What Can He Know? What Can She Know? Who Needs to Know?

In 2015, MMU removed a homeless shelter underneath Mancunian Way. At this time, were selecting case studies sites for PARTISPACE. Starting from the assumption that there is a relationship between the apparent lack of participation among young people and the limitations of what is recognised, the project defines participatory action as those that are carried out by the public.

In this context, an action research project was conceived with the Men’s Room, an arts-based homeless charity in Manchester. To foreground participants’ voices, they were positioned as the lead creations. Lost and Found aimed to highlight issues facing the homeless community through a series of installations, culminating in walking tours. A documentary was made, ending with a discussion centred on recognition and advocacy.

When a perspective has been silenced, the clash between mainstream perspectives and those emerging through the research process can make it difficult for the researcher to bear witness, and to know how to proceed. The seminar will seek to provide an opportunity for colleagues to watch the film and to enter a process of accompaniment.

I presented my work with The Men’s Room as part of the Partispace project at a recent Arts-based Methods at MMU session. The project included the development of art installations around Manchester, walking tours delivered by members of The Men’s Room, and a film about the project.

As the title of the session reflects, I have been thinking about epistemological understandings of knowledge in this project, drawing on Code (1991) to ask ‘who can know?’ In addition, the role of the researcher as advocate in this kind of project is important – self advocacy is difficult for marginalised groups, whose members are treated as lacking in credibility. We also talked about relation based practice, how to build trust and relationships in this kind of research, whilst also acknowledging the temporariness of researcher’s presence in that space.

We watched the film made as part of the project and then discussed it afterwards, thinking in particular about

  • Reactions to the film
  • Ideas for further dissemination
  • Advocacy/self-advocacy and alliance building
  • Role of arts-based methods
  • Further development of theoretical considerations

We left reflecting on the potential for film as a visual method to afford advocacy particularly for marginalised groups and the role academic researchers may have in supporting this.

Who stories the film itself?

How can film account for complexity?

How are participants portrayed in visual outputs?

Dr Harriet Rowley

Graphic lives: telling Bangladeshi migrant women’s stories through graphic narratives

I’m very excited to working with Hyde Community Action on a new project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’re exploring the heritage of British Bangladeshi women through the creation and sharing of online comics that integrate their personal experiences with broader historical narratives. The project will see a group of women from Tameside exploring their own life stories and the historical narratives of their communities through workshops on life history, cross-cultural storytelling and digital skills, as well as visits to museums and archives (including Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and MMU Special Collections) to engage with collections. They will then use a simple online comics creation tool to communicate their own multimedia story using photographs; drawings; and text and sound in any language.

We know much less about the history of the Bangladeshi community compared to other ethnic minority groups in the UK. Research that has been carried out has tended to focus on larger communities concentrated in London, Birmingham, Bradford etc. In contrast, the women in this project form part of a much smaller community and may, therefore, have very different stories to tell. Furthermore, the majority of research that has been undertaken into Bangladeshi communities has been focused on public life, and is therefore almost exclusively male. Most Bangladeshi women look after their home and family, but we know very little about domestic and family life in Bangladeshi migrant communities. The focus of this project will therefore be on what has been described as “the drama of the domestic and the everyday” (Laydeez do Comics): issues outside the public sphere, and therefore often overlooked, but of central importance to the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Through representing and sharing women’s stories and heritage as comics, we hope to challenge preconceptions; to widen representations of migrants from those (often negative portrayals) commonly seen in the media; and to put forward alternative representations that focus specifically on women’s stories and experiences.

During the second stage of the project this autumn, we will be organising a celebration event for the local community and showcasing the project at local community festivals and national comics events, as well as running sessions in local schools and a workshop for teaching/social/community work students at MMU. We’ll also produce a resource pack to encourage and support other organisations wishing to undertake similar activities.

Sarah McNicol

MMU Postgraduate Sessions: @DrMGallagher on Sound in Schools

Dr Michael Gallagher will host the next MMU Postgraduate Sessions workshop on the topic of Sound in Schools.

THURSDAY 9TH MARCH – 6-8PM

Brooks Building, BR 1.22

How does sound function in schools? In this session we will discuss the politics of noise and quiet in classrooms, how sound creates atmospheres in school spaces, and how it is used to exercise power. We will begin with a short film I made as part of my research, which draws attention to school soundscapes that are often ‘filtered out’ by conventional research methods. We will then discuss  what expanded practices listening might do for education and research.

