What did I learn at #altc

I have spent the day in Manchester at the Association for Learning Technology Conference. It was the first day with sessions and it was an extensive programme on offer, take a look:


If you can’t be there it is worth following the hashtag on Twitter #altc and some of the sessions are live streamed. 


photo by Rebecca Sellers (@becksell2001)

Throughout the day I definitely felt like I had been plugged into a supportive network; I had a feeling of energy no doubt helped by the substantial amount of coffee I managed to consume (somewhat unwisely probably). Tomorrow it will be peppermint tea all day, honest!

What did you learn?
Inspired by someone asking the question ‘what have I learnt today’, I had a little think and this is (some of) what I learnt:
1. How welcoming the alt community really is. I’ve never been to the conference before and I got some good advice about not planning too much from Trevor Walsh, a seasoned altc participant.

2. That you can’t underestimate how important it is to have students involved in what we do. The two students who co-presented the keynote made some of the most important points of the day.
“I wish students like us could afford all those apple macs” YES key structural issues in terms of power and economic issues #altc (@DonnaLanclos)

3. That Donna Lanclos definitely needs to write the ten top things an academic need to consider before tweeting. 
4. That there are so many more people I need to follow on twitter.
5. To boldly declare I do know stuff about research into learning spaces* (well, I sort of do).
6. That QR codes might (again?) be worthwhile.
7. That I should have had a scone with cream whilst I could. Never turn down a scone.
8. But first and foremost I have had the message reinforced that it really is about the people (and not the technology). But also that working in binary distinctions or oppositions is not really that helpful. Reality is messy – to be continued…

What did you learn?

Many thanks to Rebecca Sellers who kindly let me use her excellent photo. 

*if you are interested in literature on learning spaces take a look at  Zotero group where I am collating useful links related to learning spaces, the concept of third space and liminality.

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Perspectives and movements in learning landscapes – #blimage

Thanks to a challenge from Catherine Cronin I’m joining the #blimage activities and blogging in response to an image (specifically the image Catherine used in her post).

The image makes me feel like I am in the role of a spectator and that a lot is outside my frame of vision. As Catherine mentioned is has the feel of a snap shot. To me it reinforces the idea that there is always a story going on and how important it is to recognise that learners/colleagues are always in the midst of their lives with a lot happening that I don’t know about or am able to see from my perspective or position.

When I look at the image I also think about the different ways that we can move through learning landscapes. The need to consider where we are coming from/our background and where we might be going/or want to go (and perhaps with whom). In this image, the girl appears to be moving very confidently towards something/someone whereas others might meander, move slower or gain confidence as they go along.

Runaway Jane

CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)

Steve Wheeler comments about how #blimage started:

“The #blimage challenge was started as a bit of fun between Amy Burvall and I. We started it on July 18th and it has been growing steadily ever since with many of our friends and colleagues participating. The challenge is this: Send an image to friends in your personal learning network and ask them to write a learning related blog post about it. They then challenge their friends with an image of their choice. All the posts are labelled with the hashtag #blimage (blog-image) so they can be easily discovered and aggregated. Since the start of activities, the following posts and other artefacts related to #blimage have been posted. Several are destined to become classics of educational blogging.”

From The #blimage list posted on 26th July 2015 by Steve Wheeler. See the Youtube video by Amy Burvall explaining how it came about.

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Identity and teaching and learning spaces

Recently, a paper I co-wrote about the ‘Student Teaching and Learning Consultant’ scheme was published. I wrote it with Dawn Bagnall, who was one of the students working as a consultant, and it was a really valuable experience to be able to discuss and analyse what the scheme had been about with someone who had worked with the staff. I was the project co-ordinator and co-trainer of the student consultants and although I did get feedback from staff who participated in the scheme, I did not participate in the consultancy activity itself.

Although the scheme is not running this year, for a variety of reasons, I continue to reflect on the space that was created as a result of the scheme. I have characterised this space as ‘liminal’ in other posts (and in another forthcoming paper, link added 25th June 2015) because the roles of students/staff became ambiguous and existed to some extent outside the normal or traditional framing of that relationship. Liminality is also connected to a blurring of identity, which is something that came through in the analysis of the scheme and is reflected in the title of a poster I developed with two students for the ALDinHe conference back in April 2014.

