Take5 #16 How to enjoy being an academic: Collegiality as Positive Practice

Sandra Abegglen, Tom Burns & Sandra Sinfield

This #Take5 blog focusses on three academics working collaboratively in their learning, teaching and research practice: as a way of helping us to better enjoy our time as practitioners.

Context

All three of us work in UKHE, in a post-1992 University with a diverse student body from non-traditional backgrounds[1]. Our job descriptions vary, with TB and SS in staff development and SA as a course leader in Education; we are one full time and two fractional with heavy workloads[2]. Our institution has been through radical reconstruction, including a merger, the institution and then modification of AWAM[3] (Academic Work Allocation Model) and now, of course, the coming of TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). In common with many staff across the HE sector we experience constant pressure with little time for research and writing. Our response was to work more closely together, co-mentoring and co-writing to sustain our energy and our enjoyment of teaching.

How it started

Before the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching became completely staff facing in our new Centre for Professional and Educational Development (CPED), we had set up a module partnership where we shared our learning and teaching practice – and also our students. SA ran (and still runs) a Peer Mentoring in Practice module whose students mentored TB/SS students on Becoming an Educationalist. As we piloted our students through their tricky first year experiences, supported by those second year students, we discussed the what, why and how of our praxes: our ontologies and our epistemologies. From this emerged our first paper (Abegglen et al. 2014), and a determination to model collegiate academic practice to our students within and across our modules[4].  Even though our job titles and foci changed, we have continued to find ways to collaborate; to be collegiate.

How it works

Academia itself is a complex dance in complex landscapes of practice, navigating multiple tensions and meaning (Wenger-Trayner 2014). We discovered that co-mentoring and writing together, like cooking or dancing, required trust and continuous dialogue: ideas need to simmer and bubble before they are ready (Elbow 1998). Our writing relationship became a place of trust and oscillated and oscillates between the social and the personal, offering a space for our own academic identity-construction in this time of super-complexity and rapid HE change.

What we like about the way that we work together is that anyone one of us can suggest an idea for innovation – or share a reflection on current practice – or discuss a new approach or theory. An idea for a new paper emerges – and a draft then circulates – which we all add to, modify, edit and amend. The continuous writing/thinking circle provides intense moments of thought and engagement – mini-writing retreats – stolen from the busy working day.

This co-mentoring and co–writing has surfaced friendship, communication and support; we have wrestled with time and against time – but always supporting each other. We like working together – and from this (vaguely transgressive) behaviour has emerged our quite healthy academic output (e.g. Abegglen et al. 2015).

Our advice to others would be to set up similar support/writing/practice circles: to offer a resource, a helping hand and sounding board to each other; to make time for that which makes our work so enjoyable: thinking about ways to further interest, engage and stretch our students – and in the process to really enjoy being academics in these ‘interesting’ times.

Spaces to take your articles and reflections to?

Try ALDinHE: The ALDinHE Conference (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/events/hull17.html) and Journal (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/) are excellent places to take reflections about empowering academic practice.

Try #tlcwebinars: You might want to work up your ideas into a professional development session – and offer a Teaching and Learning Conversation (TLC) Webinar. The TLC Webinars are offered monthly via Manchester Metropolitan University in association with the Universities of Northampton, Salford, Surrey, Suffolk, Sheffield Hallam and London Metropolitan (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/about/).

By the way – the next TLC is on Tuesday 13th December, 12.00-13.00 on ‘Using Social Media to create a sense of belonging in students’ – and delivered by our colleague, Danielle D’Hayer (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/using-social-media-for-belonging-and-bonding/).

#Take5 blog: And finally – you might want to offer us a reflective blog post on your practice to share. Typically our blog posts are anything from 300-1000 words – and we are interested in any area of teaching, learning and assessment practice. Send your ideas for posts to t.burns@londonmet.ac.uk or s.sinfield@londonmet.ac.uk – we look forward to hearing from you very soon!

References

Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2015). Voices from the margins; Narratives of learning development in a Digital Age. The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 1(1).

Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2014). Disrupting learning landscapes: Mentoring, engaging, becoming. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning. London, 9, pp.15-21.

