Reflections on the May SoTL walk

The theme for the May SoTL Walk was ‘Metamorphosis’. April’s walk was all about ‘temporary fixes that become permanent’ – this opened up some interesting ideas about the practices we’d really like to keep when life returns to normal.  ‘Metamorphosis’ took participants down a slightly different path.  It encouraged us to think about being immersed in the experience of deep transformation, to think about any dramatic changes to our ‘physical form, behaviours, habitat and sources of sustenance’, and reflect on what that means for the future of higher education.

Changes to Form

As you might expect, there were a number of references to caterpillars and butterflies in the postings. Metamorphosis is a physical transformation, magical in many ways. The process is messy, gooey and ugly, yet what emerges is (often) a breathtakingly beautiful creature. Isolation was likened to cocooning – when you go into the cocoon, you feel reluctant to leave the comfort of the enclosed space; but the lure of emerging into the world as a new entity brought a strong sense of hope and freedom to the discussions. Participants played with these ideas from different perspectives – ourselves and our students, and the university more generally. How will we all recover, revitalise and reinvent ourselves to survive?

 

A Supportive Habitat

An interesting contrast emerged between the experiences of metamorphosis in the natural and social worlds.  In the natural world, the cycles of nature provide a structure and predictability which support metamorphosis. So, whether you are talking about the germination of a seed or the emergence of tadpoles in the Spring, transformation is scaffolded (to steal an awkward educational word) by environmental features like climate, food supplies and predators – it brings a certainty to the process. What is different about the transformation we are now experiencing in the social world is that it is new and chaotic. Our surrounding environments feel strange – an eerie silence befalls  the buildings which were formerly buzzing learning spaces and we are interacting in new, unfamiliar spaces.  As we step back out into the environment we once knew (a complex map of societal, institutional and disciplinary spaces), will it be easy to resettle or will we get swallowed up?

Emergent Behaviours

Just as wriggling caterpillars turn into flying butterflies, some participants focussed on the way change had fundamentally impacted on their behaviour. It was interesting to see how negative self reflections – strong feelings of inadequacy and guilt, fears of not having done enough, selfishness, laziness, guilt – could be turned into positive forces as a work-life balance was realised. For some, though, there was a strong sense of growth in their identity, bringing echoes of ‘superhero metamorphosis’ to the discussion.  Being in this new context has allowed people to shift their priorities and strengthen their principals,  lived-values have come to the fore. We are then more willing to speak out and speak up for people who need our advocacy, and to challenge behaviours which are disrespectful and exclusionary. Powerful stuff!

New Sources of Sustenance

The vulnerability/fragility of newly emerged ‘forms’ from the process of metamorphosis brought wide recognition that we need to nurture and nourish our communities through compassion and care (themes which have dominated previous SoTL walks). So, there were calls for us to think carefully about how we support students as they transition through the next stages of the learning lifecycle, ensuring that their ‘diet’ of asynchronous and synchronous activities feeds them well.

Finally…

Once again, as the walking-week unfolded, I got great joy from seeing the growing collection of images and pictures appear on the Padlet wall and the conversations in the comments boxes were really compelling.  A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who took part in the May walk – your contributions were (and will continue to be) an inspiration. A special mention to Nathalie Sheridan who is a regular on the SoTL Walks and was so inspired this month that she wrote a blog – you can read it here.

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