‘Worlding’ in a world of blended teaching and learning by Dr. Kerry Chappell

                                             Photo by Ian Cumming

Welcome to this, the first of the CEEN blogs for the 2020/2021 academic year. I’m not a hugely experienced blogger, but it’s something I’ve been encouraged to do more, and can increasingly see the value of, to create spaces for open-ended ruminations and debate. I hope CEEN colleagues and those who find a connection to our work will therefore join in with these ruminations and debates, either to step forward to write a blog, or to comment and debate on the monthly postings. So here goes……

In my first public blog, for BERA, in February of this year, I asked the question Where do we go from here with creativity and creative pedagogy? I offered insight into the principles of creative pedagogy that I had written about with my colleague, Teresa Cremin, in a recent systematic review. Little did I know that a month later, the fundamental assumption of face-to-face practice underpinning those pedagogies would be left by the wayside. We all rapidly shifted to online teaching, meetings and research – sometimes I sat for eight hours at a stretch staring at my colleagues in the virtual ether, working hard to connect, and research/practice creative pedagogy. It wasn’t always especially satisfying, but we muddled through.

When I finally got some leave my optician put me on post-operative eye drops – apparently, we stop blinking when we work on screens all the time – my corneas were like well-used chopping boards. Not only this, but I also began to identify a sense of unease[i] – about what, I wasn’t sure. As lockdown lifted slightly, and face-to-face interaction became more possible, I began to understand where this unease came from. I was speaking to people with them in ‘real’ view, albeit at a 2 metre distance; with my professional background in dance education, I was able to take on a small project working with local Dartmoor-based MED theatre company on an outdoor socially distanced performance; I sat in a room with a colleague (at a distance) as we needed to work on a physical resource together. I realised what the sense of unease related to.  It was about the connection through moving, what Erin Manning calls  ‘body worlding’[ii]:

Movement is one with the world, not body/world but body worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it.

I had lost part of this capacity to create the world and my relationships in it; I still had my movement but, on screen, somehow, I wasn’t able to fully enter into ‘worlding’; I was being pushed into a body/world divide, which as Manning articulates above is not the whole picture. I am perhaps, like other dance colleagues, more heightened to this particular source of unease, but I think when we turn our attention to it, it’s something we can all identify with.

We now all face a new academic year that will be at least ‘blended’, and probably, at times, fully online again. I feel that I’m being challenged (sometimes in the extreme!) to imagine how I can, not just muddle through, but honour the creative pedagogic principles that I research and try to practice, whilst not being able to engage fully, bodily, in worlding. In the context of this blog, I’m especially wondering about this in relation to our Creative and Emergent Educational-futures Network. We have wonderful colleagues and students in the network researching, practicing and teaching in an array of areas: music education experiences through a posthuman lens; decolonising educational relationships in HE; transdisciplinary education; pedagogical innovation in religious education; student-resistance through space; experience of pedagogical change in dance education. We are all reliant on our ability to create ideas and spaces bodily. And yet, we are now all working to design teaching and research partially or wholly through screens, sometimes needing to work asynchronously through an array of new digital tools. This honestly feels challenging to body worlding.

So I find myself turning to our conversations about pluriversality[iii]. In 2019, CEEN colleagues made a shared commitment to explore this concept, as and when appropriate to our academic practices.  By this we mean that we respect, acknowledge and work with varied systems of being-knowing (including for example embodying, decolonising, posthumanising); we entangle ourselves in research/teaching from within these practices not outside of them; we often (but not always) work with dialogue, pushing ourselves into pluriversal engagements with humans and other-than-humans; we aim to see/experience/shift power differentials, continually trying to find our own blindspots, to de-centre, and not always seek consensus.

So, I’m asking how can we apply these ideas to make the best of our current predicament? I’ve come across tantalising glimpses of new solutions that embrace some of these elements of pluriversality – group visualisation techniques on Zoom using narrated scripts to draw participants into shared imaginary worlds (these are not the usual body worldings, but have some qualitative similarities); data collection methods using the good-old postal service to deliver carefully crafted scrapbooks for participants to share artefacts and arts-based responses; clever use of digital sharing platforms to offer spaces for participants to share data/ways of being-knowing in multiple media, pushing well beyond word-based formats that may have been relied on pre-COVID, and which see digital platforms as allies. These are small beginnings and they (perhaps to me anyway) always seem to come with a desire to integrate body worldings when possible. But they do give me hope that we can find new, positively emerging educational and research futures as a response to our current constraints.

