Speculating on time

In the fifth session of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia, we discussed time. You can access the slides below. I’ve included a note at the beginning of the slides because I had to recreate them after the session. I somehow lost or overwrote the original file and, even with IT help, was unable to recover it. This was one example of several scary incidents after covid. I misunderstood ‘brain fog’ to mean you felt foggy. I feel fine. Losing a PPT presentation was one example, being unable to count the place settings at my dining table was another. No awareness at the time, and no doubt other examples. I’m triple vaxxed. I am hoping that I am on the mend.

This session was presented during National Reconciliation Week (with the theme for 2022 ‘Be brave, make change’). Each session started with an acknowledgement that I was on the unceded country of the Wallumattagal Clan of the Dharug nation. For a session focussed on time, with an international audience in mind, I linked to Common Ground on the Dreaming and ‘everywhen’.

A way in for me to think about these notions of time has been speculative fiction by Indigenous Australian authors. Pictured are some of my favourites over the last few years:

Author Ambelin Kwaymullina writes:

“The ideas which populate speculative fiction books — notions of time travel, astral projection, speaking the languages of animals or trees — are part of Indigenous cultures. One of the aspects of my own novels that is regularly interpreted as being pure fantasy, that of an ancient creation spirit who sung the world into being, is for me simply part of my reality.”

Our slow start was to listen to a meditative ticking clock for a minute and think about time:

We then shifted our discussion to universities, academia and time: conflicting time, uneven time, measured time, interrupted time, deferred time and student time. Here are some of the quotes that prompted discussion:

“Scheduled time refers to the accelerating pace of work, timeless time to transcending time through immersion in work, contracted time to short-term employment with limited future prospects and finally, personal time to one’s temporality and the role of work in it.“

Ylijoki & Mäntylä, 2003

“… separating those whose time [is] ‘precious’ (wage earners, the educated classes, the able-bodied) from those whose time [can] be squandered or [has] little value… Power operates to structure and condition different populations’ lack of time … There is a heterogenous and uneven response to speeded up time … What proliferates is a multiplicity of contradictory temporalities.”

Baraitser, 2017

“Amid deadlines, fear of survival, and accountability measures, time becomes an important tool for perpetuating neoliberal subjectivity. As hyper extensions of colonial time, neoliberal logics operate to measure, splice, and commodify time in ways that is affectively experienced by individuals navigating the academy.”

Shahjahan, 2015

For an excellent literature review on time in academic contexts, and a thought-provoking discussion to consider student time, I recommend Bengtsen, Sarauw & Filippakou’s (2021) chapter ‘In Search of Student Time: Student Temporality and the Future University‘ in the collection The University Becoming: Perspectives from Philosophy and Social Theory. The authors ask: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a challenge to the universities’ organisation in time and space, but do we actually want to return to the functional and linear temporality that characterised the pre-pandemic university?”

Other recommended reading included:

Our discussion of time spanned Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory; using productivity strategies such as pomodoro; St Augustine’s notion of past, present and future in the mind; the 2021 filmThe Lost Daughter; and flow. One participant said: “I find academic time to be a mostly unhappy thing unless I’ve corralled it with pomodoros. I either feel desperate and anxious, or strangely slack, like a rubber band that’s been stretched for too long.” At the end of the discussion, we returned to the notion of everywhen, and the interconnections of past, present, and future.

Finally, we were exhorted to read Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I must say the 1,267,069 word count is daunting. Perhaps future me might have world enough and time (to quote Andrew Marvell or Doctor Who).

Thinking together

I am a bit behind recapping the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES) season on slow academia. I am blaming covid fog — it is no joke — on everything I have left undone, half-done or poorly done, but it does seem to be improving. The fourth session focussed on intersubjectivity, or how we theorise our connections with others and how we think together. We were a group of people from several places — Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, South Africa, England and more — who had not met as a group previously. You can access the slides below.