Poster presented at ALDinHE conference in April 2014

Poster presented at ALDinHE conference in April 2014 CC BY-SA 4.0

Open learning spaces and identity

Similarly, Catherine Cronin talked about learning spaces in her keynote entitled ‘Openness in HE: Choosing our Paths’ which she delivered at the Festival of Teaching and Learning at the University of Huddersfield on 12th June 2015. Catherine talked very passionately about the need to support students in bridging the divide between formal and informal learning and to reflect on the types of spaces that we engage in and their characteristics in relation to notions of openness. Catherine’s work also looks at how educators and students can navigate the boundary between formal and informal learning and how the characteristics of open online spaces have implications for the identities, roles and relationships that students and educators develop (Cronin 2014).

You can freely access the papers/presentations/posters:

Cronin, C. (2014).  Networked learning and identity development in open online spaces. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014, Edited by: Bayne S, Jones C, de Laat M, Ryberg T & Sinclair C. ISBN 978-1-86220-304-4

Jensen, K. and Bennett, Liz (2015). Enhancing teaching and learning through dialogue: a student and staff partnership model. The International Journal of Academic Development, 20 (4). ISSN 1470-1324 (In Press).

Jensen, K.S.H and Bagnall, D. (2015) Student Teaching and Learning Consultants: developing conversations about teaching and learning. Journal of educational innovation, partnership and change, Vol. 1, No.1.

Jensen, K. (2014) Blurring Staff and Student Identities: the impact of learning partnerships. In: ALDinHE 2014: Learning Development Spaces and Places, 14-16 April 2014, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom. (Unpublished)

Jensen, K., Kendrick, J. and Swinburn, S. (2014) Blurring Staff and Student Identities: the impact of learning partnerships. In: ALDinHE 2014: Learning Development Spaces and Places , 14th – 16th April 2014, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom.

The ‘Students as Teaching and Learning Consultants’ scheme was funded by the Higher Education Academy in 2012/2013 and was supported collaboratively by the Teaching and Learning Institute and the Students’ Union in the academic year 2013/14.  All of the outputs can be accessed via the central project webpage and they are available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike copyright licence. http://www.hud.ac.uk/tali/projects/proj_archive/central_init/heastlc/

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Using Lego for research purposes

Friday and Saturday (24 and 25th April 2015) I attended two workshops on using Lego to reflect on your research and as a research methodology in relation to data collection. These workshops were based on the concept of Lego Serious Play and run by David Gauntlett, Professor in the Faculty of Media, Art and Design at the University of Westminster.

Megan Beech, one of my colleagues have covered what took place on the Friday in her blog post Using Lego Serious Play to explore my PhD research journey so I will mainly be reflecting on the Saturday workshop in this post.

In this session David gave more background to using creative research methods and talked about how visual and hands on methods get the brain working in different way. He shared some of the research he has undertaken where getting people to create was part of the research process itself. This approach gives participants time to construct meaningful responses in a different way to for example interviews and focus groups. He shared 3 main findings from his own work:

  1. Creative and visual research methods give people the opportunity to communicate different kinds of information.
  2. Metaphors can be powerful in social research. It allows you to explore more intangible concepts like identity and metaphors can be fruitful for engendering additional meanings.
  3. Research participants need reflective time to construct knowledge. It allows things to surface, it allows participants to put together knowledge and it is a way to give form to abstract experience.
A photo of a Lego model

A model of me as researcher including thoughts on my values and priorities

Creative Commons Licence
A model of me as researcher by @kshjensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Points to consider if you want to run a Lego workshop

  • Consider whether to consult the Lego Serious Play script for guidance
  • The importance of doing the initial building exercises that enable participants to switch from literal model explanations to metaphorical mode
  • The meaning of the Lego model is down to the individual creator and the researcher and fellow participants should not be interpreting or translating the model in any way
  • It is important when doing the Lego workshop that everyone gets to contribute and explain their Lego models. The fact that everyone does build a model ensures that all voices are heard.
  • When asking follow-up questions about the model, always ask about features in the model rather than questions of the participant. Ask open questions, like: what is this?
  • Be respectful of the models and appreciate everyone’s contribution.

Using Lego to capture experiences

David also covered how you might use Lego in different, less time-consuming ways (the workshop activities take about 5 hours) and mentioned how it was used at a conference called Research Through Design to get delegates to build something that represented an aspect of their conference experience. This example is available on his website.

Lego as part of the research design process

After the session I thought that using Lego in an early stage of the research design process (rather than as part of data collection) could be a really powerful way of exploring a research topic and ensuring that views and experiences of stakeholders and potential research participants could be part of setting the research questions. It was the complexities of the stories people told about their Lego models that was really impressive and that I imagine would be useful not only in gathering data but also in deciding how to frame the proposed research.

