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About Open-space Learning and the OSL project

At a practical level OSL is an example of what might be recognised as the “workshop model” of teaching and learning. The workshop is the basic unit in pedagogic interaction between facilitator and participant in OSL. It is defined here as a teaching and learning session that takes place in an environment in which participants can engage actively with the learning materials that are that session’s focus. Such materials might include text, but they might also include props, objects, and audio-visual materials. Participants work independently, or in small groups, with these materials in order to fashion or create their own knowledge. The workshop allows the participants to become the producers of knowledge. The space itself is fundamental in preventing the reformation of the rigidly hierarchical space of lecture theatre and seminar room. Each of the spaces used for OSL (the rehearsal room, the studio, the reinvention room) exists in its first incarnation “without chairs” which forces any group entering the spaces to address their own physicality in relation to that of the space – there is no longer the security and reassurance of traditionally arranged furniture. The spaces, therefore, are no more seminar rooms and lecture theatres, for the purposes of OSL pedagogy, than they are theatrical spaces. They exist in a space that is always “open”, both figuratively and actually. What this permits is a particular freedom in which, if carefully managed by facilitator/tutor, individuals exist as neither performer nor passive listener, but full participant in the discovery and creation of knowledge.

At a theoretical level OSL is informed by – but is not limited to – methods such as “enactive” learning, "embodied" learning, and “kinaesthetic” learning. It has affinities with “applied drama”, “applied theatre”, or “applied performance”. OSL is also influenced by the work of academics in Neuroscience who seek to re-connect mind, body and world, and beyond this we have incorporated social theory and the ideas connected to “third space”, in which teaching and learning are conducted in ways, and in spaces, that bring together knowledges and skills from students, academic subject experts, and professional practitioners, in the creation of understanding.

The project enables a social constructivist approach to teaching and learning, introducing dialogic and experiential inquiry between tutors and learners as the means of actively discovering, rather than passively receiving, knowledge. The project feeds directly into broader government strategies concerning interdisciplinarity and transferable skills, particularly important when graduates need to be flexible in their approach to the world of work.

The Research Question

What precisely are the creative pedagogies we have defined as OSL? Where are they be located temporally, spatially, and intellectually? Is there a “third space” that can be created that is available to all who wish to use it, that allows participants to take advantage of these creative pedagogies, and enables them to learn as they learn in the world? How, having identified and enabled OSL, do we isolate, define, and disseminate what in the process works, and how do we measure convincingly its effects upon an inclusive range of individuals both within and beyond HE?

OSL at Warwick

Warwick’s CETLs, since August 2010 merged into the new Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, encouraged the uses of enactment, performance, and creativity in a wide range of learning contexts across the University involving students, academic/ non-academic staff. CAPITAL collaborated with cultural organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Northern Broadsides and Cheek by Jowl, among others, applying performance skills to enhance the quality of student learning. The Reinvention Centre, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes, approached enactive learning by integrating research-based learning into the undergraduate curriculum. Both centres established open experimental teaching spaces fostering the development of enactive and flexible modes of learning for students, supplemented by innovative teaching and learning spaces on campus: the Teaching and Learning Grids, for example, and the Research Exchange.