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July 04, 2013

"Bodies" in Open Space Learning

‘Bodies’ in the context of an interdisciplinary project is a hugely diverse theme and the task of covering the current, relevant debates and topics could seem like a daunting prospect.

The Open Space Learning (OSL) session on Bodies was born from needing to explore what ‘Bodies’ means to an interdisciplinary project, and to begin the process of generating sub-themes and subsequent content for the GK module.

As I come from a Women’s Studies and Sociology background, it felt important to gather ideas from other disciplines and seek help to embrace what ‘Bodies’ means to other disciplines within academia. I know how a Feminist Sociologist might interpret ‘Bodies’, but I needed to know more about how the theme might be understood within differing frameworks.

Open Space Learning is a pedagogic methodology that pursues a move away from the traditional lecture/seminar framework of university teaching and learning, it

“Seeks to offer a transdisciplinary model of pedagogy that has the potential to transform the student experience in higher education by creating conditions in which learning is immediate, enactive and alive” (Monk et al, 2011:1)

Using ‘open spaces’ rather than the more conventional classroom-with-desks, OSL strives to break down the power relationship and hierarchy of the teacher/student model. The members of the group work alongside the facilitator and by collectively and actively engaging with the teaching materials (which could be text, images, objects, performance), seek to produce new and alternative knowledges. (Ibid)

OSL encourages a physical engagement with the materials and a sense of embodiment not possible in the more traditional classroom or lecture setting (Monk et al, 2011:2). It therefore seemed like an obvious choice when planning an event to investigate Bodies and a useful vehicle through which to explore the theme and it’s complexities.

I as facilitator provided a range of images and pieces of text relating to “Bodies” in some way. I divided the group into 2 and gave each group the same resources. I asked the groups to then ‘make sense’ of the images, to discuss their personal and group interpretations and to feedback on their thoughts understandings of the images and discussions.

I wanted to use a variety of images and pieces of texts to instigate discussion, consider sub-themes and what it all means for the GK project and eventual MA module – from both the perspective of teaching methods and content.

There are therefore, 2 main issues to consider when reflecting upon the session itself:

1. With regards to content generation, was the OSL session useful? And

2. With regards to OSL as a teaching method – did it work and could it work for the GK module?

As for content generation, the session resulted in more questions than answers really, but it was still useful. We had some interesting conversations, and there were definitely some ideas to take away.

As a teaching method, it could definitely work, but there are some important issues to consider. Generating images and pieces of text from the facilitator’s perspective is problematic. One sets out with the intention of covering as much as you can, but sometimes, producing and sourcing resources from outside of your discipline or knowledge set, can be difficult. It’s really important to seek outside contributions – I did request images and pieces of text, and did get some very useful contributions, but this could have been more diverse if people were more forthcoming with their own ideas and images/texts.

Also, there is a limit on how many images you should use – too many and the exercise becomes difficult and therefore ineffective. I had to cut out some of the images I had sourced, and found myself regretting my editing choices on the day. Bodies is such a huge theme that perhaps it needed more than one session. That said, I was (am) a complete novice at facilitating this kind of seminar/workshop/session and so somebody with more expertise would probably have made more use of the method and therefore generated more useful results.

The OSL framework incites debate and discussion, and encourages and enables the questioning of your own interpretations of a range of materials. I will definitely be making time to learn more about this as a teaching method, and using it in my own teaching as well as recommending it in the creation of the GK module.

References:

Monk, N et al, (2011) Open Space Learning: A study in transdisciplinary pedagogy, London: Bloomsbury


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