A communion with learning: inside the lacunae

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Inside the Glasite Meeting House, Edinburgh @Helen McCrorie, 2016

We know that learning happens informally and formally, and in all sorts of learning spaces but how often do we pause and consider the serendipitous nature of learning in all its forms? In this blog post Catriona Cunningham reflects on possibilities that open when creative and academic practices intertwine.

August 2016: Helen McCrorie stood on the threshold of her exhibition – opening the wooden door to allow us to enter into the dark and intimate interior of the former meeting house. A symbolic choice of location. We made our way along empty pews before nestling in the corner, right in front of three large screens which flickered between moving images. I could see the outlines of other heads around me but my eye was drawn to the murky glass skylight panel above my head, which cast a sombre light on the room; it felt like we were being watched from above. We were also participating in our own ritual. Our communion.  With one another? With nature? With ourselves?

The images on the screen went round in a loop with no obvious demarcation between beginning and end – the ceremony is not the climax here. It is the process that counts. So, we watched the men as they prepared for their own commune. We observed one man’s everyday ritual banal and familiar as he ate breakfast and started to prepare for his initiation into the priesthood. We watched others, a collective of men, who banged and moulded the raw material of wood from their surrounding landscape to create the flambeaux that they would then carry through their local Scottish village in Hogmanay celebrations.

McCrorie’s commentary on these male rituals is far from neutral: the camera lingers on the physical surroundings of each context – the mysticism of the lay priest undermined by the sight of him sitting on the sofa eating his toast and marmalade or by the laddish enthusiasm with which the other priest embrace and slap him heartily following on from the ceremony. There are other juxtapositions: the solemnity of the male procession through the village gently parodied by the close-up of a can of irn bru or by the way in which one of the young man struggles under the weight of the flambeau. Male power and strength, both physical and societal, are thereby questioned and critiqued, albeit without malice. The voiceover commenting on the film is anonymous and androgynous. Ambiguity reigns.

This theme of watching, observing and noticing matters for the purpose of McCrorie’s probing bird’s eye view on our society’s male rituals. But the act of observing her observations inspired me to notice more closely and carefully what I learned. My role in learning and teaching positions much of my reading and observing in the domain of scholarly thinking, of pedagogical research as a way of informing my own academic practice and my work with colleagues as they cross over their own learning and teaching practice into professional recognition. McCrorie’s film made me remember how powerful art and literature can also be in shaping the way we think about learning and teaching.

These simultaneous films going round in loop highlighted to me the rituals of what we do in academic development and how little we question the process of how we recognise good practice in learning in teaching. Are we also trapped in the lacunae where we collaborate to ensure that the process remains the same? In his most recent novel, David Mitchell illustrates the danger of conserving the status quo in a most chilling way. Madeleine Mien’s novel gives us terrifying perspectives of the danger of sacrificing the collective for the individual and for trying to make education fit the purposes of a political agenda. McCrorie, Mitchell and Mien have all influenced the way I think about my own work in the last month alone. The theme of laddism; the danger of the collective; the purpose of society and its rituals. These issues all matter in higher education but it is through creative media that I understand why. My learning cannot be contained to the rules of the academic world. Can yours?

McCrorie, H. The Clock in Commune, video installation at The Glasite Meeting House, Edinburgh Art Festival, August 2016

Mitchell, D. Slade House. London: Sceptre Books. 2015.

Thien, M. (2016) Do not say we have nothing. London: Granta.

 

 

Guiding stars of wonder and light

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Image by Susanne Nilsson

These Queens of the North come bearing gifts from afar. From all over Scotland in fact. Vicky Gunn and Pauline Hanesworth have each inspired me in different ways with their commitment and integrity in their approach to teaching and learning in higher education.

With their newly published report (co-written with Jane Morrison) on equality and diversity across Scotland, they give us a resource that highlights the importance of a holistic approach. The three gifts they offer here? Engagement, commitment and – above all – hope.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

We bring you the gift of unflattening – a shape-shifting provocation

graphic novel

In Lacunae, we want to explore how things appear differently when we look at them in different ways, offering us new perspectives on familiar concepts in our everyday lives.