We started slowly with an active listening activity (based on this Reflection for Learning Circle video). Listening is always a challenge for me (I hope I am getting better) and I think often of Maggie Nelson’s comment in her memoir The Argonauts about talking too much and redirecting student discussion as a teacher: “I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.Barbara Grant, who chaired these sessions, shared a story of putting aside her reading (Stephanie Dowrick’s In the Company of Rilke, which sounds fabulous) to enjoy the physicality of being in place. She described the weather, the birds, and the quiet of a New Zealand morning immersed in nature, sensation and thought.

The discussion continued to meander through ideas from previous sessions on slow, self and place: the ”sensory mingling” of research, multiple accounts of the self, and encounters on university campuses. We followed the idea of the self as constituted socially — thinking with Merleau-Ponty (1968) about subjectivity as the threshold or fold between the other, the world and the self. In The Visible and the Invisble, he wrote:

“We must accustom ourselves to understand that ‘thought’ is not an invisible contact of self with self, that it lives outside of this intimacy with oneself … It is the invisible hinge upon which my life and the life of the others turn to rock into one another, the inner framework of intersubjectivity.”

We talked about collaborating with colleagues and collaborating with students. Book and article recommendations were exchanged, and my to-be-read (or re-read) collection grows ever larger. These readings were highlighted:

  • Feldt, J. E., & Petersen, E. B. (2021). Studying as Experimentation: Habits and Obstacles in the Ecology of the University. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 3(3), 55-67. [13].
  • Gill (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neoliberal academia. In (Eds.) Ryan-Flood & Gill, Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections, pp 228-244. London: Routledge.
  • Grant, B. M. (2010). Improvising together: The play of dialogue in humanities supervision. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 9(3), 271–288.
  • Henderson, L., Black, A., Garvis, S. (eds) (Re)birthing the Feminine in Academe. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • Kelly, F. (2020) ‘Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus, Teaching in Higher Education, 25(6), 722-735.
  • Kern, L., Hawkins, R., Al-Hindi, K. F., & Moss, P. (2014). A collective biography of joy in academic practice. Social & Cultural Geography, 15(7), 834–851.
  • Lynch (2010) Carelessness: A hidden doxa of higher education. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 9(1), 54-67.
  • Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B., Loyd, J., Hyndman, J., Walton-Roberts, M., Basu, R., Whitson, R., Hawkins, R., Hamilton, T., & Curran, W. (2015). For slow scholarship: a feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(4), 1235-1259.

There were many book recommendations spanning diverse disciplines and eras. All contributed to a rich conversation about our relationships with others.

Emily Ogden’s On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays (I have not yet read it) stimulated conversation. This interview with Ogden is rich and thought-provoking. She is asked: How did you organise the essays in the book? And answers:

“With great difficulty. I would have liked the reader to read all the chapters simultaneously. But I knew it began with an antithesis between minnows and whales, ended with Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), and told — among other stories — the story of my children’s birth in between. So, I started with a few fixed points and went from there. In the composition, many of the essays posed a question that a subsequent essay would then try to answer. So, I tried to keep some of those in their composition order … The most important notion about the genre of the essay, for me, was … the idea that an essay should send the reader back to their own thoughts. I wanted to prompt thought, not solve problems.”

In our discussion, we considered what we ask of students’ essays, and speculated about writing and reading essays to prompt thought, and what grading and feedback might look like.

We wrapped up with a discussion of collegiality in academia, challenged by Giedre Kligyte & Simon Barrie’s (2014) article in which they discuss collegiality as a governance and decision-making structure, allegiance to disciplinary knowledge communities and/or a behavioural norm:

“The idea of collegiality is tinged with nostalgia for the idealised harmonious past, where, it is imagined, academics had the time and opportunities to engage in significant research, excite and inspire bright young minds through teaching, participate in and contribute to institutional and disciplinary academic communities, think, reflect and, generally, do self-determined meaningful work … This idealised imaginary is contrasted with the well-documented confusion, isolation, anger and dismay that many academics feel when experiencing competing demands in universities today.”

