20 SES 03, Inclusive Education Practices: From school to higher education
In many sites of education today, global, financial and employment uncertainty has resulted in an emphasis on functional training and the importance of accumulating knowledge as opposed to acquiring it (Standing, 2011). In too many instances, we see a disproportionate focuson threat and uncertainty that undervalues openness, relationality and otherness in the process of learning and teaching (ibid). Thus, instead of optimism in the face of new experiences we (in the UK) seem increasingly to regard them as destabilising elements and retreat from them (ibid). Such attitudes are similarly reflected in the organisation of knowledge in higher education (Livingstone, 2010). As university academics, we too have gradually become acculturated to such perspectives, as we strive to minimise, or even eliminate, uncertainty in learning for our students (Overoye & Storm, 2015: 145). In our teaching, we embed structured instruction and (over?) value clarity in learning processes and outcomes. But: we argue that in the current global climate of economic precarity, it is more important than ever that we begin to re-conceptualise uncertainty and, indeed, its benefits - because some forms of uncertainty might be actually be beneficial (ibid., p. 140).
Joosten (2013) argues that professionals today have to deal with more uncertainties in the workplace (and their lives) than ever before. Dealing with uncertainty remains an experience we prefer to reduce – or eliminate altogether, rather than learn to do better. The assumption underlying this approach is that uncertainty has no advantages. However, it has been said that uncertainty can be turned into an advantage, particularly when students take responsibility for their learning and develop agency (Kahn, 2014). For philosophically- and psychoanalytically-minded researchers however, the notion of uncertainly promises much more than simply the enhancement of agency.
Drawing on Heidegger, Su (2011) argues that in an age of uncertainty, the cultivation of lifelong learning needs to be grounded within the mode of being rather than having or doing. Honerod-Hoveid (2013) argues that uncertainty opens up spaces that can facilitate flexibility of thought and 'in-between' knowledge, the latter being characterised by difference rather than similarity. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, Fulkova et al.relate uncertainty to the movement of meaning making (2009: 113) and the process of approaching the other as someone different from oneself (2009: 114). For psychoanalyticallyminded theorists, like Ruti (2010), creativity can be the result of uncertainty in the way it often emerges as a product of an individual’s attempts to tolerate anxiety, frustration and fear, as opposed to employing tactics to minimize exposure to risk and failure.
This paper is theoretically framed by psychoanalytic and philosophical concepts such as 'in-between' knowledge, the toleration of frustration and the anxiety of not knowing. It seeks to explore how uncertainty can lead students to what Entwistle (cited in Karagiannopoulou, 2011) characterises as the bedrock of successful learning: making one’s own meaning. In this paper, we discuss uncertainty as a method in the higher educational setting, drawing on empirical data collected during students’ visits to art galleries, museum exhibitions and recently urbanised inner city neighbourhoods in London. Student-participants were invited on field trips to explore three exhibition spaces and their environs. They received minimal instruction but were encouraged to capture their responses visually (with photographs documenting the visit) and in a written format (reflexive narrative, ideally related to the pictures). ‘Unprepared’ for both the experience of art and a walking tour of the city, away from the familiar classroom and also deprived of the usual clearly defined learning objectives, students initially responded to the invitation to ‘look around’ and ‘see for yourself’ with apprehension and resistance. In their attempt to manage these feelings, students re-negotiated and reconceptualised their approaches to learning, thus combining reflexivity and gaining insight on their own attitudes/responses to anxiety-provoking tasks. Student-participant responses were gathered utilising ethnographic and narrative methods. The ethnographic element provided opportunities for participants to be both insiders and outsiders in east London communities – as Londoners, and as university students. As the academic facilitators, we designed the excursions to link (loose) learning tasks individually to the specificities of the learner group and the selected sites. We followed similar methodological principles across the groups, although individual practices and outcomes differed due to the micro level decisions. The narrative element encapsulated visual and verbal forms, in an extended version of Riessman's (2008) dialogic narrative analysis model. This approach asserts that stories are co-constructed in various interrelated contexts—interactional, historical, institutional and discursive (Riessman, 2008: 105). In this model, narratives are interpreted on two connected levels. On one level, narratives are viewed as co-constructed in the interactional movements between stories within any one text, and between different stories. On another level, stories are approached as being dialogically constructed (Bakhtin, 1982). We also considered the positioning of the student-participants as storytellers. The integration of the visual method (photo-elicitation) comprises a third layer in the dialogic process of meaning-making (Gauntlett and Holzwarth, 2006; Gastaldo et al., 2012).
Our analyses are ongoing, but we are able to share the following tentative findings from the student responses. 1. Early student responses to the tasks reflected anxieties about a task with few, if any, objectives or parameters for engagement. When we said ‘do whatever you like’, there was some insistence on structured direction and when that was not forthcoming, responses included: a lack of engagement, boredom, denial/rejection: ‘this is not for me’. 2. However, once students overcame their feelings of apprehension and anxiety, they began to engage with the exhibits, producing comments/observations and visual artefacts that not only resonated with their personal lives, but also with the topics they were studying on their academic programmes. In the course of our work thus far, we have begun to glean evidence from the data suggesting that students’ conscious and deliberate engagement with ‘uncertainty’ in their learning can contribute to the development of characteristics that are in fact highly valued in the more – in our view contested - regimented structures for teaching and learning in higher education in England today - characteristics such as intellectual resilience and flexibility. We look forward to developing our findings further and sharing them with colleagues at conference.
Bakhtin, M.M., 2010. The dialogic imagination: Four essays (Vol. 1). University of Texas Press. Beck, U. (1992), Risk society: towards a new modernity, London, Sage. Edwards, J. (2015) Teaching, Learning and Bion’s model of Digestion, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(3), pp. 376-389. Fulkova, M. et al (2009) Through the eyes of a stray dog: encounters with the Other, International Journal of Education Through Art, 5 (2-3), pp. 111-128. Gastaldo, D., Magalhães, L., Carrasco, C. and Davy, C., 2012. Body-map storytelling as research: Methodological considerations for telling the stories of undocumented workers through body mapping. Toronto: Creative Commons. Gauntlett, D. & Holzwarth, P. 2006. Creative and visual methods for exploring identities. Visual Studies, 21(1), 82-91. Joosten, H. (2013) Learning and teaching in uncertain times: a Nietzschean approach in professional Higher Education, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 47(4), pp. 548-563. Honerod-Hoveid, M. (2012) A space of ‘who’ – a culture of ‘two’: speculations related to an ‘in-between’ knowledge, Ethics and Education, 7(3), pp. 251-260. Kahn, P. E. (2014) Theorising student engagement in higher education, British Educational Research Journal, 40(6), pp. 1005-1018. Karagiannopoulou, E. (2011) Revisiting learning and teaching in higher education: A psychodynamic perspective. Psychodynamic Practice, Vol. 17 (1), February, 5-21 Livingston, L. (2010) Teaching Creativity in Higher Education, Arts Education Policy Review, 111:2, 59-62, DOI: 10.1080/10632910903455884 Overoye, A. & Storm B. C. (2015) Harnessing the Power of Uncertainty to Enhance Learning, Transnational Issues in Psychological Science, 1(2), pp. 140-148. Reissmann (2008) Narrative Methods in the Human Sciences, London: Sage Press. Ruti, M (2010) Winnicott with Lacan: Living Creatively in a Postmodern World, American Imago, 67(3) 353-374. Standing, G. (2014) The Precariat, the New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury. Su, Y. H. (2011) The constitution of agency in developing lifelong learning ability: the ‘being’ mode, Higher Education, 62(4), pp. 399-412.
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