A presentation on the knowing university and a podcast on positive politics

Next Tuesday I’ll be keynoting the HEA/University of Huddersfield workshop on Enhancing the Quality of Student Blended Learning through Integrative Formative Assessment Methods. My presentation is on my slideshare and is entitled student involvement, assessment and the production of a university experience. The main points that I will make are as follows.

  1. For the student, the academic and the University, assessment for learning is framed and enclosed by a series of external, sector-wide pressures. These are revealed through the instability of the Coalition’s HE reforms and the concern over the privatisation and separation of teaching and learning from assessment, and in the governance of higher education awards/degree awarding powers. This is also revealed in the sector-wide strategies that push employability and the need for assessment of learning, alongside the institutional drive for efficient workflows in assessment, and the drive for commodifying activity and immateriality through learning analytics and data-mining. However, the rise of badges and some form of accrediting open learning beyond the formal education setting is also a threat to recently established HE practices.
  2. We might ask, where the power that academic staff had to manage the curriculum, including assessment for learning, is transferred to administrative functions (in part via technologies that remove power and mental skill) or to the student-as-consumer/customer, what does that process do to academic labour and the idea of the university in society?
  3. HE is framed by disruptions both to the very idea of waged labour and to the precarity of living and working inside austerity politics. One outcome is the prevalence and fear of debt as an instrumentalist, pedagogic tool. This fear and the need to recalibrate HE for debt-driven economic growth then shadows our approach to what HE is for, and for what ends assessment for learning exists. Thus, we are not able to discuss issues of resource availability (capital controls, immigration, liquid fuel availability etc.) or the impact of the accelerated consumption of education, and of the increased consumption/commodification of assessment, on the planet, in terms of emissions. There is some work to be done on education, assessment and entropy or disorder.
  4. The crisis of capitalism, revealed through austerity politics and the (de)legitimation of certain discourses, makes the struggle over assessment for learning inside the university of critical importance. The relationships between energy, oil, economic growth, carbon emissions and education all need to be revealed and discussed. In particular as they frame and impact the idea of assessment for learning inside and beyond the university.
  5. The idea of assessment for learning inside and beyond the university might usefully be discussed in terms of developing socially useful knowledge, or knowing. This is the idea that students and teachers might dissolve the symbolic power of the University into their actual, existing realities, in order to engage with a process of personal transformation that is about more than employability skills. We might use assessment for learning in order to catalyse knowing or socially-useful knowledge, in order to consider the courage it takes to reclaim and re-produce our politics and our social relationships, in the face of disruption.
  6. Academics might engage with the ideas of student-as-producer and pedagogies of excess, in order to create spaces for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons. At issue is whether assessment for learning can refuse and push-back against the idea that the market and an employability-fuelled education system is the motor for solving social problems. Might socially-defined and produced knowing, achieved through work that is carried out in public and that engages with uncertainty and a wider cohort of disciplines, be a more resilient approach? How might assessment for learning involve and emancipate student voices in the struggle to re-invent the world?
  7. And we might think about ds106, and its focus on learning in public, via shared and collaborative assignments, that can be produced and consumed and distributed and remixed. See this tweet, and this one. The beauty of ds106 (from my narrow, political perspective, and trying not to fetishise it) is in the relationships that might be formed and nurtured over time, reinforced creatively using a range of media (radio, video, text) and in shared programming/a desire to keep the space moving and reflective. These communal actions in the ds106 world underpin individual formations and integrations and perspectives. David Kernohan writes really well about what this means here. If we are interested in assessment for transformation and resilience (modularity, diversity, feedback), we might look to critique MOOCs/the university through the lens of ds106.
  8. Which reminds me that I wrote about resilient/life-wide curricula a while back.

On a separate note, I spoke about the crisis and higher education on a positive politics podcast, that is available here. In the podcast I discuss the struggles of life in the neo-liberal university where life is governed by the logic and interests of money and profit. Dr Gurnam Singh help us to think about very different, democratic, empowering, and critical ways of teaching and learning, and Dr Sarah Amsler talks about the Social Science Centre – an attempt to make real the ideas and values of critical pedagogy and popular education.


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