‘I’-ING THE DATA

Raj Patel presented his doctoral work today on reflexive practice and intersectionality in schools. He developed the approach of i-poems after amassing a mountain of data from interviews and participant observation in a school. After spending a long time thematically coding in Nvivo, he explained that everything was coded and yet patterns were not emerging. The risk with a thematic coding approach is it reveals recurring concepts, but overlooks tacit experiences.

The I-poem draws on Gilligan et al’s (2003) Listening Guide; immersing yourself in the data in order to understand the plot, and then focussing on the voice of I/me/my in order to reveal subject positioning and power relations. Raj then worked with these extracts from the data to create poems.

I went for an interview

I didn’t get it

I got back here again one of the staff said to me don’t see it in a negative

“you’re gold to us” she said it in Gujarati “honanichhe” and

I went away

I went away

I didn’t really think about it but then it kept coming back to me so

I wrote it down

I went back to it a couple of days later

I thought …gold

Patel, 2015

Overall, we were interested in the way in which the I-poems displayed intersectionality in a more nuanced way. When the effects of race and gender are felt through subject positioning and through what is left unspoken, can arts practice such as poetry be a fruitful way of articulating this?

Reference

Gilligan, C. et al (2003) On the listening guide: A voice-centred relational method. In Camic, P. et al (eds) Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. Washington DC: American Psychological Association Press.

Patel, R. (2015) The Role of Reflective Practice in Educating About Race, Identity and Difference Unpublished PhD Thesis Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University available at http://www.e-space.mmu.ac.uk/espace/handle/2173/582935 [Accessed 14/01/17]

This was originally posted on the Arts Based Methods at MMU blog.

An interview with Jill Blackmore on Space, Learning and Feminism and the Politics of Education

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Jill Blackmore is Professor of Education and former Director of the Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation at Deakin University, Victoria, Australia.

She has published widely in education and sociology with a longstanding interest in issues of equity, feminism, teachers’ work and classroom practice. Recently she has led teams studying school learning environments leading to an extremely useful literature review, Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes (PDF, 3MB) as well as the Innovative Learning Environments Research Study (PDF, 1MB) (See also learningspacesportal.edu.au). Jill also advises the OECD on their Learning Environments Evaluation Programme.

This interview crosses a lot of ground – from her recent work exploring teachers’ use of space to her own teaching in Victoria schools in the 1970s, feminism, the realities of doing research, and recent challenges to an equitable educational entitlement. The interview took place in May 2016 following a talk organised by Dr Ruth McGinity and Professor Helen Gunter at Manchester University where Jill spoke about her recent research on space, pedagogy and teachers.

Thank you for your talk earlier, Jill. Such a close focus on teachers’ work in and with space is vital but sometimes overlooked. When teachers are training in Australia, is an explicit focus on space part of their mandatory courses?

No, there’s nothing at all about the spatial aspects of teaching – what I call spatialised pedagogies. I think they are becoming more recognised because of this sudden surge of interest cross-nationally around the notion of the 21st century learner. That and a sudden realisation that during the 1980s and 90s there was a lack of investment in school buildings due to privatisation, a lack of public funds and a more competitive situation in most Anglophone countries. But this real increase in interest is also happening across Italy, Mexico and where there’s been natural disasters such as New Zealand and Japan.

As I said, it’s closely connected to the notion of the 21st century learner who they believe has to be able to work in teams, in groups… There’s interdisciplinarity, intercultural competences, critical thinking skills, being flexible and being able to work and learn in different ways.

The argument is that we need new types of curricula which reflect many of these issues and that this can’t be done in a classroom with desks in rows. That’s the background but there’s a lot of different things happening at the same time. In Australia, for example, with the Building the Education Revolution now that was an economic move, it was nothing to do with education really, it was to keep our economy going and it did. $6.7 billion dollars helped reduce the impact of the economic crisis in 2007 as well as provide new buildings to both public and private schools.

It’s interesting that a focus on young people and their educational spaces has come about for such different reasons – in that case economics, in others natural disasters – education can be incidental…

There’s a global policy forum so an opportunity is seized for a variety of reasons. The OECD has been working on this for some time and I’m involved with this project looking at innovative learning environments. They been looking at this since the mid-1990s and the OECD is very powerful, informing what governments think and they’ve been promoting the whole stuff about the 21stcentury learner and what constitutes an innovative learning environment.

Their work in learning environments and school buildings comes together in a project I’m doing with the OECD called LEEP (Learning Environments Education Programme). It’s about trying to link school improvement and the process of that with space.

Can I just ask – when we’re talking about school improvement, we’re talking presumably about some kind of outputs that they’re interested in measuring? What are they?