Elbow, P. (1998, 2nd Edition). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford UP.

QS Top Universities (2013, 10th Edition). Worldwide university rankings, guides & events. Retrieved from http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings

Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice: Recent developments in social learning theory, in Association for Learning Development in Higher Education. ALDinHE 2014: Learning development spaces and places. University of Huddersfield, 14-16 April.

Ziker, J. (2014). The long lonely job of homo academicus. Retrieved from https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/

End Notes

[1] Our HEI comes 18th in the QS World University Rankings for the international diversity of its student body (10th edition, 2013).

[2] Viz. Ziker (2014): ‘On average, our faculty participants worked 61 hours per week. That is 50 percent more than a 40-hour workweek’.

[3] AWAM: Academic Work Allocation Model – where all 1492 of an academic’s annual hours were micro-managed – as opposed to the old HE model, where FT academics were allocated 550 teaching hours – and had some control over the rest of their time. Whilst AWAM no longer formally exists – we have defined teaching and overall working hours in which everything we do needs to fit regardless.

[4] Acknowledging that the formal education landscape traversed by our students is hostile, often alien and typically judgemental, we decided to take an embedded approach to the ‘enhancement of practice’ to develop student apprehension of the codes and practices of HE in authentic ways. Thus in the year 2014-15, alongside an embedded ‘blogging to learn’ project, we also stated as an aim in our Module Monitoring Logs that we intended develop and model collegiate practice to highlight to students a more positive side of university culture and learning in general.

#Take5 No.15: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations

TLC: The Best Teaching and Learning Conversations

http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/flex/tlc.php

Happy new academic year! This year, #Take5 is celebrating MMU’s Teaching and Learning Conversations (TLC). These free, open online conversations offer an exciting informal cross-institutional collaboration to provide joint CPD opportunities for everybody teaching and/or supporting learning in Higher Education.

Manchester Metropolitan University with London Metropolitan University, Northampton, Surrey, Suffolk and Sheffield Hallam universities are organising these monthly Webinars to bring together colleagues from different disciplines, institutions and countries to engage in Teaching and Learning Conversations.

Together, we will discuss and debate a variety of current teaching and learning topics in a series of monthly webinars which will be a great opportunity to reflect on our practice but also share good practice and find out what is happening beyond our own institutional walls in the more global HE landscape.

All webinars are open to the wider community to join and will be advertised locally at participating institutions but also via social media channels. Please feel free to share the link to the TLC programme and individual webinars with others who might also be interested. Have look at the programme below, and read the instructions on how to participate.

TLC now has its own blog where you can find more information about each Conversation – and where links to recordings of previous sessions will be flagged up.

Come to the Next TLC:

Using poetry in teaching #TLCwebinar with Dr Sam Illingworth, join us on the 18 Oct, 1.30pm UK time

In this interactive session, Sam who is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University, will discuss how poetry can be used as a facilitatory tool to explore a variety of subjects in higher education. Further details and information about Sam can be found on the TLC website at: http://wp.me/p6HUdF-7F

Joining the conversation:

Simply follow this link http://mmu.adobeconnect.com/tlc/ and enter as a guest by typing your name, institution and country into the name field and clicking on the “Join Meeting” button.

Whether or not you have previously participated in a webinar or online activity using Adobe Connect we advise that you make sure that you do some checking and preparation in advance. Check your set-up and connection here. You may also find our Adobe Connect Webinar Participant Guide useful to print out in advance of the session. We really hope that you will be able to join for what should be a lively and highly interactive TLC.

We are really looking forward to discussing poetry with Dr Sam Illingworth and all of you.

#Take5 #14: The best way to SLOW down and focus?

Close your eyes and relax…

Sam Aston and Helena Ross from The University of Manchester, have been focussing on wellbeing and meditation to help students calm down, relax and focus. Here in this #Take5 blogpost they share their techniques and strategies – and invite us to share our practices with them.

Sam Aston is a Teaching and Learning Librarian working in the Learning Development Team at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at The University of Manchester Library. She works on My Learning Essentials to deliver skills support and is currently applying for senior fellowship of the HEA and conducting a research project on academic skills expectations of transition students as they move into HE. You can find her on Twitter @manclibrarian

Helena Ross is a full time student studying sociology at Manchester and is a member of the student team the Library employs. The team work on a number of different projects alongside permanent staff, examples of this are collecting survey data from students, recording podcasts for My Learning Essentials and assisting with events across the Library to name a few.  