I do still have unease though – amongst other things I worry that fast-scholarship style, neoliberal institutional approaches will colonise asynchronous digital delivery, will ‘package up’ academic knowledge, simplifying and commodifying it. I worry that body worlding will come to be seen as a nice ‘added extra’ rather than a necessity. I worry that pedagogies grounded in care, access, kindness, inclusion, relationality, creativity…. will struggle to translate through screens without staff given time (not just resource) to figure out how to do all of this.

But it’s early days in the 20/21 academic year, so I’m trying to stay alert to my unease, whilst exploring multiple emerging options; trying to learn from colleagues and hear their unease too. Perhaps most of all I’m trying to keep a shared sense of humour over the sometimes seemingly every-changing guidelines. I have my DanceLab colleagues to thank for this in helping to get as close as we can in our choreographic experiments to body worlding, and to use this as a starting point for any online/practice-based teaching I’ll be doing.  I’ll leave you with this example to hand, alongside the conundrums ruminated upon above.  If you would like, please respond below, and/or if you would like to offer a blog post in the monthly series, please contact CEEN PGR, Heather Wren:

Kerry Chappell is the leader of CEEN and an Associate Professor within GSE at UoE

[i] Thanks to my colleague Dr Katie Natanel for debates which helped me see this as a productive force

[ii] Manning, E. (2009). Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Massachusetts: MIT Press

[iii] Blair Vasconcelos, A. & Martin, F.with Wren H. (2019). Plurality, Plurilogicality and Pluriversality: A Literature Review. Unpublished: available on the CEEN website https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/research/networks/ceen/researchprojects/pluralisingdifference/

 

2 thoughts to “‘Worlding’ in a world of blended teaching and learning by Dr. Kerry Chappell”

  1. Like Kerry, we are unfamiliar with the process of writing a blog and are grateful for the provocation to help us think/write with current practices in times of pandemic. Kerry’s blog challenges educators to confront some fundamental assumptions of practice – the removal of learners from our presence, and disconnection from all that is embodied and material in face to face contexts. She identifies a cautious ‘getting to know’, ‘what works’ and ‘what’s possible’ in unexpected circumstances.
    There is, of course, profound irony here – creativity demands that we muster positive responses to the unexpected, embrace emergence and find possibilities in the new. Yet, faced with recent ‘unprecedented’ change to our norms there is a tendency to hold on to the familiar, shrink back and lament losses, rather than openly welcomed difference/s.
    Enforced distanced learning has manifested in multiple dimensions of virtual worlds – shiftings to online teaching, shiftings to online meetings, shiftings to online research. In a virtual. digital space how do bodies become part of the educational space? How do you include bodies to allow for material, affective and somatic engagement with learning? How do you identify and connect with absent bodies who choose not to engage through body language, chat, and face? What happens if ‘the invisible’ choose not to engage with learning? We wonder what injuries have these moves inflicted? Kerry cites physical responses of dehydrated eyes and, for a dancer, more than metaphorical ‘itchy feet’; emotional responses of low confidence and satisfaction; and a typical humility, of ‘muddling through’. Todd (2020) discusses how bodies are situated and can be deformed and transformed by their environments. This could be bad backs from long periods of sitting or possibly slumped posture in front of computer screens. Yet for some new ways of working may open new possibilities and enable new ways of being and doing. For example, the freedom from long commutes creating and provoking different and unfamiliar movements and sensations. Bodies inhabiting different places and living in relation and co-creating new relations with learning spaces.
    During lockdown, as ‘isolating’ research partners, we have become-with asynchronous dialogue, we have juggled synchronous googledocs/chatfunctions/facetime/whatapp. Our bodies have engaged with fingery-eyes on keyboard and screen, with alert poses and slippers on feet.
    After surreal months, the return to some face-to-face interaction and the prospect of a ‘real’ view – we wonder now what was, is, and will be real? And what do we feel when we turn our attention to mixed messages of continued enforced body/world divide? What does this new wave mean for challenges to bodily worlding?
    What will this mean for relationality in the Creative and Emergent Educational-futures Network? Conversations with pluriversality may offer some relief from new uneasy ‘separations’. Educators will ‘respect, acknowledge and work with varied systems of being-knowing’, ‘entangle themselves in research/teaching from within’, ‘work with dialogue’, ‘push themselves into pluriversal engagements with humans and other-than-humans’ and ‘see/experience/shift power differentials, continually trying to find our own blindspots, to de-centre, and not always seek consensus’.
    So, the blog asks, ‘how can we apply these ideas to make the best of our current predicament?’
    For us, new solutions have challenged our think-practice (Thiele, 2014: 202), in every dimension as educators, in teaching, meeting, and researching. Are we perhaps MORE aware of bodily pose, of movements? Do we actively and purposefully include, encourage and invite learners to leave their screen, to move away from the desk, to engage with their immediate surroundings differently and to draw on the new awareness of the local outdoors that has typified lockdown for many adults and children alike? We have learned, we have adapted to screen life, designed new provocations, and capitalised on techno fixes. We have worked differently; with new groups in differing time zones, tried new skills in unlikely liaisons with allotmenteers, issued research invitations on inky postcards, walked distanced derives, produced video resources that participants can re-watch and rethink-with.
    An example of these new, unexpected, and unfamiliar partners was a group of artists, poets, gardeners who are involved with the Boundary Way Allotments and Community Garden on the edge of the Warstones estate in South-West Wolverhampton, UK. Thanks to National Heritage Lottery Funding, Boundary Way created #postcardsfromtheplot project; an opportunity to reimagine their events programme and make connections during a new time of social distancing. These workshops over Zoom into botanical ink making and allotment anthrotypes have seen a wide range of participants collecting foraged hedgerow treasures – crushing, grinding, squashing, crumbling, steaming, straining; etc. It felt daunting stepping into the unknown – experimenting and transforming colour palettes, exploring differences. Yet in embracing the new we surprisingly found ourselves engaged in embodied and material practices: forays for hedgerow treasures, inky fingers with traces of places, pestle and mortar in action, feathery quill writing with blackberry ink – all in front of the computer. This experience opened our eyes to what may be possible …

