All 2 entries tagged Teaching Methods

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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.


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

March 21, 2013

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.

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