Close your eyes and relax…

In response to recent talk about the value of slowing students down to allow them to rest and reflect, we thought about what we do to support students here at the University of Manchester Library. Wellbeing features strongly as a strand within My Learning Essentials (MLE) programme of skills. MLE works with partners in The University’s Counselling Service to deliver sessions as part of the overall development programme. Throughout the year Counselling delivers sessions entitled ‘Calm your brain/learn to concentrate’, ‘Making the most of your mind’ and ‘Challenging unhelpful thinking habits’ and they are well attended.

This week, exams have started at The University of Manchester. Students are feeling the pressure building up to perform to the best of their abilities and this can distort their focus. During the exam period we dedicate more time to the pastoral care of our students, offering ‘Calm your brain and have a croissant’ sessions, acknowledging the fact that we operate in a 24-hour building and that students should have breakfast to get themselves off to the best start.

During this time we will often ask students to sit and meditate at the beginning of the workshops that we facilitate. For three to four minutes we ask the students to close their eyes and to focus on nothing but their breathing whilst relaxing their bodies. Students have responded well to this, and, though they look a little surprised, when asked they usually join in.

Another way that we promote mindfulness is using the MUSE headbands (http://www.choosemuse.com/) which are a helpful way to teach mindfulness meditation techniques. They allow you to work through progressively more challenging exercises at your own pace and record your progress, helping to build confidence and gain a better understanding of how to calm your brain.

While the headbands and iPads are an exciting showcase of the new technology that students can access through the Learning Commons, with practice students can use the meditation exercises they teach independently, whenever they need. While headbands allow students to practise the techniques and give a better understanding of how mindfulness helps the brain, the meditation exercises themselves can be beneficial in all kinds of situations from sleeping soundly to gathering your thoughts in an exam. Most of the exercises are only a couple of minutes long, making them a suitable choice for students who don’t feel as if they have the time to attend a full-length meditation session (these people are also likely to be those in most need of relaxation techniques!) and can even fit into the short breaks recommended for productivity by techniques such as Pomodoro.

There is no one ‘type’ of student who will particularly benefit from MUSE or the meditation workshops – after all, stress is one of the most universal issues that students deal with in university. Short mindfulness breaks can be just as useful in helping students who are disorganised and who struggle with procrastination as they can be in encouraging those who overwork themselves to take time out when they need it! 

We are sure that there is more that we could be doing and we would be really interested to hear from others about their approaches to supporting the wellbeing of students or staff.

 

Take5 #13: The best way of being creative?

To coincide with a week-long run of #creativeHE facilitated by Norman Jackson –  16-22 April 2016 – we are posting a #Take5 from Norman – asking us to join in a conversation about creativity in the disciplines. Join in the conversation in Google+ here:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110898703741307769041

#Where Does Creativity Reside in the Discipline?

Surveys of academics/faculty in different disciplines (1) reveal that sites for creative thinking and action appear to be available in most aspects of disciplinary practice. Sites for creativity can be connected through the idea of disciplinary inquiry and problem solving. They can also be connected to Dellas and Gaier’s (2) concept of creativity ‘the desire and ability to use imagination, insight, intellect, feeling and emotion to move an idea from one state to an alternative, previously unexplored state’. This is fundamentally a process we call ‘development’ and I think the idea of development incorporates all the thinking and actions that enable us to bring imagination into concrete existence (3).

Question: This is the list of things academics in different disciplines considered to be associated with being creative? WHAT DO YOU THINK? WHAT’S MISSING? Can you illustrate how these things work together in concrete examples of creativity in disciplinary practice?

Creativity in the Disciplines
Being original – is understood as creating something new and useful to the discipline. For most academics this is embodied in the processes and products of research many of whom are active contributors. The idea is also connected to invention and innovation. For example in history this could mean: new approaches to solving historical problems; new techniques to gather and analyse data; new approaches to validate evidence; new interpretations of evidence; new forms of history and new forms of communicating historical information.