    We share Kerry’s ‘hope that we can find new, positively emerging educational and research futures as a response to our current constraints’. What might that ask of us? That we ALL enter brave new intra-actions (Barad,2007) in a spirit of possibility, that we ‘stay with the trouble’ and take our part in telling stories that matter (Haraway, 2016), in attentiveness and generosity ((Koro-Ljungberg, 2016).
    We acknowledge Kerry’s unease about fast institutional approaches which may normalise unwelcomely different packages. As we write, September sees the breaking of an academic year where new and returning students cannot yet recognise their hopes for study. But we do have options. The laws of physics suggest that forces are equal and opposite in their reactions. Unease will energise a push back. Curiosity, new research experiments, somatic responses and collaborative engagements will world the future.
    And we personally will push through the discomfort of challenges to engage with our fundamental principles of belonging and becoming, to share interdisciplinary, embodied material experience as we explore the possibilities of paying attention to small worldly encounters in the October CEEN seminar.

    References

    Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures).
    Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press
    Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2016) Reconceptualizing Qualitative Research: Methodologies without Methodology. London: Sage
    Thiele, K. (2014) Ethos of Diffraction: New Paradigms for a (Post)humanist Ethics. Parallax, 20 (3), 202-216
    Todd, S. (2020) The Vitality of touch and the Aesthetics of Educational Encounters, Disrupting Early Childhood Pedagogy Curriculum Seminar Series, (0nline), York University, Toronto, Canada, 24th September 2020.

  2. I’ve just opened an invitation to offer a web-mediated lecture to AMET members (the Association of Mathematics Education Teachers) on how we might think about pedagogy in the time of Covid, under the new restrictions being imposed in HE, so reading your imaginative cri-de-coeur, Kerry, came at just the right time for me. Mathematics has always been two steps behind science and ten steps behind creative arts because of mind/body and person/world distinctions. The primary obsession is with content rather than the experience and activities of the targetted becoming person. Every interaction, let me call in teacher-learner, is both particular and general. The particular concerns the focus or activity in hand. Be it times table or problem solving strategy. The general concerns the nature of activity and interaction as illustrated by the interaction. It concerns the becoming of the learner, their reading of the implicit judgement of the teacher and its ontological impact on becoming. (Not to mention explicit evaluation.) Signs of attention, interest, respect, care or their lack are all read intuitively and absorbed with the overt lesson, and fed into the emerging identity, drop by drop. How does distance or blended learning attenuate this? Admittedly most school students are learning face-to-(covered) face, but all in HE from student teachers to doctoral students are learning by blending or distanced means. Even as a doctoral student I am susceptible to the tells and signs of response and judgement by tutors. What are the new barriers and how can we ensure an ethic of care still permeates them?

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