Risky not to take risks and other thoughts around inflexible flexibility #flexcpd

I really don’t know where to start. Have you ever wanted to share every single moment of an experience with somebody… with everybody, and when the moment comes to do this, you struggle? You loose your words? They disappear? This is how I feel right now. My fingers touch the keyboard but I am not sure if they (my fingers with the help of my brain – is this learning through (automated) writing?) will manage to capture something that makes sense, something that captures my thoughts, reflections, excitement and discoveries. Whatever I capture here, will be messy, this is part of reflection and I plan to revisit what I write here. I don’t have a problem with this. This is normal but while I write the word ‘normal’ I actually seem to develop a negative feeling about ‘normal’ – this is very odd! Anyway, let’s stick with normal for now, at least. The messiness will help me organise my thoughts over time, and with others (so hopefully somebody out there will respond) make sense of my experience and move forward – to learn, to unlearn and relearn. I am super excited!

Now I have written a whole paragraph without actually saying anything… am I mumbling?

My head is filled with good stuff, loads of it. My developer batteries are fully charged so to speak.  Ok, so what actually happened? What on earth did this woman do (me) to get so excited? Some of you might ask… You will not believe this! Some of you will find this very strange indeed and not normal at all.  BTW, not normal, seems to work well here. It would actually be interesting to get your reaction, any reaction when you find out what put me in this state of super-excitement. Ok, I better tell you now 😉 because otherwise you might just click away from this post and I will have missed this great opportunity to share my story with you and engage hopefully some of you in a conversation about my experience.

Well,  I went to the HEA today where I attended (don’t like this word at all, makes my presence immediately very passive), participated in an event lead by Prof. Danielle Tilbury and Dr Alex Ryan around Flexible Pedagogies (the report was published today so feel free to access here). Yes, Alex and Danielle and their work, of course, are responsible for my current state of mind. I guess, I am also to blame as I have allowed this to happen. It was fascinating. I am unable to tackle the experience in a linear way, as my brain works better in pictures. To organise my thoughts, I look now into my notebook. I also did this on my way back (no, I wasn’t driving if anybody is wondering). Usually my notes don’t make much sense when I read them again, but I really could engage with these and they lid up parts of my brain and further connections were made between York and Glossop.

Where next?

I felt like a little Christmas tree. A lonely tree in the middle of a big and dark forest.  Another metaphor is popping into my head now… was I also Red Riding Hood. This is actually how I often feel. This is I think how creative people feel… often… too often. Red Riding Hoods (yes, plural, there are loads of them out there, I have seen many!) take risks, are not afraid to explore new paths. To make new discoveries.  But also mistakes. Curiosity is a good thing! The wolves (yes, plural also) are out there. Always nearby. What and who do they symbolise? Something we can think about. When I started writing this posts, I didn’t think about fairy tales, I didn’t think abut Red Riding Hood. Suddenly the story emerged, the fairy tale became real, was brought to life, and jumped out of the digital page I am typing and I find now that it actually links somehow in a metaphorical way with what I am attempting to say. The good thing is that fairy tales have good endings. I like that because the good will spread. For me it is not about winning. This is why I didn’t say ‘the good will win’. Perhaps winning over? Once upon a time, I used to be a translator, you see, and it is important to find the right words to be true to the original, to say the things we mean, to communicate a message properly and share how we feel, always respecting the original, the people. This is of course harder when using a foreign language… in my case English. Languages and cultures bring us together but they also separate us and are therefore exclusive. The same happens for other reasons, economical, social etc. We all have experienced exclusion, one way or the other. I don’t like this but it is not about what I like or dislike, but maybe it is. It is, I think, important to focus on the good for all, the wider community. And I would say that collaboration and open mindedness as well as flexibility are features we need larger portion of if we want to drive innovation. Isn’t this what universities are for? Am I getting anywhere yet?

Alex and Danielle talked about the need to focus on flexible pedagogies beyond just flexible learning (moving beyond pace, place and mode). And while they struggled a bit pronouncing the word ‘pedagogy’ it was not at all ‘all Greek’ to them! In the contrary! The researchers called for

  • learner empowerment (students as change agents – but also staff? We need educators who are change agents or educators as change agents, even better! Developers are frequently called change agents too)
  • decolonising of education
  • crossing boundaries
  • social learning
  • transformative capacities and
  • future facing education!

