06 SES 01, Risk, Learning and Orientation in an Era of Digitalisation
InThe Beautiful Risk of Education (2016), Gert Biesta argues that the inherent risk of learning being anti-liberational. One reason is that current discourses of ‘learning’ suggest it is an unavoidable, ‘natural’ process, whereas, argues Biesta, ‘learning’ is a political construct defining a desirable process with desirable outcomes. So strident is this discourse, he suggests, its tone is threatening, the implication being that the very future of individuals and societies is at risk, unless lifelong learning is embraced and advanced. Politically, the state has progressively retreated from its traditional role of nurturing and developing education, placing the onus instead on individuals to take personal responsibility, in the pursuit of enhancing their ‘human capital’ to better compete in the global labour auction (Brown, Lauder, & Ashton, 2011).
More recently, in a publication that is even closer to the content of this presentation, Biesta (2019) argues that not only is the language of ‘learning’ vague and unspecified (or sometimes merely an expression of the author’s personal view of what desirable learning is), but that it is disconnected from education. Moreover, learning discourses overlook three important questions related to education, namely that of content, purposes and relationships. With special reference to purpose, Biesta outlines education for qualification, for socialisation, and for subjectification (“the formation of the human person as subject of its own actions” (p. 33), suggesting that all three are germane to any discussion of education, and are also inseparable. What concerns him is that ‘learning’ discourses slide over these nuances, or focus on one of these purposes at the expense of the other two. In particular, he is concerned with abuse of the ‘domain of subjectification’. Echoing his earlier work, Biesta regards this area as the thin edge of the wedge in regard to peoples’ liberty, and what he terms acquiring the freedom to act or refrain from acting.
Taking a Levinasian line, Biesta sees this process of subjectification as coming into dialogue with the world, especially ‘the other’, and it becomes a lifelong mission to balance self-centred desires against living well with the planet and its inhabitants. He urges that questions of architectural design must go well beyond a concern with ‘learning’ to embrace instead a concern with the three purposes of education he outlines, but particularly with the matter of ‘subjectification’. So instead of ‘creating spaces’ for learning, designers should be concerned with ‘making room for education’ (p. 37).
In this presentation, I take up some of the insights offered by Biesta, in order to critically examine the key assumptions that underpin the conceptualisation of state-of-the-art, open and flexible learning environments, as expressed by designers of both school and university learning environments. These assumptions include the potential of innovative building design to inspire their occupants to become ambitious and develop civic responsibility. Other assumptions include the freedom stemming from their flexibility, and relatedly, the sense that the pedagogies suited to working in these spaces are potentially more liberating for teachers, who have the freedom to explore collaborative styles, and to develop personalised programmes of learning for their students. For students, these spaces are assumed to be liberational as they permit freedom of movement, and are suited to curriculum development that encourages choice and the ability of students to self-direct their learning. Simultaneously, however, bureaucrats and politicians see these impressive new buildings as both symbolic of bold policy leadership and as instrumental to changing pedagogical styles, requiring teachers to update their practice to better support the development of ‘twenty-first century learners’, able to take up ‘responsible citizenship’ and to contribute to national participation in the global economy.
Theoretical and fieldwork studies conducted since 2014 (Benade, 2014; 2015a; b; 2016a; b; 2017; Benade, Bertelsen, & Lewis, 2018; Benade, Gardner, Teschers, & Gibbons, 2014) show that the actual use and occupancy by students and teachers and their respective experience of these spaces can offer different perspectives. The theoretical dimensions of this on-going research work are supported by the theoretical insights offered by Lefebvre (1991), Foucault (1996) and de Certeau (1984). The fieldwork studies, carried out with phenomenological intent, but analysed from critical theoretic perspectives, have taken place in New Zealand, Denmark and England. Designed as both multi-case studies and single case studies, this qualitative research has included interviews with teachers, school leaders, architects and parents; focus group discussions with teachers and students; and multiple observations of practice in flexible learning spaces across multiple primary (elementary), secondary and university locations. This particular presentation focuses on an analysis of the assumptions articulated by participant architects in one-to-one interviews. The interview data has been analysed using frameworks suggested by Huberman, Miles, & Saldana (2014). First pass coding focussed on in vivo, process and values identification, followed by second pass coding developed as nodes in NVivo software. The findings are interpreted through the lens suggested by Biesta, and supported by the spatial theorists mentioned above.
It will be argued that the innovative designs of the flexible learning spaces run the risk of producing several outcomes, not all consistent with each other, and that the ‘learning’ they encourage, will not necessarily produce the docile 21st century bodies policy makers, bureaucrats and designers intend.
Benade, L. (2014). Knowledge and educational research in the context of ‘21st century learning’. European Educational Research Journal, 13(2), 338–349. doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2014.13.3.338 Benade, L. (2015a). Bits, bytes and dinosaurs: Using Levinas and Freire to address the concept of ‘twenty-first century learning’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(9) 935–948. doi: 10.1080/00131857.2015.1035159. Benade, L. (2015b). Teachers’ critical reflective practice in the context of twenty-first century learning. Open Review of Educational Research 2(1), 42-54. doi:10.1080/23265507.2014.998159 Benade, L. (2016a). Is the classroom obsolete in the twenty-first century? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49(8), 796-807. doi:10.1080/00131857.2016.1269631 Benade, L. (2017). Being a Teacher in the 21st Century: A Critical New Zealand Study. Singapore: Springer Nature. Benade, L. (2016b). Teachers’ reflective practice in the context of 21st century learning. Open Review of Educational Research, 3(1) 133-147. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23265507.2016.1201777 Benade, L. (2017). The evolution of policy: A critical examination of school property under the National-led Government. Waikato Journal of Education, 22(1), 97-112. doi: 10.15663/wje.v22i1.558 Benade, L. Bertelsen, E. & Lewis, L. (2018). Reimagining and reshaping spaces of learning: Constituting innovative and creative lifelong learners. In L. Benade & M. Jackson (Eds.). Transforming education: Design & governance in global contexts. Singapore: Springer Nature. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5678-9_3 Benade, L.; Gardner, M.; Teschers, C.; & Gibbons, A. (2014). 21st Century learning in New Zealand: Leadership insights and perspectives. New Zealand Journal of Educational Leadership, Policy and Practice, 29(2), 47–60. Biesta, G. (2016). The beautiful risk of education. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, Taylor & Francis. Biesta, G. (2019). Creating spaces for learning or making room for education? New parameters for the architecture of education. In H.M. Tse, H. Daniels, A. Stables and S. Cox (Eds). Designing buildings for the future of schooling: Contemporary visions for education, (pp. 27-40). London, United Kingdom/New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis. Brown, P., Lauder, H., & Ashton, D. (2011). The global auction: The broken promises of education, jobs and incomes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. De Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Foucault, M. (1996). Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984 – Volume 1: Ethics, subjectivity, and truth. New York, NY: New Press Huberman, A.M., Miles, M.B., & Saldana, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. (D. Nicholson-Smith, trans.). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
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