Well, there’s school improvement and effectiveness literature and they are the mainstream. They are the things that inform all kinds of policy, they are the paradigm, the dominant, global paradigm in education research. I do think the notion of continuous improvement is ridiculous but we do obviously want to improve what we do in schools.

Now those of us who come from a critical perspective might say ‘Of course we want things to get better, but we’d do it through much more participatory action research and teacher knowledge’, in that way, rather than the imposition of pre-specified outcomes and outputs. This is what we now call the Transnational Leadership Package which we study in a Routledge series of books drawing on critical perspectives on educational leadership that Helen Gunter (2014), Pat Thomson (2016) and I (Blackmore 2016) have written with others. So we have a different way of thinking about what to do in schools and how to make things better for teachers and students which address context and the situatedness of ethical practices of leadership.

Within that paradigm, how do you negotiate your space to be able to say, ‘Hold on, things need to be thought of broadly here…’? How do you do that?

As academics? Well, for example, Pat Thomson’s done a fantastic project on creative partnerships and done fantastic work too in arts education and space in the arts. Helen does it through critical analysis of what’s going on policy-wise, I’ve done it through getting involved with things I really don’t like.

Such as?

Well, the notion of effectiveness as used in the OECD LEEP project is in some forms is totally contrary to what I believe. But being involved it gives me the opportunity to sit down and talk to 23 countries, to talk to people about how to think about this differently in ways that address complexity and context. I’ve done this three or four times now and the framework we developed out of the Innovative Learning Environment in Victoria project which I talked about earlier informed the LEEP project.

It’s an opportunity to actually inform the people who do the work on the ground, to say ‘There’s a different way of viewing the world and this is the way to go.’ So I see that as an opportunity with some costs too. Systems have to make decisions and the reality of life is that systems of schooling have to do the best with what they know. So I see my role is to broaden their understanding.

Ok, so things spin off from what you do?

Yes. I think people see we have to put teachers first, get teachers to think about their practice, give them opportunities, give them support. They’ll change their practice if they understand the warrant, the reasons why they need to change it. Most of the time. Sometimes it’s too hard but most of them will try. And you’ve got to give them the opportunity – the current system doesn’t give any teacher any opportunity at all to do anything. We’re not in the straight jacket quite so much in Australia but here in England it’s devastating.

So making sure that the people who are in the buildings, using the spaces in their teaching – they need to be connected more closely to what policy-makers do and those doing the more arm’s length, big systems work?

Well one of the notions that Pat Thomson and I use is ‘redesign’ which came out of the New London Group and Multiliteracies. The notion of redesign implies that, as practitioners, there’s no such thing as innovation in the sense of experimenting, bringing it into a technical manual and then you just do it. With redesign in education we’re trying to change the very thing that we have to keep on going and maintain. In a sense you’re trying to rebuild the plane as it’s flying – you can’t stop it at any time because you’re constantly having to meet certain outcomes at the very time you’re trying to change practice. It’s really hard for teachers to balance that. So it is how teachers try to manage that constant tension, to do the things that they think will really make a difference to their kids and still keep things going. We talk about the various elements of redesign: the aesthetic, the cultural, the spatial, the emotional and affective as well as all the other dimensions that school improvement always talks about.

So you seem committed to recognising the complexity of this…

Because that’s how it is – it is complex.

Of course, but this is a problem isn’t it when people want simple solutions?

Yes, simple solutions to complex problems and they just don’t exist.

Has this always been a problem?

It’s always been a problem except there hasn’t always been the research around to point it out. And I do think that things are far more complex than they’ve ever been before. The digital revolution is changing the relationship between the individual and society and education – radically.

On top of that you’ve got neoliberal policies permeating every aspect of our lives, making promises that can’t be fulfilled and so you’ve got education unable to fulfil its promise of social mobility for anybody anymore. Middle class anxieties are now blossoming in every country with the internationalisation of education and a rising middle class in China and India who seek comparative advantage for their kids. In Australia you’ve got increases in private schooling because people think they can buy their way into a good career but even that’s not necessarily happening anymore. And education itself is now under threat because it cannot fulfil its promise. University education can no longer fulfil the old promise – you get a good degree, you get a good job…

A promise made by earlier generations…

We made the promise! We believed in education and we got it! Our generation is the only one that has really achieved those benefits.

I’d like to move then to this more personal side of things if that’s ok. Do your experiences of school shape what you think of school now? How?

Well I’m from a family of teachers, my mother was the first female principal of a coeducational school, she helped to get equal pay for women teachers, she was active in the Victorian Secondary Teachers’ Association. My dad was a teacher and my brother, my partners…!