Making use of imagination – is about using mental models in disciplinary thinking. It is a source of inspiration, stimulates curiosity and sustains motivation. It generates ideas for creative solutions and facilitates interpretation in situations which cannot be understood by facts or observations alone. Disciplinary problems and concerns provide an essential context for the use of imagination.

Finding and thinking about complex problems – the engine of academic creativity is intellectual curiosity – the desire to find out, understand, explain, prove or disprove something. Curiosity leads academics to find questions that are worth answering and problems that are worth solving.

Making sense of complexity, synthesising, connecting and seeing relationships – Because working with complex problems often involves working with multiple and incomplete data sets, the capacity to synthesise, make connections and see new patterns and relationships is important in sense-making (interpreting and creating new mental models) and working towards better understandings and possible solutions to difficult problems.

Communication – the communication of ideas, knowledge and deeper understandings are important dimensions of creativity in the discipline. The symbolic language and tools and vehicles for communicating are all part of the disciplinary heritage. Story telling is an important dimension of communication. Disciplinary cultures are largely based on writing using the conceptual and symbolic language and images that have been developed to communicate complex information. Story-telling and story-writing are important sites for academics’ creativity.

Resourcefulness – in the professional disciplines many roles involve solving difficult problems requiring ingenuity and resourcefulness. For example, a social worker or medic might need all their resourcefulness to access and acquire the resources to solve a client or patient’s problem.

Do join in the conversation via #creativeHE: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/110898703741307769041

Sources
1Jackson, N.J. and Shaw, M. (2006) Developing subject perspectives on creativity in higher education, in N.J. Jackson et al (eds) Developing Creativity in Higher Education: an imaginative curriculum, London and New York: Routledge 89-108 Available on-line athttp://www.normanjackson.co.uk/creativity.html
2 Dellas, M. and Gaier, E.L. (1970) Identification of Creativity in the Individual Psychological Bulletin 73, 55-73
3 Jackson N J (2016) Introduction Creative Academic Magazine April 2016

Take5 #12: The best way of supporting student research?

Generating Research Conversation with “The Wheel”

Terry Elliot, Western Kentucky University Writing Project, February 2016

I have a semester-long research “thing” that all of my students take part in. I call it a “thing” because it could range from a standard research paper (their default setting I fear) to an extended informational blog to ebooks to collaborative handbooks.  The purpose of this early assignment is to get them thinking first about their personal and disciplinary passions AND connecting those with their immediate community in the classroom.  Passion and connection.

I also introduce a really effective sharing technique that I call the “wheel”. The wheel allows students to get up, move around, converse, and then sit back down to reflect.  I love how it seems to be a whole activity, a gestalt.  The “wheel” can be easily adapted for other purposes.  In fact the next assignment is for participants to reduce their original list of ten to five topics that they then turn into research questions.  Rinse and repeat.

Here is the Friday assignment:

  1. Bring 10 ideas/concepts/things that you are curious about to class on Friday. Make sure at least five of them are from your major/discipline. These are topics. It doesn’t yet matter that they are too big, too small or just right.
  2. Make sure you the tutor, as facilitator, have ten of these ideas/concepts/things as well.
  3. Count off students around the room as either “one” or “two“. Have the “ones” form a loose circle in the center of the room. Have them face outward from the center. Get the “twos” to pair off with the “ones“.
  4. Participants introduce themselves to each other.
  5. The twos will tell the ones about their listicle of ten items.
  6. The facilitator can either participate or listen from the side and take notes (or not). When the facilitator senses completion between the ones and twos (plus a little extra time) she announces, “Switch clockwise.”
  7. Repeat the conversations until the participants return to their original positions.
  8. Repeat the “wheel” with the inner ring rotating and telling their listicle of ten.
  9. After completion sit closely together (or standing) do a “post-mortem”. I practice ultimate time here. I ask the question and wait until I have a response.

Here are some questions I use:

  1. any discoveries made?
  2. which one of all the items did you like the best? explain.
  3. which one of your own items did you like the most? explain.
  4. did you drop any items for consideration as a research topic?
  5. how did you share your list?
  6. did you get better at sharing your list? explain.
  7. are there items you might cross off your list after this exercise? what are they?

