The three C’s: co-production, collaboration and crowd-sourcing

We (University of Salford) hosted the University Alliance Summit late last week. The Summit is a really useful event which brings together all of the universities in this mission group for a ‘state of the nation’ annual pow-wow on what’s hot and what’s not in the world of HE. It was also held on election day, giving the event a certain up-to-the-minute sense of currency in each of its sessions. This accident of timing also ensured a prompt finish as everyone then raced home to vote… (the date clash with voting day was an accident – we started our preparations for the summit before government announced the snap election; it’s slightly worrying on a number of levels when planning for a UA summit is something which has a longer lead-in time than a general election…)

Predictably, most sessions broached the wider view of the HE landscape, within and out-with the sector itself. We looked at the economics of it all and the various political roads that we might be skipping down post election. (Sitting now in the somewhat dazed state of post-election ‘erm… so… right, yeah, so what does it mean… oh, right….with them. Them? What, really… really?’ its still not a whole lot clearer – quite a lot of what was in purdah before the shenanigans of the 8th has remained in purdah because of, well, because of the shenanigans of the 8th.

What is clear is that there is complexity, change, ambiguity and volatility like never before – I’ve previously noted some of the ingredients in passing here. Each of these characteristics taken individually might cause some upset and some ripples on the pond, however, arriving and cumulatively accelerating together, each factor further enthused by the waves of the others, and one sees tsunamis of varying natures lining up (oh that they were that orderly….)

So, much of the discussion, debate and creative thinking of the Summit (and a fair bit of late night debate over red or white) focused upon the best way to meet and thrive in such an environment…

The answer (or some of it) of course, lies in genuine collaborative activity. It’s a difficult, but not impossible line to tread; on one level, egged on by TEF, REF, the CMA and notion of the student as consumer (I’ve published a little thought piece on this particular consumerism in a special TEF edition of Compass) we are all competitors, working to ensure we position ourselves effectively to stand out in an increasingly fragmented, but paradoxically crowded higher education landscape in which differentiation is not just desirable, but essential.

However, we’re also a fantastically collegiate sector – a real strength – ready to share and adopt good practice, adapting it to our own particular context. Thus far collaboration seems to largely focus around joint/ shared bidding on research projects/ grants, or engagement together in sector wide fixed term projects on shared issues such as retention, or widening participation. But I think there’s further future potential to be tapped into through collaboration. Whilst the joint/ shared working on projects and bids will (and absolutely should) undoubtedly continue, I think our collaborative activity could/ should/ might step up another gear and take a steer from the success of a crowd-sourcing model for collaboration. This is the modus operandi of the hive mind, the viral social media-influenced accumulation of knowledge, ideas and direction, in which the social constructivism as seen in our active and collaborative learning models, becomes social connectivism played out across the sector.

One such example of this crowd-sourced innovation is the Teaching Excellence Alliance (TEA). This is a new, inter-institutional flexible programme of work developed by colleagues in University Alliance institutions and the UA itself. The TEA draws upon, and informs a particular brand and understanding of excellence as aligned to our real-world, outward-facing, industry-and-community connected pedagogy, practiced across the University Alliance. You can read a recent blog I’ve written for Wonkhe on the TEA. This exciting work is in its inaugural year – the first event of many is a September Sandpit – a pedagogical symposium with a difference – its going to be a live teaching and learning hack-athon focusing on one of the UN global challenges – participants from across teaching teams and courses drawn from UA institutions will draw on the collective expertise to collaboratively design a programme of study which seeks to contribute to work which addresses the global challenge at hand. Its crowd-sourced expertise from Alliance colleagues, invested in two intensive days of co-production and co-creation and all pointed at real world issues. Adventures aplenty wait in the wings. Watch this space…

See you next week.

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Possibility and space

I had a blog entry in mind for this week, but that idea has been shimmied carefully into my back pocket. It’ll probably make an appearance next week (ooh the suspense…) as I can see, in my mind, how it might link to this week’s thoughts. Bear in mind, oh loyal reader (both of you – hello Mum) my mind does not travel in straight lines, so the link, at present so clear to me, might be tangential at best and akin to obtuse logic at worst. However, if you’re still with me a week from now (I promise you the benefits do occasionally outweigh the disadvantages) and are wondering about the link between this entry and the one intended, I think its all down to the notion of possibility.

