Co-responding: from You to Me 1

This letter is a contribution to the epistolary circle created as part of our workshop for the SEDA Spring Conference.

Below our imaginary friend responds to the letter from Me to You.

Man sitting on a bench with his back to the viewer.

Hi, great to hear from you. 

Sorry it’s taken so long to reply. Things and stuff, you know? And I’m not very good at correspondence, or keeping up with people, or, you know, having friends… (is that very male of me?) 

So, I hear on the grapevine that you have a new job? I saw it advertised and immediately thought of you – precisely because of those qualities you mentioned: creative, thoughtful, compassionate, and indeed challenging (in the good way!). It looked so right but wasn’t sure if you’d go for it. Congratulations, of course, and I’m sure you’ll smash it, interpretive dance and all. 

I’m jealous if I’m honest. Yes, there is shit everywhere, but at least you will have new shit, in a new context, with new energy. Here we have been restructured (again), with new admin (again), and I’m frankly exhausted and struggling for motivation. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, maybe I should just let the incompetence and the politics of the University play out, keep my head down, work away on AD stuff and switch off more. I totally get what you mean about people pretending, especially taking credit for things they didn’t do, puffing themselves up in front of managers, saying the right thing in front of the right person… and generally being a man. 

Is AD a women’s world? I’m not sure, I’d never thought that – or at least I’ve never put it in those terms to myself. I suppose the closest I’ve got to thinking about this is about balance – ‘isn’t it good to have a team that’s balanced, so it helps us connect with lots of staff’. Gender is part of that, but plenty other things besides. I always felt, when we worked together, it was a good balance as you could do the fun, exciting, boundary pushing stuff while I was the boring curriculum design, practical, remember the outcomes guy.  

Sorry to be such a drag! I’m worried about the future, about what I will now have to do. I’m not a ninja either! But don’t go round telling people I’m kind or gentle – it will ruin my look… 

If you would like us to publish your response to any of the letters to our imaginary friends, please send your letter to lacunae1@gmail.com.

Letters from a plague year: co-responding to change with reflective storying

In January 2020 the blog team began exchanging letters reflecting on the ways in which our lived experiences of academic development shaped our professional identities. We were attempting to create a methodology for reflection that liberated us from professional norms and expectations through an epistolary exchange. We were looking for an ‘uncanny encounter’, but what we got was a global pandemic, complete with learning and teaching challenges that reshaped our practice. We reflected on these challenges in the 24 letters exchanged between January and July, and out analyses of these data will be published in Spring 2021.

An open envelope with purple flowers inserted.

In the article we conclude that, in times of uncertainty, the reflective stories we tell can be powerful, particularly when this reflection takes place as a collaborative process. We believe there is something liberating in representing our professional selves to the people we trust. As such, we plan to explore ways we can engage others in diverse and playful approaches to reflective practice, and the workshop we will present at the SEDA spring conference will be a part of that exploration.

As part of the workshop, participants will be responding to a letter that each of the blog team have written to their imaginary friend. If you are coming along to our workshop it would be useful if you could read these letters in advance and choose which of our imaginary friends you would like to be!

If you aren’t attending our workshop, but would like to respond to any of the letters below as a way of reflecting on your practice, please do send us your responses (lacunae1@gmail.com )  and we will publish these on the blog (you can remain anonymous if you would prefer).

The letters

Letter from Me to You

Letter from Persephone to Amica

Letter from Bernadine to Toni

Letter from Mellifera to Cerana

Letter from Mellifera to Cerana

On Friday 7 May we will be hosting a workshop at the SEDA Conference: Letters from a plague year: co-responding to change with reflective storying. Participants in the session will be invited to respond to one of FOUR letters which we have created as part of our ongoing letter writing research. They are letters to imaginary friends – fictional but inspired by our actual exchanged letters. Here is the fourth in the series….

A jar of honey and a honey spoon.

Dear Cerana,

Congratulations on getting the job!! And welcome to the bright side 😊

You wrote that you were amazed that they appointed you when you haven’t held an academic/educational developer role before – I’m not! When I looked at the job specification you sent when you asked for the reference, I could see that you had all the relevant experience even if you have never had the specific job title. One thing you will discover is that the role varies such a lot across institutions, and people come to it from so many different backgrounds. We truly are the mongrels of the academic world! Although nowadays we would probably be referred to by some portmanteau-designer-dog term rather than plain ‘mongrel’. I wonder what that could be? Ideas in your response please!

