Just around the corner…

As one might expect of someone with an academic leaning, I read lots. Unlike that time when the PhD was all consuming and I found my brain-muscle shift shape into a certain athletic-like state of fitness, able to deep dive into a given topic, I now find myself stretched in exactly the opposite manner; if the PhD was a single discipline endurance run, now this modus operandi has morphed into a multi-disciplinary sprint event; skimming with speed over vast and eclectic quantities of information and data, arriving at my eyes from all angles and sources; social media, blogs, newsletters, updates, periodicals, journals and so on. From this varied landscape emerge topics of interest which are then explored at a (slightly) more leisurely pace; such is the life of the twittersphere, mirrored in the daily consumption of short reports and email analysis of this or that. So when a topic of interest takes hold and I’m afforded the opportunity to dig, to explore, or pull at a thread, or, more meaningfully and excitedly, when the thread pulls back at me, it’s highly enjoyable. It’s addictive, this reading stuff.

Recently I’ve been digging into (what I think is) a fascinating area of thought; namely the evolving discourse on disruptive technologies: the evolution of intelligences of human making that are swiftly moving to the place where they form a matrix around us (yes that is deliberate inclusion of that word – its really difficult not to comparatively imagine the filmic trilogy) which fundamentally reshapes our societal norms. I’m really interested in the societal impacts that technology is really starting to play and looks set to play in our lives. After the opening chapter of the smart phone some time ago now, what is just around the corner (and beginning to emerge in earnest as we speak) has the potential to be a perfect collision of a number of interweaving developments: Augmented reality, wearable technologies, immersive technology, big data and, sitting underneath everything, IoT, or the internet of things – offering an evolving connectivity which (eventually) will see the material world around us adopt its own non-biological social networks and do much of our thinking for us.

graphIt’s already begun to happen on a small scale with apps like Wayz –  a navigational app which relies on real time data from other users to inform the route – choice on the part of the driver is then relegated a little – the app is changing its own mind about the best route based on traffic conditions and we follow, for the most part unquestioningly, because the crowd sourced algorithmic wisdom of many brains as presented by Wayz outstrips our singular biological knowledge of the conditions which might lie ahead. Combine this with the driverless cars which are now in beta and we quickly arrive at a state where we don’t need the skill of driving any more. And when my driverless car is fully connected to my computer…and so on…. If you’re interested in this landscape of thinking, I’d recommend Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier and also Yuval Noah Harari’s sequel to Homo Sapiens, Homo Deus. As tomes go, I found this last one brilliant; certainly in my top 3 at present.

Relatedly, and slightly more soberingly, Ryan Avent’s The Wealth of Humans focuses on the world of work within this technological landscape. Avent paints a somewhat troubling description of the world ahead as increased non-biological algorithmic intelligences and automation causes the current landscape of work to shift in shape dramatically – simply put there’s the potential for swathes of the population to be unemployable due to a skillet which can be better performed by non conscious intelligence. As the Telegraph said some time ago, many professions we currently know and love are at risk of automation in the coming decades.

 

jobsatrisk_3100754a (1)

So, (Cheer up everyone) harking back to the day job, and thinking about the teaching and learning experience at Salford and more specifically, the preparation of our students to meet this landscape, the thang which puts the twist in my pasta, so to speak, is thinking about, and designing a learning environment which will help them and not just cope, but thrive in this future.

More and more the skillset for success, due to increased automation, growth in globalisation through networking and networked knowledges, and the rising productivity of what I see potentially being highly skilled few, fundamentally alters its emphasis from being knowledge-driven to a far softer skillset acquired through a disciplinary (or interdisciplinary) lens. Attitudes, aptitudes and behaviours will increasingly become the currency of value to a business. A company’s capital will be increasingly social, not technical or material.