You can find more about the research using Lego carried out by David Gauntlett in his book Creative Explorations (2007).

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I’ve dipped into the #ccourses twitter stream, shared some ideas, joined the G+ forum and read a few blogposts. So far so many ideas and lots of things to ponder.

Why we need a why
It was really the video by Michael Wesch that hooked me in as I am already a fan of the work he has done with his students.

I don’t teach in a traditional sense as I am a researcher and work in the area of academic development. But I do support colleagues in developing their practice and so I am perhaps more of a facilitator or collaborator (or in many cases simply an enthusiastic co-learner). However, I liked the activity of sharing responses to the ‘Why I teach’ so here is mine:

Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Hoping to catch up on some more great conversations in Connected Courses.

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Inspirational teaching – a focus on collaboration and partnership

As part of the Student as Teaching and Learning Consultant project I managed, I carried out some background research on the concept of ‘inspirational teaching’. Along with two members of the project steering group I wrote a paper based on this research and our thinking around what inspirational meant coming from a ‘student-centered learning’ perspective. In the paper we identify four themes in the literature related to inspirational teaching, however, we argue that it is not useful to reduce inspirational teaching to a set of characteristics or teaching practices as this takes away focus from the quality of the learning experience and the more holistic and sustained impact on students.

Key to inspirational teaching is that it involves a collaborative ethos and a partnership approach where students’ and teachers’ roles and responsibilities are mutually constitutive in developing inspired learners.

Take a look at the paper published in the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 2, jul. 2014: Inspirational Teaching: Beyond Excellence and Towards Collaboration for Learning with Sustained Impact by Kathrine S.H. Jensen, Joelle Adams and Karen Strickland.

A sort of partner paper to this is What is inspirational teaching? Exploring student perceptions of what makes an inspirational teacher (2013) where I explore the content of student nominations for the ‘Inspirational teaching’ category in the 2012 Thank You Awards at University of Huddersfield alongside observations and data from students working as teaching and learning consultants.

We also asked the student consultants what they though ‘inspirational’ meant – see the video where Dawn Bagnall talks about her inspirational teachers:

Follow me on twitter (@kshjensen)

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Using liminality to look at student/staff interactions

I am writing this as part of trying to work out whether I can use the concept of ‘liminality’ to explore/analyse the characteristics, potentialities, roles and relationships related to student and staff working in partnership in education. As part of getting to grips with useful concepts, I came across the work by Catherine Cronin, who is doing some really interesting thinking about digital identity and interactions between students and staff using the notion of ‘third space’. I have exchanged some links/resources and thoughts with Catherine in a sort of on-going conversations about how these concepts of ‘liminality’ and ‘third space’ might be similar or different etc. This blog post is meant to be part of this conversation, which Catherine is documenting in her post A conversation about Third Space, Third Place and Liminality.

Why liminality?

I developed a project where students worked  as teaching and learning consultants and they did this work in partnership with staff. I have written a number of posts about this project elsewhere. In an initial post I began using the idea of liminal to develop my understanding of what was going on in the student/staff interaction:

“…there is structure in the student consultancy scheme in relation to how students and staff opt in and get recruited but there is also a much less structured negotiated space where students and staff have opportunities to engage in conversations about teaching and learning in a collaborative way. The students have been keen to expand and perhaps even step out of their normal student roles in order to engage with a staff perspective and this seems to have been the case for a number of staff who participated as well. I am reminded of the work by Alison Cook-Sather in which she suggests that undergraduates working as pedagogical consultants are in liminal positions, in-between being a student or being a member of staff….I would argue that perhaps both student and staff are able to occupy a liminal position that offers different insights and produces a different kind of student/staff relationship.”

(Students as producer and thoughts on the benefits of process and liminality, blogpost from 2 July 2013) – sorry about the self-referencing

In analysing what happened in the consultation process, in terms of developing a space for conversation and collaboration, I argued that it was a liminal space. Liminal in the sense that it was characterised by uncertainty about the roles that students and staff had in this space which enabled them to step outside normal roles and the traditional learner-teacher relationship. The project findings also indicated that the relationship that developed was an equal one where staff and students recognised the experiences (and expertise?) of each other as useful.

Where does the concept of liminality come from?

The short answer is from Anthropology and van Gennep’s study of rituals as ‘rites de passage’. For more background see Liminality.