It’s understandable that you feel nervous starting this new role – and I wish I had neat answers to some of the questions you posed in your letter. Sorry! For what it’s worth though…some thoughts in response to your questions…

Yes, we probably do say the word ‘pedagogy’ quite a lot! But no more than other disciplines say their totem words/phrases, and probably with the same objective. To mark out some boundary of expertise and knowledge. You link the term to ‘theory’, and worry about the depth of your understanding of these theories. I suspect you know more than you think you do if you consider all the work you have done (and written about) on course design and supporting colleagues with their teaching. It’s just that before this theory was just one strand of your work and now it will become a central focus. One bit of advice – keep up with your reading/research as you would do in any other academic job. Those good habits you developed as a researcher will stand you in good stead – Zetoc is your friend 😊 But also remember to look out for that aspect of the work that makes your heart sing! You need to make space for that. Do you have any thoughts about what that aspect of teaching and learning that might be?

You mention that you worry about your role in supporting institutional education initiatives, some of which you think are a bit dubious in intent. In HE policy, as in other sectors, there can a tendency to reinvent the wheel, with people rediscovering issues/concerns and pitching their solutions as the next big thing. If you keep up with research in the core areas of teaching and learning you can more easily see these Emperor’s new clothes for what they are and recognise that you do have the expertise to advise and support. Of course, there will be those who accuse (too strong a word?) you of supporting ‘management’ in the latest fad, but as long as you know that your work has sound foundations, it’s best not to take those accusations to heart. And, in my experience, you can often be in a better position to resist and subvert anything that is truly problematic if people don’t feel that your first reaction is always to criticise. Keep in mind that those who spend a lot of time telling everyone about their resistance/radicalism/criticality often have less time to actually get that work done 😊 You must have had to use different (more subtle?) kinds of influence to bring about change in your previous roles. Could be good to reflect on those incidences in a letter to me 😊 and think about how you could apply the same approach again.

You mention in your letter that you are worried you might miss carrying out research – both doing the actual research and being a part of networks. Really don’t worry about the networks issue. Academic developers are great at this! And be prepared for a much greater commitment to sharing resources/ideas etc. than some other academic environments. As for the ‘doing research’ part, it might often take a different form than you are used to, but you can continue to research. Sometimes you can end up doing projects that feel quite instrumental – back to the influence of institutional initiatives again. But there are plenty of ‘What is…?’ topics to explore, and your experience as a qualitative researcher will be invaluable in this regard. The discipline and skills needed to carry out rigorous qualitative research in other settings are just as important in academic development work. Are there any particular areas you think you might like to research? Would you be looking for partners? I can probably help with ideas/contacts. Let me know.

Look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Mellifera

Co-responding to change

If you are coming to our session, see you there! But, if you are not you can still take part – in fact we would love this to be the start of some kind of network of correspondents! Simply pen a reply to one or more of the letters – keep it private to use for your own reflections . . . or send it to us (lacunae1@gmail.com ) and we will post it on the blog (anonymously if you would prefer)!

This link will take you back to the main blog post where you can access the three other letters.

Going underground

Our reading and writing group project for March was to select a chapter from the book The Power of Partnership , read it and respond. We will publish the responses over the coming week.

An image of the original underground map

In their chapter The experience of partnerships in learning and teaching: a visual metaphor Kelly E Matthews talks about the messiness of working in partnerships and presents us with an image that is, indeed, very  messy!

At the same time, the image is bold, brightly-coloured and connected. Matthews argues that images, rather than simply words, offer “space to affirm the messiness of an idea, an aspiration, a practice, a pedagogical praxis, and a commitment”. And her provocation to us is “How is your partnership messy?

So what visual metaphor would I choose? A London underground map. Yes, that most cited example of design providing clarity, but at the expense of accuracy! That masterpiece of compressed design overcoming messiness! So, how does this provide a visual metaphor for messy partnership working? Whilst acknowledging that messiness, I do think that at some point – in order to move forwards/backwards/sideways – we do need to step over, outside, beyond that messiness.