Given this, We (educationalists writ large) should be working to develop polymaths: individuals with a varied set of skills and interests. Using their cross-disciplinary backgrounds, such individuals are better placed to search out and find novel solutions to problematic issues, or real world conundrums; they are a cheaper and value-added hire for companies- they require less training and their skill set, or competencies can be applied to a variety of business needs; and they are more resilient to volatility in the labour market, since this will increasingly be an economy in which transferable knowledge is the currency, and their varied skills can be applied in and across multiple fields and industrial sectors.

disruptive skillset

With this thinking in mind, the future therefore belongs to the (possibly augmented) super professionals – the cross-disciplinary digitally fluent breed of worker, innovator and creative disrupter who possesses a variety of skills and can adapt and identify new possibilities quickly. Perhaps more than anything, I think the ability to continually learn, unlearn and relearn will mark out the successes of the future. This is the singularly most prominent skill we need to embed in our graduates…

See you next week.

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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.

Ongoing Ambiguity

It feels like an increasingly well-worn (and possibly down right weary) statement: we’re living in times of change and instability. On almost every front – no, scrub that – on every front that I can bring immediately to mind, significant change is the norm. More than this, the rate and pace of change is accelerating. Swiftly shapeshifting and complex fluidity of position is now seen as the paradoxical constant of our times; we see it everywhere – from the unprecedented and unpredictable  #cofefe and random bursts of spectacularly illiterate and emotive semi-incoherence sputtered out in 140 characters by the Tangerine Womble in his  unhinged and fluid position as POTUS, to, in almost another context entirely, the prolific acceleration of the Internet of Things, with all the ethical complexities, dangers and possibilities that are needing to be debated and considered as this new world permeates our lives, decisions and daily routines. 

Closer to home in the UKHE sector, change and fluidity seems just as seismic; the new Higher Education and Research Act of 2017 has lines within it which promise a reshaping of the UK landscape; similarly each of the party manifestos take an approach to the HE sector which have far reaching consequences of varying natures (this entry was written on the morning train at stupid-o-clock on election day 2017). Add to this the hugely negative impact of Brexit, the insistence of the current government to keep international students within immigration number targets and then, just for giggles and the sheer delirious fun of it, add a decline in UK university applicant population through to 2022, alongside an increasing marketisation of UKHE and one is inevitably faced with a destabilising, complex conundrum of competing factors impacting upon the wellbeing of our sector.

(As an aside, I’m reminded of a one-liner from Dean Martin during one of the infamous Rat Pack Summit sessions in the early 1960’s, when the braggadocio and male drinking schtick; a dizzying tower of swooning and crooning, triumphantly placed amidst tuxedos and chevvy tailfins, was at the nexus of pop culture for old and young alike – something about holding onto the floor the next time it came round to stop himself falling off it….)

Given the landscape painted above, one might expect a pervasive feeling of doom, gloom and something approaching helplessness as we sit in the passenger seat reluctantly witnessing the speedometer spin clockwise as the proverbial cliff edge draws nearer. However, from both an institutional standpoint at the University of Salford, and (given this blog is a personal and tangential reflection on the day-to-day) as an individual, I genuinely don’t feel gloomy at all. If anything, I see huge potential and possibility here.

On an institutional level our Industry Collaboration Zones are an ideally placed answer to this continued ambiguity and shifting uncertainty. Facing off to the industries and communities with which the university partners, they are, by their nature, reflexive centres of disruptive innovation – their very constitution relies on change being not only necessary, but desirable. More than this, they position us perfectly in the region to capitalise on devolution and to answer the call from the government for universities to be the growth anchors for the industrial strategy. Is it comfortable and easy? No, definitely not – nothing worth doing is, and a desire for comfort and a slow moving stability speaks to a vision of a sector which I’m not sure really exists anymore – however much one might long for a stasis of position. One necessarily needs to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

So how to do this and, moreover, do it well? How to avoid slipping into a reactive mode of being/doing, as we have to necessarily adapt and flex with this uncertainty – an uncertainty certainly due to be faced by our students as they step into this fast-paced graduate landscape of change and probably adopt portfolio, or patchwork career patterns (I’m resisting calling them career paths – I don’t think they have the luxury of being that linear…)

I think, on organisational and personal levels, its about fostering a real world resilience based on a position which is actually a meeting place for seeming contradictions – and more than this – necessarily and joyfully celebrating and inviting in this seeming contradiction – I say ‘seeming’ because I don’t actually see it as contradictory in practice.

