Memories of learning

This is the 7th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

What are your memories of learning? How have your assumptions of learning been shaped?

This post follows closely from the previous reflection on your university story. It is another approach to reflection based on storytelling. In the AdvanceHE guide Reflection for Learning, Marina Harvey and colleagues call these reflectories.

I still think about a conversation I had in 2018 at the International Academic Identities Conference at the University of Hiroshima. It was prompted by a presentation by Susan Carter from the University of Auckland called Pushing Academic Identity Development Further: imagination, creativity and ensoulment.

Carter asked a series of questions which she has published as a reflective exercise in her 2020 book Academic Identity and the Place of Stories:

Review your own childhood learning story: what troubled, bothered or eluded you, and what did you like about learning in your early years at school? … What did you misinterpret at school? What did you really like, understand and enjoy doing? Remember playing as a child: what games did you play, and what did you learn from them? Were the rules well established, or did you and your family or friends make them up or alter them? How did you agree about the rules (or did you)? How do these childhood experiences underpin who you are now?

In response to this prompt, a colleague and I discussed schooling, childhood games, the spaces we occupied, the games we created, and the rules we followed and refused to follow. His memories of learning as a sole child of older parents involved a lot of team sports and board games. This has prompted him to always look for the rules and follow them in order to succeed. My memories were less rule-based and more immersed in imaginary play. With two bothers close in age (my parents had three children under three), playtime was loud and continuous.

We carry these assumptions about rules (and their bendability) into our learning as adults. What can your reflectory teach you?

Carter, Susan. (2020). Academic Identity and the Place of Stories: The personal in the professional. Cham: Palgrave MacMillan.

Postscript – my father read this post and pointed out my Freudian slip – bothers instead of brothers!

Imagining research futures

Image  Image

Image

The Higher Education Scholars have been at it again.

We are a group of higher education researchers based in and around Sydney who meet regularly. I’ve blogged about us before: A reminder to play, Staying in place, Yarning circle, and The spirit of research. To recap: 30 odd people, predominantly women, a mix of professional (non-academic) staff, academics and academic developers, established scholars and doctoral candidates. The initial group was brought together by Tai Peseta as a way of examining research in the field of higher education. We span half a dozen universities, and meet three times a year, with institutions taking turns to host and provide lunch. You can read a bit about our meetings here.

This time we met at the University of Technology with the theme: Re-imagining a field: what should a new research centre for Higher Education do?

The first activity was an ice-breaker led by me: a research version of snakes and ladders. What enables your research (ladders)? What impedes you (snakes)?

We read:

We asked: What do these papers tell us about the kind of field higher education is? · What do these papers tell us about the kind of field we are writing into and shaping as HE researchers? Craft a question you want to take up with Clegg and Harland.

My question to Sue Clegg, had she been in the room, was to ask her thoughts on what a feminist view of the field of HE research might look like. And here are some of the books I am reading (or re-reading) to think about that question:

Image result for living a feminist life 27091 Image result for we only talk feminist here  Image result for being an early career feminist academic

We examined the practices of higher education research centres around the world, and had a go at designing our own. My team, led by Marina Harvey, created Reflection for Learning in Higher Education.

IMG_3281

A research centre whose work evidences the value of critical reflection for learning, leadership and practice for students, staff and the community.

Imagine a university where: health professionals train to be reflective practitioners; work and study retreats happen on campus; assessment of student reflection is evidence-based; and managers engage in contemplative practice to guide their leadership.

Now we just need find that $134 million in funding…

A reminder to play

Two seemingly unconnected things: My six year old son has taken to referring to himself as his thirteen year old sister’s imaginary friend. (I find myself half believing him). And a couple of weeks ago I attended a gathering of Higher Education Scholars.

I have previously posted about these events (The spirit of research, Yarning circle, Thoughtful citations, Staying in place), a roughly tri-annual gathering of Sydney-based researchers in higher education. The most recent session was hosted by Vanessa Fredericks, Lilia Mantai and Elaine Huber at the University of Sydney. The theme was Mind the Gap: Contemplating power, privilege and pedagogy:

The purpose of this meeting is to reflect on the ways higher education (teaching and research and academia as a whole) might be restricted by oppressive pedagogies. We consider what value we might add to higher education if we dared to free our minds and bodies from colonial, neoliberal, Western and masculine ideas … We begin by positioning ourselves as being-in-the-academy. We reflect on our positions and acknowledge that the space which we occupy, speak and write from is a privileged space. We open the introspective space to think more broadly about research and the University – itself a product of colonialism, and a space which is influenced by neoliberal practices and policies. We invite you to slow down and be ‘lazy’ (Shahjahan, 2015), to engage in ‘tactics of resistance’ (Shahjahan, 2015, p. 489). We consider the ways in which slowing down and re-embodying our approach to research and pedagogy, can lead to a practice of being-in-the-academy that is ethical
and responds to the other.

The organisers provided a thoughtful reading list, including:

Throughout the day, we talked, we listened, we thought and we played. We introduced ourselves and found commonalities through a web of connections:

Image

We had loosely structured, wide-ranging discussions about our bodies in relation to research, teaching and leadership. We breathed. We listened to music, drew, played with play-doh and lego:

Image

Image Image

Why such frivolous, unscholarly behaviour?

Jane Gallop in Anecdotal Theory (2002), refers to playfulness in a research context as “an attempt to theorise from a different place” and to speculate around ideas that have a tendency to “disable thought”.

Here is the connection with my my son’s imaginary selfhood and our playfulness as scholars: both offer ways of reflecting on our subjectivities and positionalities.

Play occupies a liminal space that invites a suspension of disbelief and relishes possibility and transformation. When playing, we suspend disbelief; we create unreal or quasi-real spaces; we tend towards extravagance and exaggeration; we move away from seriousness to nonsense and foolishness; and we value emotional responses (Bulkeley 1999, p 62).

Slowing down as scholars, taking time to play, allows us to ask ‘what if?’ and to imagine what might be possible.  We can recreate the space of the university and our places in it.

In thinking about playfulness, I revisited the work of Johan Huizinga (1950):

A play-community … tends to become permanent even after the game is over… The feeling of being ‘apart together’ in an exceptional situation, of sharing something important, of mutually withdrawing from the rest of the world and rejecting the usual norms, retains its magic beyond the duration of the individual game.

I am already looking ahead to future gathering of these folks, and have been inspired by the work of Tamson Pietsch, Where I stand, on recrafting academic biographies and research narratives.