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Dynamic and Important – Student as Producer

Student as Producer Launch

Student as Producer got off to a great start last night at the official launch in MB1019, the ‘Learning Landscapes’ room. The event was packed, with more than one hundred people and all of the seats taken. There were colleagues and students there from all over the university.

Click here for photographic slide show.

There was a real sense of excitement. Someone said ‘It feels  like we are  involved in something dynamic and important’.

The day had been spent putting up the new exhibition stand  in the Atrium and giving out flyers. Some of the students did actually make the flyers into paper aeroplanes, which looked good and which flew reasonably well. The new stand was a focal point of the launch.

Mary Stuart, the Vice Chancellor, kicked the event off. She said how excited she was by the project and how important it is in defining Lincoln as a very special type of university, where the relationship between staff and students is very important; and where we aim to celebrate students as producers and contributors to the academic mission of the university, and not simply as consumers.

I spoke after Mary. I started with a long list of thank yous to colleagues and students who have been working with me on this project over the last three years. I forgot to mention Scott Davidson by name. I want to thank him now for all of his support for Student as Producer, and to say how great it is to be working closely with him on this agenda.

I said that Student as Producer works on a number of different levels:

Firstly, it is great to be engaged so directly with students, working with them to develop a programme across the university in which ‘studentness’ is such a central issue.

Secondly, I spoke about the way in which this project attempts to address the dsyfunctionality that lies at the core of higher education, i.e., the way in which the key activities of teaching and research often work against each other. Student as Producer deals with this issue by attempting to reengineer the relationship between teaching and research, by including undergraduate students as a part of the academic project of the university, and for this to be made real by having more research and research- like activities within the curriculum, as well as involving students in the design and delivery of their own teaching and learning.

Thirdly, I spoke about how good it was to develop the work we all did on the Learning Landscapes in Higher Education project by linking it with Student as Producer. The ways in which we are now developing the curriculum across the university has very profound implications for the way in which we design our teaching and learning and research spaces.

Fourthly, I referred to the current political context within which we are operating. Student as Producer is a critical response to the attempt by this government and previous governments in the UK to define our undergraduates students simply as consumers of higher education. Student as Producer is a very practical response to the politics of consumerism, but it is also an intellectual and academic statement about the in the way in which academics work with undergraduate students.

Key to the articulation of Student as Producer is the way in which we draw on the radical traditions within teaching and learning that emerged during the 20th century to inform what we do. I have written elsewhere with Andy Hagyard and Joss Winn about the way in which the slogan Student as Producer is based on Walter Benjamin’s paper, written in Germany  during the 1930s, at a time of very real social, political and economic crisis. Benjamin’s main point in that article is to discuss the role for radical intellectuals in making a progressive contribution to the development of a democratic society based on the principles of social justice.

Benjamin, following Brecht, argues that one way to do this is by enabling those who regard themselves as the passive objects of history to see themselves as active participants in a social world of their own design – as subjects of history – the active producers of a social world that they have made.

He sums this up in a statement:

‘What matters is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first, to induce other producers to produce, and, second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers – that is, readers or spectators, into collaborators’ ( Benjamin Author as Producer 1934).

The statement is printed on the Student as Producer exhibition stand.

My final point was that Student as Producer is about teaching and learning and its relationship to research, but it is also asking a more fundamental question about the meaning and purpose of higher education in the 21st century. Through the way in which we are developing the notion of Student as Producer we are attempting to come up with some answers.

We then had a presentation from some students from the Business School. They talked about their direct involvement in the University’s Open Days, and how they present their work to prospective students so as to give them a very real sense of what it is like to be a student at Lincoln. They had some of their work on display around the room.

The final presentation was from Andy Hagyard, who is the Co-ordinator for the project. Andy gave details about some funding that Student as Producer is able to provide for staff and students to develop their academic work. These funding streams include £1000 bursaries for students to become part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme (UROS), as well as the Fund for Educational Development ( FED) which is able to provide awards of up to £3000 to support curriculum development in the way of Student as Producer.

When Andy was finished I thanked everyone for coming and for making the launch such a great success. I said that I was looking forward to working with staff and students on Student as Producer. My final words were to encourage everyone to eat some of the big cake. Which they did. And I did. It was delicious.

My overwhelming feeling following the launch is that Student as Producer  is about much more than curriculum development. It is an act of resistance.