I like the concept of possibility – it has so many facets and inherent tensions – what will be, what might be and what could be. In the world of my naturally optimistic mind, possibility also carries with it a tentative sense of hope, but also for me, a sense (demand) of personal agency in ensuring that which is hoped for becomes…. Becomes… well, just becomes, really. Which also points to the other aspect of possibility which I find hugely attractive – it’s forward looking; for better or for worse, its all about the future. Today actions are simply writing the basis for tomorrow’s adventure. As an educationalist, I find the possibility of possibility possibly the most exciting thing there is about my work – helping people build future selves – what a phenomenal, awe inspiring and terrifying responsibility and gift…

I suspect more thoughts on the characteristics of possibility as a concept will emerge over the next few entries…

So what happened this week, and what might I be writing about next week which carry the idea of possibility? Well, you’ll have to wait till next week for next week’s topic (such is life, folks – this isn’t a Netflix box set binge session y’know) but this week it was all about space. Two spaces, actually; encountered across campus from each other within in minutes of each other.

The first space was our new multi-faith centre. I was privileged to be invited to formally open the building. It’s a huge achievement and a clear example of what happens when staff and students from across the university collaborate and work together to produce something really quite special.

 

The centre brings together a team of Chaplains from various faiths represented on campus and co-locates them all together under one roof – sector leading – I’ve already been told that we’re the envy of immediate neighbours, and colleagues from further afield are coming to see the model we’ve (co)created. The building is also much more than just a place for religious observance – it has meeting facilities and spaces for quiet contemplation. Walking round during the opening I was struck by how calm the place was and what significant opportunity it gave for dialogue, discussion and debate – a collegiate meeting place for ideas – isn’t that what a university should be fostering? More than this, its also open to the wider Salford community – tea and coffee is on hand at any time. It’s a forward thinking example of a porous campus offering, building bridges (not walls) between the different and diverse constituencies which help make our university the vibrant, internationalised and yet locally embedded, home that it is.

The second space (chronologically speaking) was the Allerton Beehive. Funky just ain’t the word, and ‘Beehive’ somehow grabs the essence of the space. It’s a new learning environment for all students situated near the café in Allerton. Again, this is a really forward thinking space. It offers the possibility of collaboration and messiness. It has several rooms, quiet little areas, comfy seating and group work spaces which can be booked out by students. With networked rooms, shift-able furniture and walls that double up as floor to ceiling doodle/ note pads (the invite to scribble on the walls is explicit) it’s a beautiful example of a disruptive, creative learning environment which fosters active and collaborative learning – and the development of a skillset absolutely aligned to real world work and our ICZs. The students have loved it – the graffiti on the walls already echo out a very positive reception.

And now you’re thinking, but… possibility…. Spaces… c’mon – tie it together… (alright, alright…)

The exciting thing about the development of these spaces is not the actual facilities themselves, but the actions, thinking, behaviours, conversations and meetings that they enable – for me it’s the sense of the possibility which sits in the spaces, which wasn’t there before, but now is… These spaces are catalysts for positive developments. Exactly what developments, I don’t know and moreover, couldn’t possibly predict, but I know that these spaces will foster things that I can’t even imagine. In that way they will become more than the sum of their parts – the possibility for positive growth and development, be in it in the collaborative shenanigans of the beehive, or in the meeting of ideas in the multi-faith centre, is huge and will help shape numerous futures and that’s why I’m drawn by the spaces – to me they are possibilities rendered as present – how exciting. I’m looking forward to the adventures they create…

See you next week.

Expansions and contractions in Ramallah

So I’ve been in Ramallah this week. It’s been brilliant, hectic fun in which rehearsed flexibility has been key. I’ve been here with the British Council, on the first visit of a programme which seeks to develop and embed entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking into the practice of Palestinian universities, such that the graduates of these universities could then operate with entre/ intrapreneurial mindsets and capabilities. It’s a really interesting programme and has stemmed from my visit to Bethlehem and Ramallah in May last year – I blogged about it here.