This is messy, but it is all about the idea that students are part of a research community who can help each other. I always leave time for some social dynamics. I have five or more students in each of my classes who are not native speakers.  This allows them to practice speaking and the repetition allows them to feel more and more comfortable as they work with their classmates. Often students discover what not to research. Others find something else that someone else shared seems to fit their needs. By keeping the exercise as open as possible, keeping the initial conditions simple, then I believe that the resulting mess can be extremely productive.

Anything here can be adapted. Participants can be facilitators. You can vary the tempo of the “switching”.  In other words, it can be a game with no definite outcome in mind.  Whatever comes will come.  If it fails, ask them why it fails. In fact make sure you include time for an exit slip at the end for feedback for making it better and make sure you use that feedback to begin the exercise the next time you use it.

I love this technique. It can be fast or slow.  It can be interrupted or completed. It is adaptable. It gets students moving forward and ‘keeping on’.  And best of all you can move the class toward community and conversation.  Always be connecting is my mantra and this little tool is a happy way to do that.  But remember the advice of weightlifters:  all lifting programs work until they don’t.  They will come to view this as routine if you use it willy nilly.  Make sure you vary it or better yet have other ‘music’ in your conductor’s repertoire to mix it up.

Terry Elliot says: I am a father, a husband, a farmer and a teacher. I have taught K-12 for ten years and university for ten years. My areas of interest are digital rhetoric and composition, tech pedagogy and connectivist MOOCs. I have been a tech liaison for the Western Kentucky University Writing Project, a facilitator for three years for the National Writing Project’s CLMOOC, and a tech advisor for my university’s technology advisory group. I have several online presences including my blog here: http://impedagogy.com/wp/  as well as on Twitter: @telliowkuwp or @tellio . My current interests include online research methods, RSS technology, multimodal rhetoric, and social annotation.

 

Take5 #11: What makes a great exam?

CREATING ACTIVE LEARNING IN EXAMS

Inspired by October 30, 2015 iad4learnteach blog with permission from Simon Bates.

In our last Take5 blog, we looked at what makes a great lecturer – this post explores what makes a great exam.

Simon Bates is Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning and Academic Director for CTLT at UBC Vancouver. He has spent time re-thinking classroom practice – AND he has also designed a new two-stage exam that includes both individual and group elements – and that he argues better models real world issues with which graduates will have to engage – and that in the process offers students a more authentic and meaningful exam experience.

Simon’s model has been implemented in over 140 courses and across a range of faculties. In the two-stage exam, students take an individual conventional exam in the first two thirds of the exam time – and a final group exam in the last third. The group exam draws on the same set of questions as the individual exam, although there may be more challenging questions.  Typically the individual exam is worth 85% of the final mark, with the remaining 15% allocated to the group exam.

Although this may seem a strange process on first reading, Bates points out that the two stage exam is a logical extension of the kinds of active learning methods that are firmly embedded in our teaching practice: group discussions, peer-to-peer- and problem-based learning.  Moreover, they turn exams away from assessment of learning to assessment as learning – and they model the problem solving that we engage in in the real world far better than an individual exam ever could.

The group exam is a noisy, dynamic process, where practically every student contributes. The stakes are high and discussions can be intense.  Perhaps the most striking thing Simon reported about the group exam is that afterwards the students leave with smiles on their faces – they are happy!

The mark awarded for each group exam tends to be higher than the marks scored in the individual exam, so the two stage exam process represents a grade boost for most students.  For about 5% of students the individual exam marks are higher than the mark awarded to their group.  In these cases UBC awards the student the mark scored in the individual exam.  This ensures that the marks for the group exam can never be used to penalise students.

What are the advantages of this system?

In this model, the exam becomes a learning experience instead of a measurement activity. In the discussions, students have to explain reasons for their choices – they have to argue and make cases for their points of view. There is a celebration that peer-to-peer learning occurs in the exam. There’s the opportunity, too, for all students to contribute.  And there’s a prevailing sense that the students like this model – it’s a logical extension of the kind of group-based learning they’ve become used to in the classroom and they’re aware that it’s an opportunity to boost their grades.  And it’s a great learning opportunity providing immediate feedback at a moment when they actually care about it.