The concept of liminality relates to the middle phase in any ritual and deals with passing from one social status to another. Van Gennep identified three phases:

  1. Separation
  2. Transition
  3. Incorporation

So the ritual participant is taken out of their social role, the structures they are in (separation), enter into a phase of transition (a sort of social limbo, which is characterised by lack of social status, structures only to then be returned to society and back into the social structures (incorporation).


In the 1960s, Victor Turner picked up Van Gennep’s ideas and he was specifically interested in what happened in the liminal phase:

“The novices are, in fact, temporarily undefined, beyond the normative social structure. This weakens them, since they have no rights over others. But is also liberates them from structural obligations…Liminality…may also include subversive and ludic (or playful) events. In other words, in liminality people “play” with the elements of the familiar and defamiliarise them. Novelty emerges from unprecedented combinations of familiar elements.” (Turner 1992, 27).

In his 1969 book The Ritual Process, Turner coined the term ‘anti-structure’ to “describe the transitional topsy-turveydom of the liminal phase of ritual” (Whitehead 2004, 4). So the three phases can be characterised as participants moving from a place in a social structure, into a space of anti-structure to then be reintegrated into the the social structure.

“Liminality may perhaps be regarded as the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all, and, more than that, as a realm of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (Turner 1982, 97)

Although traditionally the participants, when they are in the liminal phase are generally not powerful, the phase has connotations of danger because in this undetermined, betwixt and between state, the structures and social roles are not fixed as they are temporarily ‘outside’ these. This is where the potential for using the idea of ‘liminal space’ as somewhere power relations are less fixed and there can be negotiation or innovation of traditional structures, e.g. learner/teacher roles.

What are the problems with using liminality?

  • In the liminal state neophytes are seen as weak, powerless following the authority of ‘elders’ – this is possibly problematic when looking at interactions between participants working together who are from different positions?
  • Refers to a transitional phase – how can we use it when  there is no transition taking place?
  • They are positioned as outside society/structure – possibly not useful when we are looking at collaboration ‘within structures’ to some extent.
  • Development described is linear – but does it have to be?

Why is liminality useful?

  • Liminality is characterised by participants stepping outside normal roles and strictures
  • It is characterised by lack of structure (anti-structure)
  • It is a levelling space (neophytes are equal)
  • The liminal state is characterised by being ‘in between’ and indeterminate which is useful for looking at student and staff collaboration and partnership where roles and responsibility are negotiated
  • Liminal has the potential for challenging traditional roles and develop innovative reinterpretations of familiar roles/relationships etc.

I think that you can use the idea of interactions (or space where interactions take place) as being characterised by ‘liminality’ without necessarily having the other two phases as I am not analysing rituals or transitions. Also ‘liminality’ is not particularly tied to physical space.

Potential for transformation

I think liminality does have potential in relation to the idea of student/staff partnership where it helps explain the developmental benefits of spaces that enable ‘separation’ from previous roles/responsibilities. Of course you are not completely stepping away but ‘stepping out’ for a limited time and there is potential for this to offer you new or different perspectives.

“Liminality is a world of contingency where events and ideas, and “reality” itself, can be carried in different directions.” (Thomassen 2009, 5)

In the end I would argue it is the potential for transformation that makes the concept of liminality interesting.

More reading on liminality:

Cook-Sather, A. & Alter, Z. (2011). What Is and What Can Be: How a Liminal Position Can Change Learning and Teaching in Higher EducationAnthropology and Education Quarterly, 42(1), 37-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1492.2010.01109.x

Cook-Sather, A. (2013). Student-faculty partnership in explorations of pedagogical practice: a threshold concept in academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 1-13. doi: 10.1080/1360144X.2013.805694

Turner, V. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and anti-structure (London: Penguin)

Turner, V.  (1982). Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. The Forest of Symbols – Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, Chapter IV, 93-111. (6th ed.). Cornell University Press. First published 1967.

Turner, V. (1992). From Ritual to Theatre: The Human seriousness of Play. PAJ Publications, New York.

Szakolcza, A. (2009). Liminality and Experience: Structuring transitory situations and transformative events. International Political Anthropology, 2 (1), 141-172. Retrieved from http://www.politicalanthropology.org/ipa-journal.html

Thomassen, B. (2009). The Uses and Meanings of Liminality. International Political Anthropology, 2 (1), 5-27. Retrieved from http://www.politicalanthropology.org/ipa-journal.html

Whitehead, C. (2004). Religious experience and the theory of anti-structure. Retrieved from: http://www.socialmirrors.org/cms/images/downloads/RE_and_antistructure.pdf

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