing the session around the theme of Vorticism and hyperbole. I have conducted a literature review this year on studio-based learning and from this, I delighted in creating a manifesto in the spirit of Wyndham Lewis’ hyperbole – Blast! I felt the use of hyperbole would bring a note of eccentric humour to our experiment and allow people to ridicule (and thereby reconstruct) the spaces with which they are most familiar in their day-to-day practice.

The idea of a manifesto is the perfect device for hyperbole. It is positively unacademic. Therefore, its utter pretension establishes a safe space for critical exploration of the ideas it projects in an academic context – we have no need to respect it as anything other than a collection of superficial statements, each with some truthful essence, and therefore a fantastical stimulus for imaginative conversation.

The workshop involved participants selecting two ideas each from the manifesto (a collection of cards) and discussing the worth of their selections with peers. Each person or small group was then invited to create a work of art in a medium of their choosing to convey their idea of reconstructed learning space. At a mid-point I invited ‘espionage and collusion!’ – in reality, a tour of the studio to review the work in progress of other participants. Inspired by peers, during the last 20 minutes we mounted an exhibition and discussed the art works using a peer crit method: one minute for artist clarification and peer feedback.

In subsequent posts I will explore dimensions of the manifesto and beyond that the wider implications for adopting a Studio for All philosophy.

The workshop, involving participants from diverse discplines, demonstrated how the studio is a suitable and productive learning space for anyone. I congratulate the participants who were open minded and curious, willing to try out the unfamiliar communal space. Each person was successful, developing new dimensions to their own practice, evidence of which I hope to see at next year’s conference.

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Invitation to the Revolution! Subversion! Collusion! #uogapt #vortexspace


On Tuesday we will invent a new world inspired by Vorticists and Dynamism. We will explore ‘Studio for All!’ by deconstructing what we know about learning spaces and reconstructing a connected hybrid learning space. Wherever you are I invite you to use the hashtag #vortexspace to tell us or show us what an ideal learning space should be as we rethink spaces for learning. Images, poetry, ideas and hyperbole are needed!

My workshop at APT 2017 (#uogapt) will celebrate hyperbole! It will use subversion and collusion as pedagogies to open co-operative imagination.

Playing with ruination and destruction causes us to emotionally engage in a process of re-evaluating what is essential and what is obstructive. This is what Wyndham Lewis was doing when he published the Vorticist manifesto in the form of two issues of Blast! in 1914. It was this exclamation of frustration with the world that changed British Art and which contributed to a global shift that saw painting sitting in the boundary spaces of realism and abstraction.

In our workshop we will exclaim our frustration with tradition, and curse its limitations, to imagine a future learning space for all.

We will exclaim,

  • Ransack the Industrial Age edifices that have plagued our built pedagogy!
  • Delight in revealing the wonders of borderlands as we explore and cross boundaries!
  • Discover artists and admire their subversion!
  • Connect and form new global allegiances!
  • Construct a new REAL world of learning!
  • Think in and around the edges!

We will use our networks and I invite you to inspire us!




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Loud Quiet Loud #SHU_LT

I am having a quiet moment. My train just got cancelled and it’s an hour until the next one.

My initial commuter frustration has subsided. It’s been a long adrenalin-fueled day at our Learning & Teaching Conference (#SHU_LT), following a long day yesterday where I was presenting at Nottingham Trent’s TILT conference, and now I’m looking ahead to Tuesday where I am running a workshop at Greenwich #uogapt entitled “Visions of the revolution: how studio pedagogy reinvents the higher education learning space” which is exciting me. Later next week I am presenting at the University of Sheffield. All of these workshops are different and therefore each one presents a challenge I have given myself intentionally in order to explore ideas and hypothese I have about active learning and belonging in studio-based learning environments. The workshop format, interestingly, has become the only way I can reconcile my commitment to active learning and co-production in a conference context.

The knowledge outcomes in such settings are mostly self-knowledge. I always theoretically underpin my workshops, but I regard my job to be catalytic, creating a space for individuals and participants to generate knowledge and ideas that will hopefully haunt and inspire.

So, in my unexpected quiet moment, I am reflecting on the loud, loud day I have had chairing a large multi-participant forum and then my workshop on Active Learning Classrooms (featuring a long cast of co-presenters, but especially my colleague Ian Glover). We’ve been playing with whiteboards, talking about stand up learning, navigating concept maps, making lists and sorting lists, and ensuring everyone is talking, writing and drawing at the same time. Well I had fun (and perhaps the focus on revolutionary space for APT is begining to make sense)!

In the noise today, as we collected our thoughts in a final whiteboard activity, one of the workshoppers proposed that making quiet space is part of a good learning environment. Yes, there is something in that. For the loud, active and excited space to work we need to know that there is a quiet space that goes with it.

I will take that into next week’s revolution!

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