On Saturday 1 July, delegates from EdD programmes across the UK and beyond came to Oxford Brookes to present and discuss work in progress, and hear from keynote speakers on the theme of Academic Voices. Dr Felicity Fletcher-Campbell from the Open University opened the day with a session on thesis writing, reconceptualising the thesis as a process rather than a product. Many delegates found that this session renewed their enthusiasm for their thesis (and in a timely manner, with the summer stretching ahead of us).
I mainly attended sessions in the Higher Education strand and found them each of them interesting and relevant, if not to my own thesis then certainly to my professional practice. Early summer can be a stressful time for EdD students; those of us in the taught phase are often juggling the end of our students’ academic year with EdD assignment submissions. Simply coming together to share stories of our teaching and research was cheering. I arrived tired and stressed but left invigorated, having been reminded how privileged we all are to have these opportunities to think and read and learn.
For example, Mike Drayson from St Mary’s University Twickenham has been exploring feedback as a social process; i.e. the ways in which students experience feedback as a relational pedagogic practice. This reminded me how crucial dialogic feedback is to the learning process and prompted me to reflect on losing my EdD focus last winter, leaving me with too much to do this summer and squeezing important dialogic processes in my own teaching practice such as second marking and reporting back on unit evaluations. Part of professional practice is regular self-evaluation; how we respond to external and internal pressures and whether this is commensurate with our own values. Speaking of which…
…Joanna Williams’ afternoon keynote argued for the pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking and claimed that that knowledge is being jettisoned in favour of skills and values, whose place in education is under question. I wondered if Joanna would mention the EU referendum, which she has written about recently, and indeed she did, pointing out that we have a growing gulf between academics and teachers on one hand, and the general public on the other. She challenged the political homogeneity of academia, suggesting that an often explicit culture of conformity is preventing debate from taking place, and questioning the notion of an ‘institutional perspective’. Reminding us that truth emerges from ideas being shared, tested and challenged, she claimed that in removing political diversity we put up barriers to knowledge. I was reminded here of Freire’s argument that in order for the oppressed to be liberated, their oppressors also need liberation; perhaps from perceptions of intellectual or moral superiority that shield fragile egos but preclude genuinely curious engagement with the other’s viewpoint. Social media will continue to become a series of echo-chambers if either side resorts to irrelevant or invalid criticisms, and even cheap insults (it is this prospect that is the motivation for my own EdD thesis).
Joanna proceeded to describe how the idea of the University as a place dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth has been replaced a more instrumental view (for example, in 2003 the Labour Education Secretary Charles Clarke described the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake as ‘a bit dodgy’), and asked why universities have allowed knowledge to be reframed as an economy. The reason as I see it is that collectivism has been all but killed off. Institutions – and people – comply with the neoliberal agenda because they have slowly but surely become part of it. Many authors have argued that the sector is already grossly inflated. Knowing that we are surplus to requirements strips away the security of identity and purpose that enables us (institutions and individuals) to have our own principles and stick to them.
I soon regretted describing Academic Freedom as a ‘value’ in higher education when introducing Joanna Williams’ keynote, as it was clear that she wouldn’t have described it as such. She did concede that the pursuit of knowledge could be framed as a value, but (although social mobility was mentioned) it is clear that she would not even give social justice or environmental sustainability a free pass. It is an interesting argument that was strongly voiced and many delegates found it persuasive.
Whoever takes on the role of 2017 colloquium factotum needs to ensure all presenters have a good number of delegates to present to (on reflection four parallel strands was perhaps one too many), and those applying to present may benefit from advice on demonstrating wider relevance in their titles and abstracts. That having been noted, the day appears to have been a logistical and an educational success that was enjoyed by all. I would like to extend my personal thanks to all the presenters, chairs and delegates, and I hope to see you all next year!