Which way now? Can we be guided by critical uncertainty? #UWLT2021

This week I was delighted to join colleagues at the University of Worcester and give the opening keynote for the learning and teaching conference. My talk built on the themes I have been thinking about and talking about this year – mainly reflecting on what being and belonging at university (for students and staff) actually is and will be, the role of critical and public pedagogy within our curriculum. COVID 19 has impacted everyone and every discipline, we should harness that as well as our students lived experiences. We need to embrace uncertainty as we move forward. Whilst it is very tempting to wish for everything to go back to ye olde golde pre pandemic on campus day, our immediate future is still quite uncertain so flexibility is going to be key. After the year we have had, If now isn’t the time to radical change then I really don’t know when is. Remembering too that radical change can be comprised of relatively small pieces too.

Before I gave my talk yesterday, I spotted an article from the Irish Times reporting on a recent speech by the Irish President (Michael Higgins). He said:

“We have an opportunity in the wake of the Covid pandemic, with all its personal, social and economic consequences, to reclaim and re-energise academia for the pursuit of real knowledge; unbiased study that can yield insights that may be applied for the enrichment of society in its widest, in its most all-encompassing definition, and enabled to address our great challenges. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should not be squandered.”

I wish politicians the UK were as eloquent about the role and purpose of academia in its broadest sense!

You can access my slides with feedback here, and the basic deck here ; and for the all important image to this post, I did want to reflect on how quickly language has evolved over the past 15 months. So, here is word cloud of words and phrases that are now part of the delegates everyday vocabulary. I’m sure more than a few will be familiar to you too!

A short thought about the pyschogeography of the VLE(s) in my life: #JuneEdTechChallenge

So ALT have a bit of an ed tech twitter challenge for this month with of course its own hashtag #JuneEdTechChallenge. Each day people are invited to share pictures, words anything really on a phrase, topic. For day one it its “the VLE in my life” – an endless source of discussion/debate/joy/frustration for anyone who has to use one.

I don’t have a particular VLE in my life anymore – one of the advantages of being independent. In a sense I wander around the digital landscape and work with any system that clients use. Ah, the freedom I hear you say. Well maybe not.

Today I was thinking about pyschogeography. I’ve come across this field quite late, but I am exploring it more in terms of my practice as an artist. However, as I was listening to Will Self give a short overview, I couldn’t help but think about it in terms of learning environments. One of the central notions of psychogeography is the notion of the “dérive” or the drift. The notion of one drifting around an environment, in a random, not planned way. Doing that in our physical spaces is actually quite challenging, but it’s darn near impossible to do in a digital learning environment.

Our paths and pathways are designed and structured, they impose directions, keep us enclosed, close down pathways and exit points to stop us drifting away from the platform/VLE. So whilst I may wander between different VLEs, ultimately when I am in any of them, they force me to stick to their structured paths. This reminded me of a session I was part of in OER17. I can only drift when I am in open spaces.

Probably much more thinking to do around this, but it’s all I’ve got time for today. What do you think? Do we need more drifting in our VLEs or do we need to provide as much structure as possible?