Unflattening is a doctoral thesis by Nick Sousanis and its format, that of a graphic novel, challenges the traditional form in order to examine the relationship between the word and image.

The invitation to look at the intricacies of an argument through the black and white etchings of a petal are appealing yet because of the representation we are actually forced to reflect differently. This shape-shifting piece of work resonates with what we want to do in academic development. Make us ask questions about our beliefs in the Academy, what constitutes scholarship and what shape it should take in our discipline? And when we talk about our learning and teaching, what form(s) can we use to represent our evidence.

In this blog post Cory Doctorow discusses the doctoral dissertation in graphic novel form: http://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/post/130485371991/doctoral-dissertation-in-graphic-novel-form 

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Looking to the future – what will the new year bring?

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Image by Nasir Nasrallah, 2006

Amidst the complex, ongoing and often troublesome debate around graduate attributes, is interdisciplinarity the much-needed elixir? The latest research commissioned by the HEA in interdisciplinary learning and teaching is summarised in the report here and offers pedagogies of hope for the future.  For me, this is a timely resource in our advent calendar. At the end of one year, we can reflect back on our learning and teaching – high points, low points and moments to blot our forever more… and then look to what we might do differently in the New Year. This resource offers practical ways to add depth and flavour to what we do, and perhaps some chance encounters with colleagues from different disciplines along the way. Happy New Year!

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

What does quality taste like in your institution?

quality streetOne of the big questions facing many higher education institutions in the UK just now is how they deliver transnational education (TNE) through their satellite campuses. This area is fascinating for me, partly because I believe internationalising higher education and the benefits of encountering other cultures, languages and beliefs immeasurable and also because of the implications of TNE for the transferability or rather the translatability for how and what we teach in our Western universities. In fact, TNE makes us look at what we call excellence in higher education in the UK today. As we probe and reflect, it becomes clear that the definition of quality does not look or taste the same across the board. Interesting. The British Council’s Going Global Conference in June 2015 addressed some of these questions in their session on TNE. In the session below the meaning of quality in TNE is explored in depth:

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

Internationalisation in higher education – the view from elsewhere

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Image Tup Wanders 2005

Wonderfully, this summary from Canada  is written in French and yet you don’t need to speak French to get the gist of it. The statistics about internationalisation in HE in Canada actually look very similar to those in the UK. This little report, therefore, makes two important points to consider in terms of our learning and teaching. Firstly, that when we are confronted by words that we don’t always understand, let’s focus on similarities rather than differences. This helps us bridge linguistic and cultural barriers and invites conversation and comparison from a starting point of mutual appreciation. Secondly – and even more importantly in the context of increasing internationalisation of HE – a reminder that there is so much to learn from how others see us. We need to talk globally rather than dwell on our internal perspective. We need to live in translation. We need to learn and teach in translation.

http://www.univcan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/faits-saillants-enquete-internationalisation-2014.pdf

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.

The danger of a single story

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Image by Moyan Brenn, 2011

A Nigerian author who gives us a fictional account of the experience of being an African international student in a Western in the powerful novel, Americanah (2014), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains how she found her voice and emphasises the danger of thinking there is only one voice, one narrative. She advocates the need for plurality – recognition that not everybody shares the same story. Stronger than any faith for me, this belief expresses the danger of dominant narratives in our public spaces that shape our learning and teaching. This clip reinforces for me the notion that the stories we tell ourselves, whether about our teaching, our students, our colleagues, our research can be even more meaningful if they are shaped by and for other, different, narratives. It is perhaps the richness of a dialogue over a monologue, an intercultural world rather than a monocultural one. The Christmas story is one single story in our history and culture. Think how many other stories exist living and breathing in our classrooms.

This post was one of our advent learning and teaching treats. To explore all the other treats click here.