One (an institution or a person, or an operating structure or #pickyourentityofchoice) must have certainty of purpose; a sense of grounded Heideggerian being-in-the-world, whilst having the agility and tenacity to embrace change (internal and external) as a creative working dynamic, bending with the wind so to speak. I’m again reminded of the absorption I find in surfing – it’s a similar position of tension – one has the certainty of needing to ride the wave, but where one goes on the wave and what happens in the 150 yards between the wave and the shoreline is, for me, an ambiguous mixture of response and desire – a fluctuating conversation between me, my board and the water. I can’t be fixed there – that would destroy the ride. Similarly, to give oneself over completely is an exercise in futility – at that point one becomes a passive passenger – no fun at all.

So I think resilience and a means of meeting this world and its challenges comes, in part, from resolutely adopting an uncomfortable, shifting celebration of necessary, responsible, accountable agility and a certain amount of ambiguity, perhaps drawing a soft parallel to Emilyn Claid’s idea of ambiguity seen in Yes, No, Maybe. More than a threshold resilience – a coping and surviving- I think dogged consistency in this modus operandi offers the possibility of thriving. And for those of you who are up for more – here’s a really interesting little article on excelling in this vein, taken from a psychological standpoint.

See you next week.

#Weare50: Place, space and belonging

The more observant amongst you may have twigged, by dint of the occasional message or several, that we (the University of Salford) are fifty this year. To mark the occasion, there is a whole host of activities and celebratory shenanigans, stretching throughout the year. These range from, stories, to days in the life entries from staff, students and alumni, to gala events, to showcases, to University Day, to creative events, to some fantastic networking meetings across the globe, which have brought together students, staff, alumni and our other partners. Granted, some of these things are part of our ‘normal’ calendar, which have been given an additional celebratory lift, but there’s also many events which are here once and gone forever, arriving and departing the way that birthdays tend to.

Although it hasn’t always been made explicit, I’ve noticed the idea of place, of us belonging somewhere in the world running through all of our celebrations. As someone who has now been at Salford for three years, (actually three years last week, dontchaknow) I was struck from my first day, and continue to be struck, at how grounded and rooted in a keen sense of its immediate environment Salford is, whilst at the same time, readily acknowledging, capitalising and drawing upon a myriad of global connections. It’s a porous place, not a house on the hill, or an ivory tower of old – it’s a place in conversation with itself and its immediate community and context. And what is a university if not its people? Sure, this sense of place, space and belonging is partly contained within the buildings, but even these are changing – the campus landscape has shifted beyond previous recognition even in the short time I’ve been here – no, its much more a felt sense; perhaps something which can’t adequately be captured in words, but is a shared sense, resting in the hive-mind of our staff and students, a resonance that some how one keys into and recognises as a place where one belongs.

One beautiful, and unexpected, instance of this came recently when I was fortunate enough to attend a book launch in our theatre space in our New Adelphi building. The book is called The City Of: A Salford Collection. It’s a retrospective on 50 years of life in Salford City; a collection of poetry and photographs and personal accounts and stories from Salford residents, staff and students. There’s even a brand new poem in there from our Chancellor Jackie Kay  (I’m looking forward to sharing Graduation with Jackie later in the year).

The book launch started with a presentation of a devised piece of theatre from our undergraduate performing arts students – about 50 of them (coincidence?) by my reckoning. This performance dramatised the developments of the last 50 years, picking out landmark events and translating them through a local echo. There was movement and music and dance and words all coming together in beautifully colourful ensemble action. What was striking however, was the cultural resonances the performers managed to hit. On a couple of moments all the elements of performance and the subject matter met perfectly with my own recollections of the times being dramatised and I was left thinking; how can minds and hearts and bodies who were not even born in the years they were conveying, capture something beyond their years so accurately; resonances of place and space lifting all to become more than the sum of their parts, like they were carrying powerful echoes of something they could only be aware of second hand. Fantastic to see…

And then it continued inside the theatre. And the book was duly launched in a crowd of people including staff and students and members of our local community. And then came the surprising bit: I was presented with the first copy of the first imprint of a brand new text. Wow. As an academic I count books amongst my most treasured of possessions. Folks, this one is sitting right up there at the top of the pile; a wholly unexpected and generous gift.

