What can art and design teachers contribute to an imagination of the university?

rusty-bicycle-pubI felt like I was starting to lose direction with my thesis plans, so last week I persuaded my academic adviser George to meet up for a pep talk in the Rusty Bicycle.

After the novelty had settled on my original thesis idea, I’d started to feel uncomfortable that it wasn’t based on a research question beyond ‘what happens if we do this?’.  I am still very attached to the idea of going out into the world and having ‘brave conversations’, but I now think this approach would best contribute to my research indirectly, rather than actually being the research.

It was reading Ron Barnett’s new book Imagining the University that made me realise there was a question underpinning my original idea – what are the possibilities for a new idea of the university (and what, therefore, is our role and scope as university educators)? I see now that my approach might be more focused on eliciting these ideas in a more direct way. I have also begun to appreciate the profound influence that working at an art & design specific university has had on me, and am recognising that art and design educators (broad-minded, critical, design-thinking, creative?) may have something particularly valuable to offer an imagination of the university. 

The essence of my research topic remains the same; I still wish to bring together educators at UAL who are interested in the possibilities for reimagining the university, and work with them to generate ideas that have the potential to inspire positive change. The approach is similar too; I am now thinking that the project may take the form of a series of participatory workshops (i.e. with different participants each time) rather than an ongoing co-operative enquiry group. This would enable larger numbers of participants to be involved and a community of sorts to grow, and provide a reflection-action cycle with its associated learning opportunities. It would also be less ethically complex than the initial plan which required the recruitment of primary and secondary participants.

notes GeorgeGeorge and I discussed appropriate reading material and it was reassuring that he mentioned a lot of authors whose work on conversation and co-operative enquiry I read over the summer (Zeldin, Reason, Krznaric, Pask, etc.). While clearly focused on my initial plan I’m sure this body of literature will remain of interest going forwards. I noted down some further suggestions of George’s that were directly relevant to Imagining the University; Amazon had kindly suggested many of these to me earlier as well, so I’ve duly ordered in some second-hand copies of Jon Nixon’s Interpretive Pedagogies, Maskell & Robinson’s New Idea of the University, and Stefan Collini’s What are Universities For.  I flirted with a book by Max Tegmark but have put it on the waitlist for now, and am revisiting Pask & Laurillard to check for relevance against the new plan. I may decide to incorporate some conversational tools and frameworks in my approach with the workshops.

Generally I’m feeling a lot more perky about it all, and finding it easier to focus. I’m returning to Oxford tomorrow for a chat with David, and am also hoping to meet up with Pete Thompson, whose work I encountered last term.

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