What was an initial visit to present a paper I co-authored with Helen Marshall, our Vice Chancellor has, by means of a couple of workshops and many conversations with the British Council, turned into a genuinely exciting programme of work, in which projects aligned to the endeavour of developing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial teaching and learning are being shaped by an inter-institutional team from the UK. This last point in itself is exciting – its great to be collaborating with colleagues from other universities – its particularly rewarding since we’re all from the same mission group (University Alliance); the development of resilient graduates through distinctive real world learning is, I think, part of the special character of our mission group – its certainly there in bundles at Salford.

Anyhow, on this visit we’ve been working with colleagues from seven Palestinian universities to kick off their projects and position our full programme as a large piece of action-research in itself – watch this space for further details on that front…

However, whilst the formal content of the three full days we’ve been here has been fun at full tilt in itself, I actually want to pull out a brief moment outside those workshoppy spaces and places; it came after the first day of workshops, on the evening of our second day here…

It’s the first time I’ve worked with Dr Joan Lockyer from Coventry University, and Dr Gillian Jack (or amusingly, and pleasingly briefly, Dr Jack Gillian, as the first version of her airline ticket read – cue 15 minutes of being exceptionally nice to lovely BA staff at stupid o clock in the morning) from the University of South Wales. We’ve all reflected on how well and how quickly we have meshed as a team – in early instances of team teaching I have found it a rarity to be comfortable enough with material and unfamiliar colleagues to be able to happily ditch well-laid plans and the rosy cosy comfort blanket of rehearsed text, and play, improvise and shift things around as the need arises. However, we’ve done just this, and the outcome has been all the more robust for doing so.

Anyway, at the end of the first day of workshops, there was a palpable and shared sense of ‘that went pretty well – we’re onto something here – I think its going to be a good outcome’ between us. A slightly tentative breath out, but not all the way, not just yet. Given that we’d been indoors all day, and were riding on the kind of high one has when walking into sunshine after a concentrated indoor task, we decided to take a walk up the road from the hotel and into the winding Ramallah streets and the Souk.

It was an ambling walk during a hazy dusk, wandering where the pathways took us, round countless street vendors selling corn, and spices and sandals and strawberries – mountains of strawberries, and sneakers and hot tea and coffee and strange vegetables stacked house high on carts and boxes and all of this visual and olfactory feast was cloaked in a cacophony of car horns, and shouted wares and unfamiliar music and chatter and in the background, the droning song-speak of mosques as the call to prayer floated out chants and guiding hands called a hundred thousand times over; incantations which grounded the whole scene in a tradition which blended with the thump from stereo speakers in the street.

Here’s a little video which captures some of it…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/samgrogan/shares/9u457P

You can see a full slide show of the trundle here.

Afterwards, we had dinner in our hotel and then put the world to rights over a glass of wine (that last bit implies the singular, rather than the plural – I’d be sandpapering actual truths into a more respectable form if I let that stand; there was wine and it was definitely in more than one glass.)

The conversation between Gill, Joan and myself was broad, deep and thoroughly enjoyable, seamlessly flowing (like said beverages) across subjects as diverse as Kantian thinking, hermeneutics, phenomenology, to politics, to genetics and inter generational genetic memory, to solipsism, deterministic thinking, to embodied knowing and consciousness, to play theory and social constructivism, to soft networks and organisational structures. Sadly, we didn’t manage to get to the X-factor, but there’s a limit, y’know? We did, over several scribbled napkins, also capture the essence of an idea about a potential shared venture of a book – even managing to arrive, after some time, at a working structure and tasks forward.

It was very good wine.

My reflection on all of this – the intense day, the seemingly aimless wandering (which was just as much about being mentally led by the sights and sounds of the souk, as the physical activity of the pootle) and the highly enjoyable and, as it turns out, productive conversation over dinner, is that, I don’t think the remarkable dinner conversation could have happened with out the contraction of the day, and then the release of the walk – both episodes contributed to the final chapter of the day and were foundational in its architecture. Again, similarly to my post last week, it’s partially about a subjective experience of time – contractions and expansions giving rise to different body-mind states, each of which offers opportunity. Another reminder to myself to recognise, search out and nurture the gifts which are always, always there.