We didn’t linger with the bad feelings for too long. As one participant summed it up: “We’re exploring a certain form of being together that’s not merely the ‘Being-with’ (Mitsein) in Heidegger — which is neutral and almost like an environment or furniture (but it’s people) — so I sense a joy and kindness in the being-together.” As Rilke put it, “Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”

ABCs of pedagogy: C is for constructivism

Welcome to a new series, the ABCs of Pedagogy, cross-posted at the university blog Teche. It is learning and teaching award season at my university and one of the aims of this series is to provide applicants with the scholarly language to describe their teaching and learning practice. This skill goes beyond award applications and may also be useful for the purposes of reflection, conversations about teaching and learning, scholarly activities, and career progression.

For a sneak peek at the rest of the ABCs of Pedagogy planned for the series, click on the image below for an interactive version (thanks to my colleague Kylie Coaldrake).

If you have only heard of only one pedagogical term as a teacher in higher education, it is likely to be constructivism, one of the most influential learning theories in formal education across the world. You are probably familiar with John Biggs’ framework of constructive alignment, in which teaching activities and assessment tasks are designed to meet student learning outcomes (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is evident in our approach to curriculum design: identify the intended learning outcomes for students, facilitate activities that enable students to develop and practice specific skills and knowledges, and assess their capability.

Constructivism and constructive alignment are linked through an understanding of students as active participants in their learning, and a view of the role of the teacher as structuring learning experiences to challenge students’ thinking. The starting point of constructive alignment is not “What do I want to teach?” but rather “What do I want students to learn?” (See a Quick Guide to Constructive Alignment here).

To sum up constructivism in a couple of sentences: learning, or the construction of new knowledge, happens through social interaction and is based on prior understandings. A constructivist teaching context is designed to enable students to collaborate to make meaning and to build knowledge based on their experiences.

As with all pedagogies discussed in this series, constructivism is contested in the scholarly literature and, strictly speaking, draws on many theories and encompasses multiple pedagogical approaches. Van Bergen and Parsell (2019) discuss three broad approaches to constructivism – radical, psychological and social constructivism – and their epistemic and pedagogic assumptions. As they succinctly put it:

Each version of constructivism …  can be seen as a particular elaboration of the central claim … that knowledge is constructed. If the construction is characterised individually, as the product of one person’s interactions with the world, the result is radical constructivism. If the construction is instead thought to happen in social groups, the version is social constructivism. If the cognitive processes that constitute the construction of knowledge are emphasised, the version is psychological constructivism.

Van Bergen & Parsell (2019, p 47).

The origins of constructivism, as we understand it in higher education today, are Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Lev Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism and Ernst von Glaserfeld’s (1995) radical constructivism. (You’ll hear more from Vygotsky when we reach Z is for Zone of proximal development).

Piaget’s (1970) theory of cognitive development offers a model for ages and stages from childhood to adulthood learning. For the purposes of higher education, knowledge is constructed based on students’ prior learning and experience, and adult learning is marked by a capacity for abstract thinking and metacognition.

Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social constructivism focuses on the social environment as a facilitator of development and learning through various cognitive tools and structures: language, symbols, objects, and institutions. In such a complex and changeable context, learning is seen to be directly connected to social factors.

In von Glaserfeld’s (1995) radical constructivism, knowledge only exists within a learner’s subjective experience. If this idea appeals, you may also be interested in ungrading.

The following questions may help you to decide whether constructivism aligns with your teaching philosophy and practice:

  • Would you describe your teaching as student-centred?
  • Are you a facilitator of learning?
  • Do you utilise active learning strategies in the classroom?
  • Are there opportunities for collaboration between students in small groups?
  • Is class discussion a valued learning strategy?
  • Are any of the following an important part of your teaching: experiential learning, problem-based learning, reflective practice (more on these ideas as we proceed through the alphabet in this series).

If these questions are partly true for you, it may be that your teaching context is appropriate for a moderated form of constructivism that incorporates direct instruction and guidance to scaffold learning. It is important to note that these brief explanations can only scratch the surface, and further reading and reflection on your teaching practice is always recommended.

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.

References

Biggs, J. B. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and psychology of the child. New York: Oxford University Press.

Van Bergen, P. and Parsell, M. (2019). Comparing radical, social and psychological constructivism in Australian higher education: a psycho-philosophical perspective. Australian Educational Researcher, 46, 41–58

von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. London: Routledge Falmer.

Vygotsky, L. V. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.