Open Space Learning – Thoughts on a Training Session
Here at the Gendered Knowledges project, we were lucky enough to be invited to an Open Space Learning training session, run by Dr Nick Monk – deputy Director of IATL.
I knew the session would serve a multi-faceted purpose: allowing us to experience open space learning first-hand, enabling us to use it in our own teaching and indeed our planned workshops and events for the Gendered Knowledges project; and to give us time, space and opportunity to get together with other members of the team to discuss issues surrounding sexualities and gender. Sounded good to me!
The session was held in the Reinvention Centre – consisting of a big room, under-floor heating, no chairs or desks, but beanbags and cushioned cubes… an ‘open space’ (strangely enough!) – more space, more comfort, more movement.
After some initial warm-up-getting-to-know-each-other exercises, the whole group was divided in to 2 sub groups and sent to either ends of the room, with a pile of gender/sexuality-themed images, stats, graphs and text extracts to sort through, make sense of and arrange into a narrative for the other group to interpret. Easy?!
My personal opinion was (but other members may have felt differently!) that our group worked really well together. I certainly felt able to express my opinions, thoughts and interpretations and it felt as though other members felt comfortable in doing the same. Working with small extracts of text, and images meant that we could all engage with them quite quickly, regardless of what ‘discipline’ we were from and seemed able to voice our thoughts on each with ease. Having a range of documents/images also meant that if there were some you were attracted to more than others, you could choose to talk about a chosen piece and weren’t ‘forced’ into giving an opinion on something you weren’t as comfortable with.
For me personally, there was no feeling of being out of my depth – which is empowering and motivating.
The benefits of being an interdisciplinary project of course, meant that groups consisted of a variety of people from a variety of disciplines so if somebody wasn’t sure of what an image or piece of text referred to – there was usually somebody who did. It felt equal and collaborative. To quote a group member,
“We’ve created a hierarchy-free space, amazing!”
Now to the narrative: our group arranged the resources to represent a narrative of childhood, gendered norms and socialization through education and wider social conditioning. We then moved onto adulthood: the double standards, the sexualization, sexual violence and the imposed normative gendered behavior expected within society. We concluded the narrative with disruption, resistance, subversion and the Queering of these aforementioned gendered norms.
Interestingly, our last, most ‘radical’ queering image happened to be one of the historical images – that of Pope Joan.
As an aside to our main narrative, feeding into it but not placed directly within it, we had a theoretical and/or statistical deck of cards, or ‘tool kit’ to evidence our narrative if appropriate and necessary – enabling us to dip in/out of theory and statistics whenever required – to illustrate the narrative but not interrupt it.
Unbeknown to us, each group were actually given the same pack of resources – and interestingly the arrangements of the narratives although similar, did have their differences.
This was an engaging, interesting and inspiring activity and the training session in general, for me personally was enjoyable and valuable – from both a theoretical and a praxis point of view. I know that many of the group members came away with ideas for their own teaching methods.
I certainly think we could make use of this structure and approach within the Gendered Knowledges events: allowing for an interdisciplinary, collaborative, equal sharing of knowledge in a safe and supportive environment.