Finally, this blog entry actually has multiple purposes – firstly, it’s a piece of personal reflective writing on experience which is to be shared with our Palestinian colleagues – to those readers – I hope its useful. And secondly, this is my documentation of my day for the 365 days of experience being captured at the University of Salford as part of the story of our 50th year. It’s not been a bad day at all…

See you next week.

Shameless Plugging: Waiting Room

I have a friend called Dave. He is a playwright. A little while ago I had the seed of an idea for a play, but unlike Dave, I lack the requisite skills in the creative structured translation of thought to page. So, having wanted to collaborate with each other for a while on a creative project, together we mulled over the emerging essence of the idea on a long walk around the Goyt Valley early in 2016. I do find that after about two hours on a walk, my mind really gets to work on the knotty problem of the day, sometimes without my knowing. I’m sure it has something to do with the space, and the quiet padding of forwards motion – personal horizons, literal and perceptual are expanded. I’ve reflected upon this in a previous post, bringing Czikszentmihalyi’s notion of optimal experience, known as flow, into the discussion….

Anyway, digressions, digressions. The result of the walk and then Dave’s talent at translating and expanding upon our joint, amble-centric thinking was a brand new piece of writing: Waiting Room. For reasons which will shortly become apparent, I won’t go into too much detail about the play here and now. However, in the manner of what is hopefully a tempting teaser (again for reasons which will shortly become apparent – stay with me folks) I can tell you that the play is a monologue and is set on a train platform. The circumstances of the central character – Thomas, are frighteningly similar to some of my own personal details. And that’s all you’re getting for now. Unfair? Yes. Necessary? Of course – nothing is done without reason…

So, the Waiting Room was, with a shockingly small rehearsal period (2 days in my dining room), then taken to the Buxton Fringe in 2016. (incidentally, its apparently the 3rd largest Fringe in the UK after Edinburgh and Brighton) The piece was premiered for a short run in a lovely little performance space in the top room of the Green Man Gallery and played to sold-out houses (very small houses – maisonettes, really) on each performance. And, despite my occasional departures from the exact words of the script, (causing Dave to have kittens as he was operating the sound) it went well; 5 star reviews; yours truly was nominated in the Fringe awards for Best Actor, and the piece itself won Best Theatre Production. Which was nice, because Dave and I were just testing it out. You can see a review from the 2016 Buxton Fringe performances here.

So then we thought about putting it on again, just to see if the friendly Buxton audience were simply being nice. (Buxton is a nice place). We took it for two nights to the Kings Arms at Salford – a fantastically active and welcoming fringe venue (with good ale, which is always a bonus). Again, a good reception and some more positive reviews. I actually stuck to the script most of the time (Dave no longer had kittens midway through the performance) and said efforts were rewarded; a nomination for Best Performer in a Fringe Show in the 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards. I have to go to Home in March for a spangly do. I expect there may be canapés and fizzy stuff. I’m genuinely chuffed.

But wait, there’s yet more, folks; the piece has been a welcome opportunity for me to get back to performance and to practice as research. After I finished the PhD (2014) the thought of writing, or researching anything was a feeling akin to having nails dragged down a blackboard, or being tied to a chair and being made to watch the Sound of Music twice; essentially unpalatable. However, after a couple of obligatory articles/ pieces from my PhD, this work has facilitated a return to research. It’s been such fun. And here comes the reason for the prior holding back of detail – Waiting Room is now scheduled for a single night of performance at the University of Salford’s very own New Adelphi Theatre on March 2nd 2017. Yippee and Hurrah.

This performance will be the icing on the cake for me. It’s the proverbial icing for several reasons; it allows me, as a senior leader of the university, to present my research as practice to colleagues and students and do so in a manner that runs the risk of me going wrong in public – keeping me on my toes (no pressure Sam – even though at the time of writing it’s a month away, the sense of personal/ reputational risk is already a palpable presence in my stomach when I think about it). It also allows me to share a different side of my working practice with interested parties at our university, and finally and best of all, I get to a chance to personally contribute to embedding research within student learning journeys – something I’m wanting academic colleagues to routinely do as part of our ‘ICZ ready’ curriculum; In the case of Waiting Room there’s a post show talk for students, and the performance has been woven into the curriculum diet of some undergraduate performance programmes as well as having given rise to a small number of live briefs.

