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Rebecca Fisher

It took me quite a while to write this bio, because it’s not easy to explain why IATL’s Summer School and Events Manager is part of a team researching transdisciplinary learning environments and playfulness in higher education. It’s no secret that universities divide systemically academics from administrators: different contracts, different promotion processes, different recognition and reward programmes. So how did an administrator come to be part of The Dark Would?

Firstly, as Celia Whitchurch explained in 2008, although ‘traditionally, activity in higher education institutions has been viewed in binary terms: of an academic domain, and an administrative or management domain that supports this’, in recent years there has been a blurring of these boundaries which has led to ‘the creation of a third space between professional and academic domains’ (2008: 378). IATL is conducive to the emergence of these third spaces, as a supportive environment with the explicitly stated aim of incubating ideas and innovation. So we were lucky enough to benefit from the right kind of working atmosphere.

Secondly, the combination of skills I have developed while moving through academic and administrative environments – from a PhD, to university lecturing, to the management and administration of HE projects – is a potent one, and has enabled me create and adapt to spaces in the interstices between academia and administration. I was excited to bring to the Dark Would team academic analysis and research skills, and a keen ability to perceive connections and larger structures; project management and planning skills; and an understanding of teaching and learning spaces and the experiences of students.

Thirdly, in The Dark Would I saw the opportunity to create an exciting, dynamic collaboration, where the interface between academia and administration could spark innovation out of challenge, friction, and transgression: something new could grow out of the old ‘this or that’ binary. My motivation wasn’t only my professional interest in teaching and learning, but arises from my personal and academic background too; when I reflect on my desire to work on The Dark Would, it also stems from my commitment to breaking down unhelpful binaries as a feminist and as a scholar.

This toolkit arises partly from the work we did on The Dark Would, and is also inspired by our experiences at the 2016 Counterplay conference – hence the focus on playfulness. The toolkit offers you some ways in which you might create your own Dark Woulds, physical and intellectual spaces wherein we are unsettled, our imaginations run wild, and rules can be forgotten and remade. Our intentions with the toolkit and The Dark Would more broadly are to encourage you to experiment with teaching spaces that challenge ‘traditional’ teaching and learning, disrupt accepted hierarchies of power, and explore what it means to be a whole and embodied person as a teacher and a learner.

I feel that we achieved that in the creation of the Dark Would installation, which grew to be an effective transdisciplinary learning space. But I don’t think we achieved our broader goal of securing a legacy for The Dark Would as a way of working: I learned that, while individuals might set out with the intention of honouring and nurturing the third space, university systems do not necessarily have the flexibility to allow projects such as this to have much longevity.

I hope that toolkit we have produced demonstrates the four different but complementary voices that wove The Dark Would from a few single notes into a carefully composed symphony. I hope that we give you some ideas for exploring playful and creative teaching and learning. I encourage you to seek opportunities for collaborative innovation, because, as The Dark Would was, they can be stimulating, empowering, and creative. But transgressing the boundary between academia and the administration is draining, and is a stubborn foe, devaluing and undermining administrative skills in particular. As with any other foray into a dark wood, I would advise you to proceed with hope, and caution.
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Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: The Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly 62 (4): 377-396.