And the disadvantages

Importantly, it’s only something that can work where students are already used to working in groups.  If more traditional teaching methods have been employed in the course, with little or no learning through collaboration and discussion, then the group exam is unlikely to find favour.

The dynamics of the group may be an issue, as with all group work, the process can be disrupted by a domineering student or participants who are not pulling their weight. It could be easy for students to get side-tracked or not manage the time or tasks well. It could be challenged on accessibility and inclusivity: how can students with different needs, the requirements for extra time or for quiet spaces to work, be accommodated, for example?

Arguably the pros outweigh the cons.  And research with the students seems to add weight to this.  In open-ended questions about the process, the positive comments exceeded the negatives by four to one.  Students appreciated the discussions and the opportunity to learn why their original answers were wrong or right. They liked approaching the questions from new perspectives and, of course, the opportunity to enhance their grades.  On the negative side they struggled with coming to a consensus about the answer, and with managing the time. They also struggled if there were knowledge gaps in the groups.

And finally

The two stage exams seem like a logical extension to the kinds of active learning that have become so important during class time.  They shift us away from a situation where students take an exam in order to get a grade, towards a process where learning and engagement takes place as part of the exam itself. Simon argues that they are a very efficient method of assessment and very easy to implement. Indeed, after hearing about Simon’s practice, it seems strange that we have not already thought about how to make exams more active and interactive.  If you are interested in developing your assessment practices – do consider enrolling on CELT’s MAF module.

About the ideas man

Simon Bates is Academic Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of British Columbia. Prior to that he worked at the University of Edinburgh where he was Professor of Physics Education, and Dean for Learning and Teaching in the College of Science and Engineering.  

Going Further

In CELT we offer the Managing the Assessment and Feedback Process (MAF) module as part of our MALTHE – and as a standalone CPD course. It is a creative and interesting module, exploring assessment of, for and as learning – and we argue that it is possible to design assessments that are authentic, engaging and purposeful… Typically, no one tends to explore how to make the exam process itself more meaningful – and that is one reason why Simon Bates’ engaging blog on exam practice caught our eye.

Take5_Post6: Are you frustrated with education only for employment?

In our last post we suggested that you had a look at Hybrid Pedagogy’s #moocmooc on Critical Pedagogy. This week they are discussing the limitations of an education system totally geared to employment – and ask whether it is possible to create educational alternatives. This is what they say:
MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy is a six-week exploration of critical pedagogy. During this fourth week of MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy (MMCP), we will be discussing Jeffery Shantz’s essay, “Spaces of Learning: The Anarchist Free Skool” (chapter 7) in Anarchist Pedagogies and considering the impulse to dissent as seen in Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience.” Feel free to read as much or as little of these selections as you are able. We promise there will be no reading quizzes.
Schedule of Events:
• Wednesday, February 11 at 5:00 pm EST – #MOOCMOOC Twitter chat
• Friday, February 13 at 8:00 pm EST – live, digital roundtable featuring the author of this week’s reading, Jeff Shantz.
• Ongoing – Participant blog posts, casual conversation, and questions shared on the community hashtag #moocmooc.
________________________________________