I joke about my vintage but I think education was our religion, it really was. For the baby boomers it was a religion – we saw feminism, we saw a capacity for social change, to change the world, we educated women. Well, where are we now? Education’s totally feminised and it hasn’t changed the world at all because it’s moved on, it’s moved out of education to somewhere else. Educapitalism at a global level basically!

But yes, I was educated in a government secondary school where and when only 8-10% went on to university and we were in hugely crowded classes: 40 or 50 in one higher certificate Maths class with a first year teacher who was teaching Maths and Science had failed these subjects at second year University because they didn’t have enough trained teachers then. So the union goes into action. In the 60s and 70s it was the teachers’ union promoting the registration of teachers.

The union was doing that?

Oh yes, it was the union we would look to for ideas about curriculum. In the 70s there was a real blossoming of increasingly interesting ideas. We chose to do General Studies, much of which is what they talk about in 21st Century Learning. That’s what we were doing then – we knocked down the walls of classrooms, we built outdoor classrooms, we had group work, we had teams of teachers working together so none of that was new to us, it just wasn’t out there in the literature – we just knew it was a good thing to do. And we read. We read Illich, we read the Little Red Book and of course we read feminist literature. It was a time of blossoming, a time of fantastic activism, a time of feminism…

And you weren’t constrained by assessment systems?

We had school assessment, we had exams. The union threatened to boycott the Year 12 exam because it reproduced inequality. I was president of the Staff Association and Union Branch in the particular school where I was teaching – there was so much going on. After my first year teaching I was thrown into a role of looking after 200 students. I was a careers advisor, I’d take them to the doctor’s around the corner when they got pregnant – we did everything! I was in charge of a mini school by the end of my first year of teaching.

It sounds like your vision of education as complex is directly because of your experience?

Well it was complicated. In Victoria we had an interesting case. My first published academic paper was written about it: school-based decision-making. The unions were quite powerful so we got rid of inspections, we had committees in schools to help principals make decisions, we had an agreement with the unions that every school would have an equal opportunities person and there was someone to promote gender equity for girls. I remember bringing action research into the school. In Australia then you had a very critical edge and that was developing particularly in Deakin University. You had a women’s movement – our first female premier in Victoria came out of the women’s movement – you had a strong parents’ movement. I’ve written about that and now what I’m writing about is much more corporate managerialism. I look at it now and think those 20 years were an aberration, those 20 years teaching and being an activist feminist academic.

And in terms of space – learning spaces – in the 70s?

Well we made a case then for why we needed a big space in General Studies, we needed flexibility, we needed the capacity to move the tables around. We’d do drama so we needed to change things – we don’t have that now. We’ve got technology, we’ve got computers now but…

Sorry, you mentioned flexibility there and one of the things that I find most difficult things in reading about learning spaces in academic literature and outside it, is the incredible lack of ‘What are we talking about here?’ Is your flexibility the same as mine? So a real lack of preciseness about these terms.

Yes, is it flexibility about the space? Is it flexibility about the furniture? Is it multi-purpose-ness? Or is it flexibility arising from the technologies being used? Is it flexibility about what you do?

Exactly. How do you conceive of it?

I see it as all of those things but each of them is different and they don’t necessarily converge. In the classroom, flexibility of furniture requires a whole lot of organisational things to be happening with the teaching – it does take more time. And it changes the temporality of everything. When you change the spatial dimensions you change temporality because often, ironically, you can’t have movement in the same way especially if you have really big spaces as some schools do – everyone has to know what everybody else is doing. In other words, there needs to be synchronicity between activities because of the noise that’s being made.

So it requires a huge amount of planning on the part of teachers and that requires dedicated time for teachers to plan. You can’t have, I think, good pedagogies in an open space without dedicated time for teachers to plan. And it changes if you go to block timetabling because you can’t have too much movement all the time. Time changes things. The divisions of time change according to the space: smaller slots, bigger blocks or the idea of time out.

To wrap up then. A café somewhere, and an architect and an educationalist sitting down together. What would you want them to talk about or what principles might guide their conversation?

Well this happens quite a lot, I do it a lot, and we normally agree on many things. But really they should be looking to come up with some key pedagogical principles of design. You then carry these basic principles of learning into what kind of spaces you need – it starts with pedagogy and works backwards to the space.

And that’s often the problem isn’t it, it happens the wrong way round… space is seen to be an agent of change…

Well space doesn’t do it. You’ve got to work with people and change their practices. There’s an interaction obviously but I would argue that there’s an interaction in any space, one that doesn’t have a particular purpose. But we have purposes. That’s the thing with education – there’s a purpose.

Adam Wood

This was originally posted on the Architecture and Education blog.