Monday, September 15, 2014

In the corridor...

In the corridor, being unconscious

I turned left out of the classroom and headed up the narrow corridor.

On the left and right, students were gathered in the corridor waiting for a teacher to arrive.

On the left they were standing and on the right they were squatting.

Those on the right appeared to have adopted the position of homeless refugees begging for money.

As I walked towards them I felt a growing tension in the air.

As I walked past the student pictured here, he suddenly stood up as if to attention.

His movement encapsulated a felt instant of embarrassment, followed by a seemingly Pavlovian reflex which catapulted him to his feet.

On another day, or perhaps in the past, I would not have paid attention.

This is a corridor down which I walk to go to a box where I spend a number of hours to get money to walk back down the corridor to my personal box (home) every day except weekends.

Fortunately and for reasons I could no doubt analyse, I have always felt a certain detachment from what appear to me to be curious rituals,which others seem to consider to be normality.

I get lost quite regularly, quite deliberately.

It gives me more time to observe, more time to think.

Today, I purposefully look to unearth the foundations of ritual embodied in institutional spaces (historical spaces), to understand the actions of teachers, students, cleaners, secretaries, professors, maintenance people (historical bodies), to note exchanges, positions, interactions (interaction order)

Over the past couple of years, I have been helped in this decontruction by the work of observers conducting critical discourse analysis.

If one is to enable transformation of a system one must first recognise its converging discourses.

My search for understanding has led naturally to the work of a number of researchers and their theoretical lenses, notably:
Coming back to our student-teacher exchange, in the corridor, I took the time to question the student as to why he had suddenly leapt up off the floor.

He responded to me rather suspiciously.

Particularly when I asked him if he minded me taking a photograph to collect evidence of our encounter.

I explained to him my research interest, and how his behaviour was only one of so many unconscious, drilled actions that students and teachers don't even realise or notice as strange.

On reflection, he explained to me that he realised that he must have been conditioned to behave in such a way in school and so unthinkingly he had continued it into higher education.

I spoke to him and his friends of how this was only one of many examples of a ritual edifice built of scenes of submission, of passivity, of  ever decreasing expectations.

"C'est nul." "C'est comme ça!" "Je suis nul." "C'est comme ça."

As I spoke to them the students became more animated, and appeared to come alive.

I suggested that they might help me help them understand how they had become as if undead in certain spaces.

I shared with them my observations of how students in the institution talk of waiting to enter what they term 'la vie active' (active life) some way, some time  down the corridor... 

They smiled as we talked of their student ritual of feigning presence, feigning engagement, of dissimulating their real life , and of the the hours and hours spent waiting in corridors...

I was brought back to Mike Wesch's students inspiring work

I immediately connected to his inspirational talk for Connected Courses

Why we need a why.

After explaining to the student pictured here, he was happy to participate and responded favourably to participating in further research.

He felt no longer embarrassed but empowered.

I thanked the students for their time and walked up the corridor.

In the corridor, being Mohammed

A few seconds later, I met a young Senegali student who had just arrived at the university.

He knew nobody. He was quite lost.

I felt that perhaps it was my role to accompany him rather than concern myself with the fate of the students who had already arrived in our open space to learn.

I reckoned my team-teaching colleague would look after them.

Accompanied by one of the students who was waiting for my class in the corridor, we set off into the unknown to find the mysterious classroom with Mohammed.

For just over 45 minutes I was given a glimpse of "being Mohammed."

My team-teaching colleague was beginning to worry that I had got lost.

We had indeed got lost.

We must have met at least 10 different faculty staff who reacted with varying degrees of empathy.

Certain of the people working for the university greeted my request for help with hostility, I dread to imagine how they would have treated this student if he had been alone.

He no doubt would have remained lost for a good length of time...alone.

As we walked aimlessly around the campus,  I was able to get to know first-hand and understand better some of the obstacles that these young students live on their way down the corridor to 'Active Life'.

The adventure that we lived brought us closer, connections were made, emails/phone numbers were exchanged.

Smiles capture the moment. Mohammed had made new friends.

In the corridor, being open
Back from my adventure with Mohammed, I arrived at my intended destination, I was greeted by other learners who may have found the learning space but were coming to terms with being lost.

They were beginning to understand that the question 'What do we do to get a good grade?" wasn't perhaps the most important question.

We began to talk of their dreams, their search for meaning in their lives, their natural affinities. 

We spoke to them of being in an open, connected space and how their actions would not only affect their futures but could also have a positive effect on others. 

They were beginning to see that others were perhaps on their side, that others needed  their help, they were beginning to see that their stories had resonance for others. 

They were being confronted with other questions:

Who am I?
Where am I?
Why am I here?
What do I want to do with my time?
Who do I want to spend my time with?
Who can help me find answers?
Who can I help?

I spent a curious time today wandering lost around the campus and being late for class.

The students forgave me, they understand this story only too well.

A connected course for me doesn't start with digital tools.

A connected course for me starts in the corridor.