Wow!  How can we make all these things happen. Do we need to re-imagine higher education? Do we need to re-connect with our curiosity and drive for innovation? How do we support and reward innovators? And what about the risks? Alex and Danielle used the Socratic way to respond to a question about risks: “Anything outside the norm is risky. But can we afford not to take risks?” Can we afford to ignore the innovators? Can we continue pushing them to the periphery? Can we continue discourage experimentation? We all seem to agree that we do need some kind of framework to encourage creativity, adaptability and risk taking. In theory this all sounds fantastic and for me personally, I would love to see something like this implemented, yesterday, please. Is this possible? Institutions have responsibilities, they are the enablers. But also people within these institutions. Universities wouldn’t be anything without its people. But how can we change things from within and from outside? Academic development plays a vital role in this process. We Academic Developers push the boundaries and model innovative practices. Academic development is about quality enhancement and modelling disruptive innovation. Alex and Danielle agreed that Academic Development can have a transformative impact if we see and experience it as an open greenhouse for active experimentation, for research into our teaching practices, for collaborations beyond walled gardens. As Academic developers we work with people, ideas, concepts and pedagogies that influence and shape strategies and policies but also the people we work with. Alex and Danielle talked about the need to:

  • reframe academic relationships (students, teachers)
  • adapt a co-creation model of learning
  • focus on the application of knowledge in real-world scenarios
  • go beyond specialist expertise
  • use the virtual spaces that forster dialogic and collaborative learning and development
  • break down walls and open-up our practice
  • undestand global connections and embed diversity
  • develop the skills and behaviours to lead change and shape the future

We were reminded that “the technological mist is overshadowing pedagogical conversation” Experiences are fragmented and disconnected. What are the vital ingredients to deal with complexity and rapid changes, that will equip teachers and students for the uncertain future and put all the puzzle pieces together? What are the puzzle pieces? What do we really need?


4 thoughts on “Risky not to take risks and other thoughts around inflexible flexibility #flexcpd

  1. I love these ideas and would love to see these things happening but fear the changes required may be insurmountable! It is entirely possible I think to encourage student to develop from the passive absorbers of information to autonomous creators of knowledge who drive the focus of their own education with (even even in spite of their tutors) but, as Rolfe ( see http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/health/documents/FastFoodforthought-howtosurviveandthriveinthecorporateuniversity.pdf) has pointed out, universities have lost/willingly relinquished their roles as intellectual incubators of debate and dissent and have become corporate entities selling qualifications and “quality” in same way way that MacDonalds sells burgers. We can encourage innovation in student and lecturers but how will we deal with the gorgon that is the university ideology?

  2. Hi Carol,

    Thank you for commenting and sharing this thought provoking paper. Gary states on page 3 http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/health/documents/FastFoodforthought-howtosurviveandthriveinthecorporateuniversity.pdf)

    “And whilst there have certainly been some
    significant achievements in innovative, reflective, work-based education,
    it has been an uphill struggle in a culture where outcome is valued over
    process, where quality is measured quantitatively in terms of degree
    classification and attrition rates, where education is generally devalued in
    favour of research and where the value of research is measured in terms
    of the size of research grants and the number of publications it produces,
    rather than by the impact it has on practice.”

    Could the answers lie in the above? Just wondering. There are huge difficulties to turn a large ship but it is not impossible. I would like to think and believe that individuals will continue joining universities out of curiosity to learn, discover and share or make that transition or shift while at university. How can we all contribute to this? What is the role of the teacher?

    Speak again soon.

  3. Some great ideas Chrissi, thanks for the link to the HEA report and thanks to Carol for the link to the very interesting paper.
    I agree that there needs to be some risk taking and changes to “usual practice” – this is difficult as you point out that quality is measured in terms of classification/attrition and also student satisfaction (which focusses on assessment and feedback/resources/organisation [amongst other areas]). This unfortunately provides a lack of flexibility and a very rigid process…..

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