SEDA Winter conference: new spaces to survive and thrive

Last week I was honoured to be asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the SEDA winter conference in Brighton.The theme of the conference was Surviving and Thriving – Effective Innovation and Collaboration in the New Higher Education.

A theme across all the keynotes was space. Professor Rhona Sharp (OCSLD, Oxford Brookes) in her “SWEET strategies for HE Developers in working in the 3rd space” talk introduced us to the notion of the third space for academic developers. In this context,  the 3rd is the space  “between academic and professional services”. Drawing on the work of Celia Whitchurch, Rhona introduced me, and perhaps one or two others, to the concept of the unbounded professional. In academic development terms, someone who doesn’t have to fit into the boundaries that others do e.g. the timetable. I really liked that description of where many academic/educational developers and learning technologist sit within in the traditional boundaries of institutions.  Rhona’s SWEET (strategic, work-based, efficient, evidence based, technology enhanced) approach is certainly something I’ve been discussing with colleagues since I’ve got back.

Professor Ale Armellini, (Institute of Learning and Teaching in HE, University of Northampton) also talked about space in his keynote, but this time in more in terms of physical space and the experiences that the University of Northampton are currently going through as they prepare to move to a brand new campus.  Through his “Flying not flapping: from blank canvas to reality” Ale provided us with an interactive  ( what would be the one key thing you would want in a brand new campus?) and honest overview of the challenges of physically moving a whole university.

I also talked about space in my keynote, but more in terms of inhabiting and reclaiming learning and teaching spaces so we can thrive and not just survive.  Using a number of jumping off points, including Audrey Watter’s pigeons of ed tech, a bit of dance. I wanted to get people to think not so much about the perfect learning environment, but of reclaiming the “empty box” – be that physical or digital. Not reducing learning and teaching to templates and check boxes. I also referred to the ongoing discussion on next generation learning environments being led by Jisc.

There is a rich discussion going on there, but I am concerned about over design. Trying to think about everything and actually forgetting some key things.  We need to make sure we have some empty open and closed spaces where practice can emerge.  Places that people can inhabit, adapt and grow in.

Over the two days of the conference I had many stimulating discussions in conference sessions and during the breaks. One conversation that has really stuck with me is one I had with Phil Race about space.  He made a very interesting observation. During all the conversations about spaces no-one (either of us were aware of anyway) mentioned assessment spaces. What kind of new spaces are we designing for assessments? Are we still just assuming that we need big, spaces where we put students at desks with bits of paper? Is this still the elephant in the room when we are talking about new learning environments?  Are the discussions around proctoring exams really moving us forward in terms of re-thinking assessments or are they just trying to create a digital wrapping around traditional exam practice?

Lots to think about and I want to thank the conference Chairs, committee for inviting me  and all the delegates who presented and so richly discussed this and so many other relevant issues last week.

A list of “stuff” around my talk is available here and the slides are below.

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