It is worth reading about how Harry Beck used design to bring some level of organisation and clarity for fellow travellers – how he surfaced the underground detail. Apparently he wasn’t commissioned to do the work. Anna Renton, senior curator at the London Transport Museum says that “It was more a demonstration of his ingenuity, in seeing a problem and coming up with a solution to it, rather than a response to public demand”. Alternatively, I suppose his actions could be viewed as rather presumptuous! What right did he have to decide how to impose order? What does this tell us about the power relationships of the day? But I am going to put this well-trodden ground aside for the moment. Beck did his design and, as it turned out, people didn’t need to know the every detail to move around, to navigate and get where they wanted to go.

Current map of the London Underground
tfl.gov.uk

Recently TfL published a version of the map that shows the walking times between the various stations – in a sense adding back in a layer of that accuracy that was abandoned in that original design. If you want to stay in the fresh (?!) air or experience the bustle of London, this version of the map is great. But I can understand that tourists might find walking around on the busy, noisy, confusing streets of the city a bit overwhelming, and happily retreat back to the clarity. Although if you do want to go between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, trust me, you really don’t need to use the tube!

One of the wonderful things, I think, about the underground map is how it has been adapted and/or subverted over the years. There’s a version that makes links to well-known films and one that links to books. You can use another version to find out where to buy the cheapest pint of beer. If you are a fan of bad jokes, there’s the Punderground. Then there’s the ‘honest’ version – although this one is possibly only funny if you already know London well. There are the versions that aim to represent what an accurate map of the underground.would look like. So many adaptations that you never knew you needed!

So yes, partnership working is messy, but to achieve anything at all we – although who that ‘we’ might be will vary – need to establish some order, I think. But we need to do it in such a way that people find it useful. And we need to acknowledge, accept and even celebrate that others will adapt and subvert that order for any number of reasons.

So my visual metaphor for partnership is the London underground map – thanks Harry!

Sounding brasses, clanging cymbals and love, potentially

In January we embarked on a new collaborative writing project. The brief: To compile a collection of individual responses to one stimulus piece with a view to starting a great conversation! We wrote independently without discussing our thoughts and are publishing them here as a series of posts.

The stimulus piece is: “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.

220px-Four_weddings_poster

I am currently helping to organise a wedding. One of the tasks is to help choose readings for the marriage ceremony. Now 1 Corinthians 13 is an obvious choice (too obvious?). Thinking about this reading I was reminded of the scene in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ when the character George (played by Rupert Vansittart) reads, in a harsh, pompous, monotone, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am become a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” Gareth (played by Simon Callow) is heard to mutter “Good point!”.

And it is a good point. When we speak of learning using the words that have been moulded by the ‘cascade of neoliberalism’ referred to in the article we, like George, can remove all beauty from its meaning. On we go through our daily working lives, sounding our brasses and clanging our cymbals. Yet, speak we must if we are going to get our jobs done, and help others do theirs.

I think it is the recognition of our complicity to maintaining the neoliberal university that makes articles like the one we are responding to here so appealing. The authors outline a programme that provided them with an opportunity to deploy a ‘pedagogy of the heart’ when supporting colleagues through a period of professional development. I was particularly struck by the metaphors that the participants used to describe their experiences of the programme – both powerful and uplifting. So the article was uplifting in both style and content.

But after the uplift, there is the inevitable ‘come down’! I want to stress that this is not a criticism of either the programme or the authors’ account of it – more a reflection of feelings when you turn from the stories of love to look at the endless ‘to do’ lists that structure our working lives. So what turns those lists into acts and action? The last line of the reading from Corinthians claims “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Is it though?

sparklerI think faith (in what we are doing and encouraging others to do) and hope (that between us we are making some difference) are what underpin our everyday practices. When we reflect back on those practices, isn’t that when the love comes? Perhaps that’s why academic developers are so keen on reflection!

When Noujain (1987) tells us that sometimes it is more appropriate to think in terms of micro-revolutions rather than revolution, they are not saying we shouldn’t aim high. Rather that, if we are not going to be overwhelmed by a lack immediate fundamental change, we need to pay attention to ‘the accidents, the minute deviations, the reversals, the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that give birth to those things that have value for us’ (Foucault, 1971, p.81).