Critical pedagogy asserts that learning is an act of freedom, the practice of becoming free. And, yet, the education system, of which we are all products (and which many of us continue to participate in), is a highly regulated and structured environment. Students, teachers, support staff, and administrators all lack the personal autonomy they deserve and are therefore often limited in their actions. Anarchist educators, working both within and beyond the formal education system, resist these limitations, seeking to maximize personal freedom and autonomy.
This is no easy task.
The current shift in education toward an emphasis on job training and employable skills interferes with the practice of critical analysis. It perpetuates the myth of an American meritocracy based off formal credentials. Young people are told that a college degree, not critical faculties and autonomy, is the key to success; and this “success” is defined in terms of capital, the value one’s life contributes to GDP. Popular discourse and reform efforts dismiss the effects of race, class, and gender on one’s future prospects. Without the crucial space to practice critical analysis, many students are left without the skills necessary to challenge and disrupt the oppressive reality. Free Skools and other counter-cultural institutions that engage in anarchist practices often try to reskill participants in these often forgotten areas of study.
While contemporary schools prepare students to productively contribute to the current social structure, anarchist learning promotes critical engagement with society. The former builds social stability while the latter encourages dissent, critique coupled with direct action. Many anarchists contend that to comply with a broken system — one founded largely on race, class, and gender disparity — is to strengthen it. We must act in defiance to the systems which oppress us, and in doing so, establish radically different ways of structuring (or unstructuring) society.
This is possible through anarchist educational practices. According to cultural critic and radical educatorJeffery Shantz, anarchist pedagogies work toward building “infrastructures of resistance” where participants may “learn and practice skills which are undeveloped in authoritarian social relations” (125). An anarchist pedagogy, then, “aims toward developing and encouraging new forms of socialization, social interaction, and the sharing of ideas in ways that might initiate and sustain non-authoritarian practices and ways of relating” (126).
Social structures embody a particular sort of character or ethos that emphasize and reinforce certain beliefs and behaviors. Chain charter schools are in the habit of directly announcing these core beliefs. Other schools may promote certain characteristic more subtly, or even unconsciously. Regardless of the type of education, however, contemporary American schools regularly reflect and encourage the values strengthening global capitalism by reinforcing beliefs and behaviors that would benefit an individual participating in this economic superstructure.
But the primary aim of education, especially an anarchist education, isn’t economic.
The values learned in schools shape our social behaviors. Thus education holds a deeply civic purpose. Education teaches us how to act. Yet, today, many graduate feeling a lack of agency, an object to be traded on the global marketplace. And this feeling is anything but new.
Henry David Thoreau critiqued American’s passivity and compliance in his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” suggesting that “those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.” And when the government proved itself to be an unjust machine, as Thoreau often believed, he encouraged citizens to “let [their lives] be a counter-friction to stop the machine.”
Anarchist pedagogies promote the critical skills necessary to be that counter-friction.
So let us come together and discuss how to build alternative education structures, both within and beyond traditional learning spaces, that challenge and subvert the dominant education paradigm here-and-now. Let us discuss education as a site of resistance, a space of unlearning and reskilling. On Wednesday, February 11 at 5:00 pm EST, students, teachers, parents, activists, and concerned citizens are encouraged to participant in a #moocmooc chat on how to shift educational values towards social justice. Check outworldtimebuddy.com to see when to join us in your time zone. In this conversation, we will consider questions such as:
• What are the aims of education? Ideally? In reality? Now, speaking from your position and experience within and beyond the education system, what is your role in defining these aims? What social structures and institutional systems limit our ability achieve these aims?
• How would you describe the character or ethos of your school or institution? What values do they promote and how does the institution describe these values? What does the institutional narrative hide?
• In your local community, where would you go to learn skills not taught by formal education institutions? If you have participated at these countersites, consider your experience learning in this alternative environment. Was it effective? What worked, and what didn’t? Thinking beyond what you’ve experience: what do you imagine these infrastructures of resistance could look like?
• How can you act as a counter-friction to oppression structures? In what ways can you meaningfully dissent, defy, and resist harmful educative forces? Where are there opportunities to build countersites in learning? What are the risks of doing so?
Secondly, a live, digital roundtable using Google Hangouts on Air featuring the author of this week’sAnarchist Pedagogies chapter, Jeff Shantz, will occur on Friday, February 13 at 8:00 pm EST. Joining Jeff in this conversation about countersites in learning will be three educators dedicated to idea that education is a means of social justice. While all four speakers share a commitment to the values described in this article, each participant works within a different educational context.
If you cannot join us for our synchronous chat or viewing the roundtable live, feel free to post your thoughts throughout the week on the #MOOCMOOC hashtag or in the comments below. The video will be archived for future viewing. We’ll also be curating highlights from the community’s blog responses on the MOOC MOOC: Critical Pedagogy homepage, where you can also find the schedule for the rest of the MOOC.
Their post can be accessed here: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/announcements/mmcp-countersites-learning-constructing-anarchist-educational-alternatives/
AND – there are online discussions Wednesday and Friday in which to participate.