The Co-op Uni: From Pedagogy to Governance and Back

Despite having banked with the Co-op for most of my adult life, being a member, and using its services, I don’t know much about the Co-op Group, and as Chrissi Nerantzi and I walked to the Co-operative Quarter in Manchester it was odd to pass 1 Balloon St Manchester, whose only previous life for me was in the completion of direct debits. We were heading towards the Co-operative College along with 90 or so others to attend “Making the Co-operative University: New Places, Spaces and Models of Learning” .

selfpFigure 1: The Co-op Uni, A long time coming, An idea whose time has come, Ronald Macintyre, CC BY SA 4.0

I admit I struggled through the day with the question that kept rattling through my head, if a Co-op University is the solution, what was the problem in the first place. It was a question that arose from a sense that many of the people here were disaffected with Higher Education, and articulated it through the lens of losing their own jobs. A mood that obscured other problems, and for me clouded the day somewhat until, I was able to read the blog Chrissi put together, and go away and think about it. In thinking about it I pulled “Building a Co-operative: A Business History of The Co-operative Group, 1863-2013” of the shelf. Written before some of the groups recent troubles it has a tone of, this is our time, and I recollected how at the start of the day we were told the time was right for a Co-op Uni,  a tone that reminds of many struggles in a state of becoming, where success is perpetually immanent.

So, having thought about this immanence, my mind settled on the pedagogy workshop I attended, and the question of whether I attended the right one, should I have gone to governance, a thought process I tease out below.

One of the key aspects for me from the day were the questions around co-design/production, when people talked about it I couldn’t get the sense whether it was brought up as a novel approach, or a just as good practice. I suspect the former, and this was a surprise as it has been fashionable with the Higher Education Academy and Quality Assurance Agency for some time, albeit with little traction within the academy, a thin participation I blogged about  a couple of years ago (see here ).  Where I suggest learner co-design as articulated in a context where the learner is a customer, leads to the application of co-design models from the private sector, so called Service Design Logic, which is thin participation and does not address underlying social and structural relations within education. However, that simply describes the problem, how do we move beyond that.

selfpFigure 2: The Pedagogy Subgroup Questions, Ronald Macintyre CC BY SA 4.0

One view, which I have tried to explore in the past in relation to widening participation, is to see learner’s engagement as academic labour, learning involves everyone doing work, they need to have the skills to do the work, the opportunity to express that skills, and to be able to benefit from the value which accrues through this shared labour. My original analysis focussed on the barriers experienced by some learners as the look to do this work (see here ), it was really a thinly veiled Marxist analysis of adult learning. However, having attended the event I see where co-operation could lead, and perhaps unblock some of the issues which have made co-design/production in HE an unreachable aspiration.

I have long been interested in participatory design, in particular its roots in labour movements in Scandinavia, here it was called co-operative design focussed on how workers, managers and academics might work together to design work process’s (for a critical reading from OU academic and Co-op Tech person Steve Walker see here). I do not draw attention to the historical development of participatory design, or the connection to labour movements idly. Could a Co-op University be an organisation that was just as concerned with the organisation and power relations in work finally see the application of co-operative/participatory design to Higher Education. Perhaps it could. Perhaps the thin sense of this approach that has informed co-design, which takes some of the practices but filters them through a commercial logic will be undone by a co-operative logic. I take Richard Hall’s point regarding the sense in simulating a thing whose image of itself is predicated in unequal power relations. However, perhaps the co-operative model, the flattening of power relations within the whole academic community might be the thing to turn learner engagement into something more than a rhetorical device. With the flattening of labour relations within the broader academic community, i.e. a change in governance relations, ushering in many of the pedagogic ones that remain unrealised.

Clearly lots of things need to align before perhaps becomes real. Some of the things that seem to clear to me are a need to connect with Labour movements more broadly, Workers Education Association of course, but also Trade Union Learning. I would also ask those in this space to reach out to those in Open Education, not just the Open University, or those in Open Education Resources/Practices, though clearly they have much in common, in particular similar challenges.  With lessons from the former about sustainability and the latter about emerging models of provision and accreditation as organisations like University of the People and OERu  look to establish challengers as well. But also the wider Open Education movement, for example, “The Jane Austen” series by Casey and Greller (see here for a recent update) which draws inspiration from Art Schools to combat neoliberalism , or Alex Dunedin harking back to ragged schools though the Ragged University , or the miners libraries and weavers reading groups.

Talking of further reading Joss Winn from Lincoln University has produced a bibliography see here

 

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Mind Now: this is about learning

Pete Cannell and coauthored a paper at OER17 called Mind the Gap, it is concerned with lifelong learning and the role of free open online resources in filling in and creating routes into learning for those distanced from it, and more broadly reflects on the gaps within those journeys as local authorities colleges retreat from this space and Third Sector organisations look to fill those structural holes as best they can. I selected the title for its double meaning, to be careful, and to remember and keep it in our minds. It was only when I started to listen to Rosa Murray at the recent forum organised jointly by Learning for Sustainability Scotland (LfSS) and OEPS on shared values, my use of to mind’ means ‘to recollect’ and this use is a particularly Scottish thing .

