The challenge I had been given as a presenter really made me think about how higher education ecosystems evolve and the background article I wrote with Rob Ward enabled me to explore new ideas.
A conference is an ecology, which though designed and facilitated by the convenor who has created a structure for social learning. What really matters is the space and affordance they create for participants to discover things for themselves and make connections and relationships that are meaningful to them. The relaxed gentle unfolding of this event with lots of space for chatting outside the sessions provided a climate that was good for the formation of new relationships. In fact a relationship I formed with one delegate - Arcie Mallorie has led to a new collaboration this week as he is contributing to our Google+ conversation on the theme of Creative Pedagogies for Creative Learning Ecologies. A great example of how a relationship formed in one learning ecology can flourish in another ecology for learning. During the conference I was delighted to be invited to be the Vice President of the International Association for Lifewide Learning. I believe that it is often the potential that new relationships hold that are the most important outcomes from an event like a conference and I have had many examples where such a relationship has led to new opportunities for collaboration and contribution. I have a feeling that the relationships I made in this event offer new affordance that just would not be in my life if I had not joined in.
It was a completely different format and experience to the ICOLACE event: jam packed, high energy, lots of contributions and attempts to draw out what participants felt was significant through table conversations.
So here are a few things I learnt from the ecology for social learning that organisers Pam Burnard and Teresa Cremin organised and facilitated.
Jenny Gibson talked about 'how people unfold' and introduced me to architect Simon Nicholson's ideas that:
‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ Simon Nicholson http://www.aneverydaystory.com/2013/03/05/the-theory-of-loose-parts/
Nicholson was talking mostly about playground and school design and rethinking the static play equipment and environments, proposing instead one incorporating loose materials to engage children’s natural creativity and inventiveness. His Theory of Loose Parts suggests that materials that can be moved around, designed and redesigned, and tinkered with; create infinitely more opportunities for creative engagement than static materials and environments. Basically, the more materials there are the more people can interact. It got me thinking that life is actually an environment full of loose parts and the more loose parts we create the richer affordances it contains. So attending a conference is adding a new loose part to your life out of which new learning or relationships might develop. I could also see the relevance of the idea to learning ecologies and this picture I used in my presentation helped me to visualise the enormous number of loose parts that an ecology for learning created by a teacher might contain.
Kerry Chapel and Teresa Cremin talked about policy drivers that forced teachers to adopt particular pedagogic stances which I thought was just as relevant to higher education where our quality assurance systems are founded on certain assumptions about learning (like all outcomes should be specified in advance) which forces teachers into a particular position.
Teresa talked about the need for teacher involvement in researching their own practice which seems self-evident to me.
Jo Trowsdale talked about STEAM education and her imaginarium at University of Warwick and provided some nice examples for pedagogies that involved making and performing that encouraged young people to use their creativity. She talked about connecting mind-body(in making/performing), disciplines. The idea that we learn and find things out through our whole bodies not just our cognition.
She summarised the essence of the pedagogy used in the imaginarium as:
1) Novel tasks to hook
2) Illustrate concepts
3) Feed curiosity and inquiry
4) Experience - design, embody, make,
6) Visualise, sense & abstract
Relationships - building of self-belief and the sociality of context. Journeys from concept through design to making and performing. The value of approaches used in arts education to promote learning in science, technology and maths.
The idea of being 'situated in a learning project 'as if' you were a practising scientist, engineer, artist. All these ideas seemed very relevant to the idea of learning ecologies.
In an interesting talk Bill Nicholl - talked about the need to involve learners in authentic tasks and real world problems using tools (like gloves and glasses) that enabled them to experience and feel what it is like to have impaired functionality. In this way enabling learners to appreciate the challenges and empathise with the end users of products, services or environments. He talked about psychological tools to help learners think inside the box so they can design and make outside the box. This gave me insights into the ways in which a teacher's pedagogy might seek to encourage empathy and the idea of 'encouraging learners to put themselves into someone else's shoes' as a means to encouraging creativity. He identified the 3A's of Authenticity, Autonomy and Ambiguity.
The final session of the day was a talk given by Guy Claxton on embodiment which certainly made me think about the ways in which embodiment features in our ecologies for learning and opens a new avenue for exploration.