Back to Four Weddings and a Funeral….

Charles (played by Hugh Grant) and Tom (played by James Fleet) are talking after the funeral. Charles thinks it is remarkable that Tom retains such faith in the institution of marriage, and hope that he will get married. Tom responds:

Well I don’t know, Charlie, truth is – unlike you, I’ve never expected the thunderbolt – always hoped I’d just meet some nice, friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me doesn’t make her physically sick – then pop the question and settle down and be happy. It worked for my parents …well, apart from the divorce and all that!

So perhaps we all need to be a little bit more Tom. It takes until the film is almost over, but his reward for all his faith and hope is that he does eventually find love – complete with thunderbolts!

References

Foucault, M. (1971), ‘Nietzsche, genealogy and history’, in D. Bouchard (1977) (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Noujain, E. G. (1987), ‘History as genealogy: an exploration of Foucault’s approach to history’, in A.P.Griffiths (ed.), Contemporary French Philosophy, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press.

Images

Four weddings and a funeral  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Weddings_and_a_Funeral

Drowning – Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

 

 

Reading (and writing) group

Back in October last year we (Catriona, Jennie, Natasha and I) wrote a blog piece for LSE Higher Education blog based around our reading of a journal paper. We worked independently – reading the paper and writing our responses without discussing our thoughts. We found the process so useful (and even enjoyable!) that we are going to do this again. But this time we would like to invite others to join in.

The paper we are reading this time is “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.

ABSTRACT
There has been significant interest in developing academics through Teaching Scholar Development Programs across the USA, Canada, the UK, and more recently in Australia. At their core, such programs develop academics across teaching scholarship, leadership, promotion, and award opportunities, where universities reap the benefits of developing such a cadre of leaders. This paper pays witness to one such a program in an Australian university to highlight enactments of caring passionately. We use qualitative survey evaluation data, metaphor analysis and reflective practice to nuance the pleasures, passions and challenges of the lived experiences using phenomenological and metaphor lenses to describe our experiences. Metaphors provide powerful insights into the dimensions of experience as they open up how programs are perceived and experienced. Our paper disrupts traditional linear writing through rhizomatic, multivocal and multitextual encounters to challenge dominant authorial voicing. The academic identity work and emotional work required in the program is unfolded through evolving, experiencing and reflecting on the program to inform design and highlight what we have come to (re)value in our academic work when we come together to learn, share, and lead. We forge ways to be and become with and against neoliberal agendas that have
choked the soul of ‘the university’ to evolve rich spaces and practices of/for reciprocity and kindness where not only learning can thrive, but where love acts – a much needed revolutionary praxis for our time.

Join in

If you would like to read (and write) with us, that would be great. We are not looking for carefully-crafted critical responses, although those are welcome too! We would value responses that come from your heart as much as your mind. You don’t need to respond to the paper as a whole, it may simply be a paragraph or a phrase that speaks to you and the context in which you practice. We are also not just looking for traditional academic text. Image – moving or still – or poetry, for example, would be welcomed.

As the article speaks to the notion of love, we plan to publish our responses on 14 February so it would be great if you could send us any contributions before that date. Yes, we know it is a short deadline – but just go for it! If you would prefer us to publish your contribution anonymously, that’s cool too.

Send any contributions to our mailbox lacunae1@gmail.com 

Creating compassionate spaces in higher education

A reblog of a post earlier in the year from LSE Higher Education blog.

In a time of change and uncertainty, four academic developers from different disciplines, Jenni Carr, Natasha Taylor, Catriona Cunningham, and Jennie Mills, revisit Haynes’ and Macleod-Johnstone’s powerful paper Stepping through the daylight gate: compassionate spaces for learning in higher education and aim to make connections with how compassion plays an integral role in their practice

Creating compassionate spaces in higher education

‘Tongue Lash’: An act of decolonising pedagogy through hip-hop poetry and dialogue

LSE LIFE’s Dr Sara Camacho-Felix considers questions around decolonising the curriculum and explains how working with Poetcurious and other spoken word artists to create an event for students, alumni, staff and the wider community created a space to explore themes including empathy and ownership in society in an inclusive and illuminating way. 

Source: ‘Tongue Lash’: An act of decolonising pedagogy through hip-hop poetry and dialogue