And, as I’m writing this now, leafing through the pages of the book, and thinking of the community inside the theatre, and thinking of our students’ performance and thinking of that tangible sense of reflection coupled with an idea of arriving that inevitably accompanies a landmark birthday year, there’s the clear chords of a shared endeavour and a understanding of place; a sense of grounded belonging ringing out loud and clear. And above everything, a real sense of pride in what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and where we’re going to go. Affirmation and excitement, certainty and uncertainty all in one go. Not bad at all.

#WeAre50.

#Watchthisspace.

See you next week.

Above and Beyond…

I made it to two, but I couldn’t quite manage the logistics of all three. At their core, each of them was, in their own quite different ways, a powerful statement of what actually gets me out of bed and moving in the right direction each morning. I experienced them as snapshots of our University, particularly poignant in our 50th year (more next week on this folks); snapshots which, both individually due to their differences, and collectively due to their temporal proximity combined with that unmistakable Salford essence of playful, grounded, feet-on-the-floor fun, really captured a big chunk of what it feels like at Salford for me right now. It’s unbelievable fun, hard work, rewarding, meaningful, progressive, difference-making and being part of something much, much bigger and more profound that that which I would be capable of conjuring solo.

The first one was a delightful invite to the University Student Union Annual Teaching Awards – an annual celebration of the very best. I was privileged to give opening remarks and then sit back and listen to the student-driven nominations for all shades of innovation, excellence and care which have supported student learning and success in the most life changing and profound of ways. The sheer volume of teaching and professional services staff nominated for these awards (more than ever before this year) pays tribute to the phenomenal experience clearly appreciated and recognised by our students. The award winners themselves were characteristically humble in receiving their tokens and certificates of recognition from a range of beaming student representatives. Re-reading the accompanying booklet listing the nominations and the student testimonials to their tutors, the most repeated sentiment was that of ‘above and beyond’.

The next one was the one I was forced to live vicariously; the 2017 Salford Student Success Awards. These awards were presented to students in recognition of achievements gained through a wide range of co and extra curricular activities. Excellence was acknowledged and celebrated in activities ranging from volunteering to enterprise. Importantly these activities are one strand of activity which connects our students and our University with our community. At same time students broaden their experience and their skill base to develop those all important additional strands to their graduating CV.

The final one was Student Union led again; it was their Annual Awards, which recognise the contribution to student life made by the numerous clubs and societies. Always a lively event full of good cheer, more social media than one can tweet a stick at and a plentiful smidgen of glamour, this year, as part of our marking our 50th celebrations, there were a number of previous Student Union presidents in attendance. It’s a great tribute to an endearing community and alumni network that includes thousands of students worldwide. Again, the spirited ownership of UoS displayed by our students and alumni as they celebrate achievements and practices which sit outside core curriculum indicated a palpable sense of belonging.

And that’s what I think I’m taking from this week across these events; a real sense of a celebratory community, recognising sometimes extra-ordinary achievements and triumph over adversity that asks for a commitment which is, by its very nature, ‘above and beyond’. However, in the giving of above and beyond, and judging by the sheer amount of pride, smiles and happy tears this week, all who engage in that manner certainly get it given right back with interest added. What a fantastic place.

See you next week.

Bit by Bit…

In my head I sometimes fancifully imagine what ‘having arrived’ will look/ feel like. What I mean by this is having a sense of the final impact of success. The sense, although not attached to any particular circumstance or picture, is, I suppose, quite filmic – one could place any number of descriptive metaphors against the feeling; the idea of a finishing line being crossed, a pinnacle being reached, a door finally swinging open… And beyond this threshold? An idea of arrival, of finality, of a job being completed – a sense of there being no track left upon which to run further; a sense of having arrived.