After this, I’ll be working with students to turn it into a radio play and a film, (more live briefs) then there’s a bit of research which, bouncing off themes explored in my PhD, reflects on the nature of optimal states of being for the performer across all three mediums.

Anyhow… In the meantime, I’m excited about March 2nd. And it would be fantastic to see lots of you there, you lovely readers, you. So here’s the shameless plug; Waiting Room March 2nd, New Adelphi Theatre, University of Salford. MIMO. It lasts about an hour, meaning you can fit in a glass of wine and also be home at a respectable time on a School Night. Best of all, you can get your tickets here.

See you next week.

Riding the disruption

So, I went to China earlier this week. Out on Saturday, back on Wednesday. I went out with a couple of colleagues to assess, and subsequently (hopefully) recommend formal university approval of a potential partnership with Zhejiang Fashion Institute of Technology (ZFIT) in Ningbo on the Eastern Coast.

The whole visit went very well. Although I’ve encountered a fair bit of Asia, and spent a lot of time in the South East, this was my first visit to China. As with all first visits to such places, encountering the cultural and geographical differences are a joyous aspect for me of what was an all-too-brief immersion into an other; from the different taste of the air as one steps off the plane, to the etiquette of the formal business card greeting, to the ubiquity of delicious green tea accompanying every meeting, to the unfamiliar shapes of the architecture, both in the smallest of details and the wider sense of a cityscape. And the food…Oh the food! As an ardent foodie I have come away with many new ideas echoing in my taste buds. Suffice to say we were hosted to with an inch of our lives….

My cultural rendering of the familiar as welcomingly different was offset by what I perceived to be an increasing sense of global connectivity. Backed by a clear directive from the government, Ningbo’s agenda is to build – there’s a palpable sense of opportunity fuelled by an appetite for growth delivered with a speed unthinkable in the UK. The hotel we stayed in was an impressive building, clearly there to provide a sense of familiarity blended with regional character to the international business traveller. Breakfast catered to the traditions of all continents… (I still went for the red bean porridge and noodles*) Similarly, our brief tour of the Ningbo waterfront city centre saw East and West meet, with the traditional buildings and cultural reverence for the historical teachings and the evolutionary story of China sitting alongside the new churches – modern glass and steel arcades fronted by Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada et al.

Here’s a link to a slide show of the whole experience…

Aside from the business of business (I’ll tie all this together at the end, promise) the other aspect of the visit was entirely unforeseen. When we left Manchester the airport was shrouded in fog, which delayed our departure, resulting in a change of connecting flights through to Ningbo. For a while we were headed for Shanghai, but it ended up being Beijing. However, these shenanigans resulted in my luggage deciding to have a trip of its own, which meant that, due to its wish for independence and its desire to take in a number of sights and experiences sans yours truly, we were only actually reunited in Beijing on the homeward flight.

This meant, pretty much as soon as we checked in, and in the slight wobbly corporeal mismatch between internal time zone and external reality, I needed to visit the shops in Ningbo in order to replace the essentials and find another shirt. I had a speech to give the next day to a large gathering and needed to find a look other than that of 27-hours-awake-in-flight-chic. So my graceful and understanding hosts took us all off to a local supermarket. This again was one of those instances where the familiar is rendered strange, but there’s fun to be found when one can ride the disruption. (You try miming ‘hair styling wax’ without shampoo being the inevitable result…) However, we managed to find a shirt (slightly over-cosy denim is, apparently, the look for 2017) and pair this with a brand new University of Salford tie (resplendent with new coat of arms, mind). I think I’m the first to wear the tie at an official event. And possibly the first and last to carry it off with a fetching light weave denim. I give thanks right here and now to various deities for the small mercy of my coat.

