November 27, 2017

Trans–cultural education

Should I simply call trans-cultural education, international teaching and learning? The unique character of the Warwick-Monash Alliance produces an experience of education which is more than simply international, as I have encountered multiple cultures and disciplines during my time as WIHEA/MEA Visiting Educator. These experiences of difference will enable me to re-invigorate my teaching and, through interdisciplinary and international collaborations, the learning of others. These experiences transcend national borders and celebrate the sharing of practice between, beyond and across cultural and disciplinary environments.

The UK context for higher education is certainly 'challenged' at this time, with political uncertainity combined with a fierce debate about the role of public universities and the future of educational practice. The global context is in even more flux, so I would like to use this last post to reflect upon universities as places where commmunities produce/contest knowledge and construct/disseminate learning. This is underpinned by my recent experiences of workshops and meetings at Monash, in particular, the 'Trans-disciplinary pedagogies' workshop on Friday 24 November 2017, where I worked with colleagues drawn from across the university on non-disciplinary and 'undisciplined' approaches to university education.

We become undisciplined when we return to our pre-disciplinary openness (i.e. before we were disciplined) and our radical potential for learning anything. By transgressing our disciplines, we become aware of their limits as well as their affordances; we become more aware of our disciplines as cultures: the fields that we care for, the environments that we cultivate. We should also consider traditional indigenous knowledge here and modes of learning that fall outside of the academy.


mid-15c., "the tilling of land," from Middle French culture and directly from Latin cultura "a cultivating, agriculture," figuratively "care, culture, an honoring," from past participle stem of colere "to tend, guard; to till, cultivate". The figurative sense of "cultivation through education" is first attested c. 1500. Meaning "the intellectual side of civilization" is from 1805; that of "collective customs and achievements of a people" is from 1867.


early 13c., "penitential chastisement; punishment," from Old French descepline (11c.) "discipline, physical punishment; teaching; suffering; martyrdom," and directly from Latin disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge," also "object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline," from discipulus ...Meaning "branch of instruction or education" is first recorded late 14c. Meaning "military training" is from late 15c.; that of "orderly conduct as a result of training" is from c. 1500.

In crossing the boundaries of disciplines and time-zones, in order to visit Monash this term/semester, I have become even more aware of the importance of exposing students to difference and educators to difficulty. Out of that risk and failure, emerges a 'practice of hope' (Gallagher, 2015), or better still, 'a pedagogy of survival' (cf. Heron and Johnson, 2017).

[Citations from Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 22: 2, 2017;

Definitions from Online Etymology Dictionary, consulted 28 November 2017]

November 22, 2017

Trans–formational education

I am currently preparing for my Monash Education Academy event on trans-disciplinary pedagogies and the interdisciplinary curriculum which will include case studies and examples of practice from our 'Open-space Learning' project and its companion book for Bloomsbury Academic. In that publication my colleague Nicholas Monk argues that OSL is trans-disciplinary:

The trans-space exists by virtue of a dialectical process between various theses and antithesis that, in the moment of their opposition, create an 'open' space in which new sytheses develop. This is true, for example, of the teaching space that is neither rehearsal room nor seminar room, the relationship between participant and facilitator, between subject and object, between learning styles, and between mind and body. Indeed on this last point we argue... that OSL promotes a phenomenological experience of learning that follows an anti-Cartesian pattern of unity between mind and body, promoting a richer and fuller understanding of the subject matter. (Monk et al, 2011)

My workshops in Melbourne consider the open-space of the university classroom as an entangled and trans-disciplinary opportunity for researchers and students to re-make their world. In doing so, I not only recall a phenomenological tradition but also critical pedagogies that begin with the learner's body and their situated knowledge in the world. In a recent co-authored publication I argued for an 'ensemble' approach to teaching and learning, recalling the OSL vision and developing it with reference to theatre and performance studies:

One of the things that I find very interesting about the theatrical ensemble as a model for pedagogy is that it is a temporary community, that chooses to dwell together in a collective, whether for a week of immersive practice or many years of theatre making. This community has to evolve a system for behaviour which includes creating of some kind, and those ensemble-based groups tend towards a ‘collectivity’ that resists individual expertise, solo performers or celebrity culture. I have always been driven by the adaptability of the ensemble, across drama education, applied theatre and performance-as-research contexts, and here, I think has a particular opportunity to explore the peculiarity of Beckett in performance, through reflexive behavior. We try and keep that as simple as possible and ask participants to think about three categories during the process: what they expect, what they observe, and what they learn. I think the category of observation is especially important, because it foregrounds the experimental aspect of the process within a laboratory environment. (Heron & Johnson, 2017)

My experience of bringing theatre methods and performance practices into higher education contexts has not only developed an 'open-space' approach to learning, but also a transformational pedagogy that places the student at the centre of her/his own education. In opposition to transactional modes of education, or what has been referred to as the 'banking model' of teaching and learning, this transformational pedagogy insists on real change as well as risk and failure. In summary, I would like to reflect upon the 'trans-space' as a space of radical pedagogy, and I will be working with Monash colleagues to think about trans-disciplinarity in relation to trans-formational and trans-cultural education, which will be the subject of the next blog post.

November 19, 2017

Trans–disciplinary education

This first blog coincides with my arrival in Melbourne as WIHEA Visiting Educator and my first workshop with the Monash STEM Education Group on bonding theatre and science. This event continues an ongoing collaboration between Warwick and Monash in the area of interdisciplinary education and this is enabled by a technology-enhanced classroom known as the 'International Portal'. Our colleagues have documented, evaluated and theorised this work as Portal Pedagogy. The material conditions for this collaboration stem from two long-term projects: a) Open-Space Learning and b) the Warwick-Monash Alliance. I will be writing about each of these in subsequent blogs, but first let me begin by explaining what is meant by the term 'transdisciplinarity' (TD) and trans-disciplinary education specifically.

For Baz Kershaw, 'the conventional binaries of bodies-technologies, cultures-disciplines and arts-sciences may be confounded' (2009:16) through transdisciplinarity (TD). For Katri Huutoniemi, there is 'an erosion of the distinction between academic and non-academic contexts of research' (2010: 315) within TD. For Julie Thompson Klein, there are 'four major trendlines' that constitute TD: a) 'the contemporary version of the historical quest for systematic integration of knowledge... b) a label for knowledge formations imbued with a critical imperative, fostering new theoretical paradigms... c) overarching synthetic paradigms... that transcend the narrow scope of disciplinary worldviews... d) trans-sector problem solving'; in short, TD is 'not just transcendent but transgressive' (2010: 25).

So what does this mean for students, especially within universities that continue to identify as 'disciplinary', 'subject-specific' or even 'specialist'? It means three things: firstly, while students' training in disciplinary methodologies by expert researchers remains an asset, it can prevent them from seeing a wider application of those methods; secondly, the learners' capacity to tackle societal or environmental problems may be limited by their absorption in subject-specific contexts; and thirdly, they may simply graduate without understanding what to do with their specialist knowledge. Practice is therefore a particular interest of mine, which I have recently blogged about for the Higher Education Academy.

These issues are the future problems of disciplinarity within universities, as we wrestle to understand what our insitutions are for, and how they serve the public good. A trans-disciplinary education, where the learner has access to all available knowledges, implies a future where graduates are not only flexible but also resilient, where they transcend their degree subjects through transgressive learning and student-led practice.

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