Of course, that’s;

  1. All in my head (which is, from experience, not always a good thing)
  2. Decidedly Hollywood-esque, simple and overly convenient in its linear narrative construction
  3. Not in any way representative of what actually happens

Real life just isn’t that definite or that straightforward is it? It’s far more complex. In my experience, the sense of arrival, or success, is momentary and fleeting if that; it passes by in the blink of an eye, if indeed it is there at all.

In my spare time (hahaha) a guilty pleasure (one of many folks, one of many) is video games. As anyone of a similar disposition will know, the success of completing a level, or a section, or even the entire game, is always a bit ho-hum. The real joy is to be found in the problem solving wrestle of ones personal navigation of the game and the means by which incremental success is achieved and cemented as a stepping stone to the next challenge. Several years after first picking up the game, I’m still finding new things to do in the vast and beautifully layered landscape that is Skyrim – all of these rely on me ensuring my avatar continually acquires increasingly advanced skills and abilities.

Relatedly (it will become clear in a minute or two – stay with me folks) I went for a run this weekend – not an isolated incident you’ll be pleased to know – you can put the blankets away – I tend to run 3-4 times a week. As the clocks have now hit summer settings and the evenings begin to stretch, it’s that time of year when I look forward to a season of Tough Mudder runs and various other outdoor adventures which involve a certain level of stamina. (It’s all part of a longer journey which will hopefully see me complete an Iron Man Challenge in a year/ couple of years). My general routine is to (very) slowly increase the mileage and the incline/ terrain difficulty through Spring so that by the time I hit Mudder season (this year its in about a month or so – I’ll being doing two consecutive runs on the 5th and 6th of May) I’m comfortably running 12 or so miles across country. This weekend I did about 9 miles in the Goyt Valley with my canine partner in crime Willowpants the Brave (see photos of said doggie in this blog entry) Next week it’ll be 10 miles and so on… Incremental gain, bit by bit. There’s always a brief moment of reflection after a run; what worked, what didn’t, and then this learning is put to use the next time my feet hit the hills. This week I learned that a small glass of water and a banana an hour before running is fine. A small glass of water and a banana 15 minutes before running leads to an uncomfortable first couple of miles and an interesting body breath relationship on the incline….

More gains – this time at work. The nattily and succinctly titled annual Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey came out recently and I’m delighted that, thanks to the collective efforts of staff across the university, we’ve gone up 19 places, to now sit smack bang in the middle of the league table. And what is this down to? Alongside some of the bigger changes we’ve been making (for example, changes to our physical campus) it’s achieved through the collective power of incremental gain. Matthew Syed references this in his reflections in his book Black Box Thinking on the performance of the GB cycling team  at the latest Olympics (amongst other reference points). Phenomenal success was achieved through a consistent, persistent pursuit of improvement through collective incremental gains. So it is at Salford; whilst there are always the slower moving big-ticket items, success is achieved through a myriad of tiny, increasingly rigorously focused steps, reflections and improvements, each one of which by itself would amount to very little. But when experienced collectively by our students, a tangibly more positive difference is felt in the overall encounter – one aspect that tells us we are succeeding.

So, to return to the notion of success/ arrival opened up at the start of this entry, and with my PVC Student Experience hat firmly set on head, does this make me feel as though we’ve succeeded? Is there that sense of finishing line being crossed? Of course not. Success is not about having arrived (does one ever?). It’s about intelligent increments, moving forward step by step (this doesn’t mean slowly by the way) and, in a complex, shifting and dynamic environment, being in a good position to grasp the next rung of the ladder. In this vein, a convenient point/door/finishing post (as much as I sometimes wish for one…) is just not good enough. I think we’re/ I’m actually in pursuit of a temporal, attitudinal, habitually practiced stance. On a personal level, its simply intelligently pushing/ demanding myself to up the ante. On an institutional level, its an expectation of a systematically embedded high performance culture.

We’re/ I’m getting there. Bit by bit.

See you next week.

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.