But it was fun – genuine exploratory fun – riding the disruption, I had a little taste of the unexpected and saw a tiny slice of everyday Ningbo that I wouldn’t have otherwise strayed into. What a beautiful gift.

And there’s the tie together. I find that meeting of opposites fascinating – it’s an often unpredictable collision: the plan and the unforeseen in the luggage adventure, the Eastern traditions and Western practices in Ningbo as a whole. I think that’s what our (hopefully soon to be formally approved) partnership offers; focused as it is on fashion, it’s a meeting place for western pedagogies associated with disruptive experiential creative practices ,set alongside a Chinese educational system which brings a personal discipline and set of traditional values into this shared learning sphere. It’s an interesting and carefully tuned endeavour – one I’m really looking forward to seeing grow and develop and one that will undoubtedly produce further possibilities.

Not a bad start to the year at Salford. I hope the rest of our 50th birthday year will be just as much fun….

See you next week.

 

 

*And possibly a croissant

Problematic Wading and Creative Running

Our new Strategy at the University of Salford signals a really, really different way of working. Central to this is the idea (enabler/ catalyst) of co-creation. The phrase was made popular in the early 2000s by  C. K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy in The Future of Competition. Writing from a business perspective, Prahalad and Ramaswamy have defined co-creation as;

“The joint creation of value by the company and the customer; allowing the customer to co-construct the service experience to suit their context” (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004, p. 8).

At Salford, we’re using this term as a means to define a mode of doing whereby the doing is not done in a silo and then presented to all stakeholders for input, rather the doing is done by a interdisciplinary, or cross institutional team from a range of internal and where necessary external stakeholder groups who start by co-defining the issue or problem and then co-create the solution together. The outcome, or eventual output carries with it a sense of co-ownership which creates a sense of pride and achievement – ‘We made this!’, rather than ‘You made this and then gave it to me – its not entirely what I wanted…’

To undertake this process, as has been alluded to in previous posts on this blog, is to live in messy space, as ideas and thoughts are contributed from all sides and the working group tries to find its way, develop a shared language and get going – just those stages can take some time.

And therein lies the issue – If we are equipping our staff to be able to co-create, we need to build this process of understanding with them and do it co-creatively – in essence, use the values and attributes of co-creation to create an understanding and institutional working practice of co-creation – something of a catch 22.

It’s going to take a considerable amount of time, effort and different thinking to make this happen, not least because the alluring, siren-like pull of habit is oh so very comforting. However, we have compelling, well founded reasons behind needing to make this shift, not least the recognition that interdisciplinary collaborative working for our staff and students allows us to develop innovative, creative solutions, skill sets and attitudes which are valued by a global industry marketplace. It also offers the opportunity for exciting research, learning and teaching to evolve in symbiosis.

In true co-creative spirit, I’ve been working on this problem with a cross-institutional group of staff from PS and academic areas to begin to try and crack it. The group was originally about 25 and now has become a core collective of about 12-15 of us. It’s taken a while for us to arrive at a meaningful problem definition and the experience has, as the title of this post suggests, been a little like wading (uphill through treacle in winter time). Very much fun, but there’s been an underlying sense of nailing mist to the wall at times… But this is a necessary part of the process. However, two things have just happened, and have been achieved by this group which, yesterday, for the first time, gave us the sense that we might be able to start running.

The first is that we’ve started Loomio. It’s a great online tool for collaborative decision making – we’ve started using it to shape decision and interactions between our monthly face to face sessions. What’s really helpful is that Loomio focuses on a decision process, rather than a comment-thread process (although that is there.)

Secondly, in yesterday’s gathering, on the back of significant pre-meeting loomio discussion, we somehow broke through the wading and by means of iterative suggestions and comments, each of which built on or expanded those preceding it, managed to create something, the sum of which is greater than the parts. Still ideas at this point, but now we are able to start doing with a clarity of purpose – the commonality of thinking and direction between this group and other groups in the University also pointed to coalescence for the first time (something of a relief). Interestingly, I don’t think we’d be able to run as we’re about to without a significant amount of wading having taken place. Again, I’m reminded of the creative journeys described in Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius.

See you next week.

Meddling in the middle

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.

Here’s why.

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.