Rosa touched on her work with Rowena Griffiths, asking us to consider whether we “mind enough”; suggesting the need for us to explore what a “pedagogy of minding” looked like (here are the slides). The workshop was about sustainability, and the role of openness and open practices in supporting learning for sustainability. Most attendees were “at home” in this space and looking to learn from OEPS about openness. In the self-organised afternoon discussion groups three clusters emerged:

  • How to use openness in teacher education, how to make it meaningful and engaging in ways that align to their values;
  • How and/or will openness transform education, and if it does what will it look like;
  • How to open up content to use and reuse.

LfSS end of session whiteboard

Big questions, questions that often surface when considering open educational practices. However, the focus on sustainability and equity and social justice did draw out some different issues. In particular, there were questions around who is empowered by openness and ensuring that openness and putting stuff online is not used as an argument for withdrawing support for other activities.  For me this went back to what Rosa said about shared values, and minding.  She suggested there was a particular Scottish focus on sustainability as a question of equity and social justice. For LfSS minding is about learning to care about the world, to mind about inequalities.

Concern about the world, care for the environment, has moved from the margins to the mainstream, to a point where every pupil in Scotland is “entitled” to learn about sustainability. As a movement OER/OEP is a long way from this, more people are using open resources, but do more people care. Is it something to care about, what are the things we ought to care about, and what would a pedagogy of minding about openness look like? An approach to education that plays on the distinctive Scottish sense of minding, of saying “I mind”, a sense between remembering, caution and caring.

Honestly, I have no answers, but I think openness is at the heart of a pedagogy of minding, as both a something that goes in as a value, and is an outcome of caring. If I look at Joe Wilson’s blog post about the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER and even further back to the work done on the Open Scotland Declaration, I see the articulation of a particular Scottish approach to openness. As the OER/OEP community looks forward, perhaps it is useful to take a side glance at the work done on sustainability, as the focus on values, and minding, might suggest a way forward.

 

Ronald Macintyre

Students as Co-Producers …?

student co-production, a mirage?

The problem with students as co-producers is that they already are creators of value, we just need to recognise it

At the OEPS forum in Glasgow in late 2015 the final plenary was about what the OEPS project does.  On one level the agreement with the Scottish Funding Council details exactly this. Kerr Gardiner, from the OEPS steering group (you can read an interview with him on the OEPS hub) argued that OEPS would have only met the letter of the KPI’s if it only “made stuff”. I agree, educational practices are about doing things, and doing things to find out how to do things, to find answers, and to find out what the right questions are in the first place. One of the questions Kerr asked on that day was, why open educational practices are not leading to a world where students are recognised and valued as creators/producers of knowledge.

I said to Kerr at the end of the day that I had also wondered about this question and I would think about it further. The Thought piece: students Participation, Openness and the Curriculum is the result. In it I make some quite provocative claims. I suggest one of the problems is quality assurance, where student participation is part of a series of competition mimicking metrics and part of the application of private sector models to public goods. Academics are rightly suspicious of “tick box” approaches to measuring the value of education, as are many learners, and student co-production has become tarnished by association.  This links to treating learners as customers and approaches to student co-production drawn from contemporary narratives on “Service Design”, designing for and from end users, or “Design Thinking”, start with the assumption of learner as consumer. This approach fatally undermines participation, as even though learners sometimes behave as service users, learning is about more than this. Learners know this, as do educators.

Atención al cliente: Customer Service, Rahul Rodriguez, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rahulrodriguez/9160573259 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

I mention design, in part because I used to feel “Design Thinking” was part of the solution, I now see the assumptions about customers and how value is created do not map well onto education. However, what does apply is the sense of who is the expert, designers think of themselves as the experts in process and, even when listening to “customer”, the product. Likewise, educators have their own values. I noted above that this makes them suspicious of approaches to education that treat learners as customers and measuring the value of education through crude metrics. However, being the arbiter of quality and value in learning also makes it difficult for educators to “let go”. So while it is tempting to blame issues around student participation on the marketisation and metricisation of value in HE perhaps educator ego also makes a contribution.

“Letting go” is not easy.  For example, in community development, where educators have done so, they report feeling uneasy about their role and function. There are pressures from learners to be the expert, not to mention organisational resistance to change and the effect on career prospects. Learners are also at risk, opening up the curriculum means building learner capacity, it has resource implications and needs to be supported, and it has long-term risks around raised expectations, which go unfulfilled.

The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future, quote from Antione de Saint-Just, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden “Little Sparta”, Little Sparta, https://www.flickr.com/photos/psyarch/3841401884 (CC BY-SA-2.0)

These are fraught questions, clearly the technical affordances of digitisation and open licences offer the promise of opening up curriculum. However, as I argue above, and in more detail in the paper, political, organisational and cultural issues, assumptions and attitudes embedded within the stories education organisations tell about themselves represent a significant hurdle to opening up curriculum to learners. As I indicated at the start, the issue with students as co-creators of value in education is that they already are; it is just we have trouble seeing it.

Thought Piece: Students Participation Openness and the Curriculum

Ronald Macintyre