So, I’ve been writing a conference paper on how the skillset and attitudes associated with intrapreneurialism (like entrepreneurialism, but in the context of a large company structure) are systematically fostered as part of a higher education learning experience. (This is why this post is a couple of days late – the date of a deadline divided by the number of fingers I have to type with, and then multiplied by my ability to multitask through one screen = lateness – there’s a workable formula there somewhere…)
Anyway, in writing this paper, I re read some of Erica McWilliam’s work. I actually stumbled on her words in another article on this site – a great treasure trove of thinking on the practice and study of creativity in higher education teaching and learning.
In having my mind wander in the direction of this blog, I was (re)struck by McWilliams’ description of the tutor working in heutagogical connectivist practices as the ‘meddler in the middle’. Stepping beyond the social connectivism of the ‘guide on the side’, I love the idea of the tutor engaging with their students’ learning as ‘meddling in the middle’ of things.
I think meddling is a deliberate act of subversive, disruptive intervention and, at its best, generosity, sacrifice, perseverance and invention.
As those who are close to me know, I like cooking. I also like meddling; I think the two go hand in hand quite well – playing the deliberate imp to the imposed regulations of the cookbook is a delight. Meddling acknowledges the recipe, it just might not follow it. Why not chuck this in, or that in, or why not add wine to the mix appearing in the pan (actually, that happens quite a bit.)
And it’s really rewarding. When I take a recipe and then meddle with it, or twist it, to then serve it up to guests and receive compliments on the taste its a little nudge to go a little further next time. Of course, there have been the losses and the mistakes (chocolate chilli pear crumble, was, at a conceptual level, an exceptional idea. Sadly, on reflection, this verve did not translate into an experience I would wish upon those I hold in high regard. Or indeed, in any regard at all.) But these momentary set backs are more than an adequate price to pay for the general direction of travel, which is a personal sense of success and reward at having meddled, invented and come out with something good.
The meddler charmingly dismantles the pre-ordained system, the foregone conclusions and the comforting blanket of certainty, but, deliciously, does this with a playful purpose that unseats. At its best, meddling also creates an outcome which no one on their own could have created. The solitary endeavour towards excellence pales into insignificance besides the creativity which comes from meddling. Life (learning) is simply too perfect, too uniform, too predictable without a little meddling.
Crucially, I think, is the intention behind the meddle. I think if one is to have positive intentions, then, as Mcwilliam indicates, the middle is the place to be – far more risky, far more at stake, but in this position, the meddler has to follow mouth with money, so to speak.
Being in the middle whilst meddling also infers a co-ownership of the item, or task, or path, or route – the thing being meddled with – between the all of the meddlers. If meddling from the outside is politics, (ooohhh) meddling from the inside is a concerted, generous activism – there’s personal stakes and a vulnerability at play there – the potential of a price being paid which is intrinsically and inextricably linked to the outcome of the meddling for all involved.
Meddling can also be profoundly uncomfortable at times, especially when working with students in the realm of a shared endeavour towards an outcome which (hopefully) gains clarity through the doing. The possibility for failure is always present, but the reward for co-produced success is a profound sense of achievement, learning and growth.
So in the interests of continuing to help create and steer the development of the learning journey for our students at the University of Salford and in the interests of creating a profound transformative journey which is, at times unpredictable, disruptive, playful, uncertain and generously spirited, I shall actively meddle from the middle. I’ll leave you with a short clip of with a commentary on two of the most gifted meddlers of all time. I think this video says more about the learned skill craft of productive disruptive ‘meddling from the middle’ than I ever could.
See you next week.