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OSL Theory

Research Origins

Research into OSL grew out of the collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the University of Warwick's departments of Education and English and Comparative Literary Studies, represented in the CAPITAL Centre. More detail can be found in the Preface and Introduction to Open-space Learning: a Transdisciplinary Pedagogy, published by Bloomsbury Academic and available here. OSL developed further in this National Teaching Fellowship Scheme project, and grew principally out of our teaching of Shakespeare and our excitement concerning our discovery that the techniques of the theatrical rehearsal room were applicable across the disciplines.

The detail of this research can be found in Chapter One of Open-space Learning: a Transdisciplinary Pedagogy.  


Research Theories 1

OSL is intended to cover what might be recognised as the ‘workshop model’ of teaching and learning. It includes – but is not limited to – methods such as ‘enactive’ learning, ‘kinaesthetic’ learning and the various methods of teaching developed by practitioners such as Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire, and related to the work of thinkers like Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, and David A. Kolb. It also has affinities with ‘applied drama’, ‘applied theatre’, or ‘applied performance’. OSL can include any kind of learning in which the participants are required to engage with their own physicality in a workshop environment. OSL is both kinaesthetic and enactive, and our experiences in the OSL project have often shown us that the very fact of working in a studio or rehearsal space provokes change in both tutor and student to the extent that the open space has created real physical engagement with the taught materials in ways that could not possibly happen the traditional lecture and seminar format. Students develop their subject expertise more rapidly and thoroughly, but the nature of the work means that students also acquire and enhance ‘soft’ and transferable skills in areas such as responsibility, sociability, self-esteem, self-management and honesty.

See Chapter Two of Open-space Learning: a Transdisciplinary Pedagogy.


Research Theories 2

OSL has a number of features that we believe are important in teaching and learning of any kind, but are particularly well enabled in this environment. Open-space Learning avoids the ‘download’ or ‘banking’ model of teaching and learning in which information is programmed into students by an omniscient and omnipotent tutor. This is partly because in the open-space environment the traditional physical hierarchies of the seminar room (with the tutor at the head of a group, using a whiteboard or manipulating AV materials) can be disrupted. The tutor is better able to set aside power and encourage an atmosphere in which learning takes place in the students’ interactions with their peers, their tutors, and, not least, their own and others’ physicality. This is learning by discovery (Kolb’s experiential learning). The process requires trust between tutor and student, and a willingness to embrace imperfection and failure. Open-space Learning addresses intelligences other than the merely linguistic, and learning styles beyond the auditory – both of which are the principle focus in the lecture and seminar model of pedagogy.

See Chapters three and Four of Open-space Learning: a Transdisciplinary Pedagogy.

Research Theories 3

Aside from its embodied imperatives, OSL is focused on real and metaphorical spaces that are not those usually recognised in the academy. These are what we have described as ‘trans’ spaces. ‘Trans’ as a prefix is an important term in theorising OSL as it expresses the idea that those engaged in OSL, as either participant or facilitator, are frequently working in areas, figurative and literal, that are not the usual spaces of the academy. The trans-space is often the outcome of a dialectical process between various theses and antitheses that in the moment of their opposition create an ‘open’ space in which new syntheses develop.

Other OSL ‘trans’ terms:

Transgressive: the open spaces created by the dialectic we describe may become transgressive, as the stereotypical roles of facilitator/tutor and participant/student are suspended in the active and reciprocal engagement with the creation of knowledge.

Transitional: the work exists between clearly defined spaces and, as such, is always in the process of dialectically forming and re-forming so is always provisional and never closed.

Transactional: an OSL framework disallows such a dominant role for any individual. OSL becomes, thereby, transactional, in the sense of an open and free exchange of ideas in which participants do not compete to bank knowledge as private capital but freely exchange and collectivise their learning.

Transcendent and Transformative: OSL places student knowledge at the centre of the learning process. Indeed in many cases it is only the students’ creation of knowledge individually and in social learning groups that is important in a session. As such OSL becomes transcendent and transformative, as the work not only moves beyond the typical focus on auditory learning styles that dominates the modern university, but more importantly allows students to create their own intellectual breakthroughs more rapidly than might otherwise be possible, offering them the means to refuse received wisdom and challenge accepted ideas.

Trans-rational: In the third spaces of OSL participants become trans-rational, as the spaces offer a mode of understanding that relies equally on an intuitive and physical response, and the rational processing of information.

Transcultural: OSL becomes ‘transcultural’ in the sense that it permits different disciplines, faculties, kinds of learner – indeed ‘cultures’ of all kinds – to operate in creatively generative ways at least partially free from particular sets of restrictive practice that attach to academic identities and subject conventions.

Transdisciplinary: Such transcultural work becomes, therefore, transdisciplinary, as normally stable discipline boundaries are suspended in the interaction of participants’ subject knowledge with OSL methodology.

See the final chapter of Open-space Learning: a Transdisciplinary Pedagogy.


Research Futures

OSL will continue as an everyday pedagogic practice at the University of Warwick and elsewhere, and we are happy to advise, support, and participate in relevant work suggested by others. For our own part we plan to edit a collection of essays based on OSL projects that move the project, increasingly, away from its roots in the Humanities, and English and Theatre in particular, into the Sciences, Mathematics, Business, and Cultural Policy.