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Open Space Learning Activities

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"The Open-Space Learning (OSL) resources use many transferable methods from drama and theatre education which can be adapted to explore community values, specifically the use of improvisation and role-play to address challenging behaviours."

Desired outcomes for the activity

This section summarises the knowledge, understanding, or skills that students are expected to acquire by the end of the activity.

By participating in the ‘Icebreakers and Warm-ups’ the participants will be able to:

  • Interact with other students and form a supportive group as an ‘ensemble’
  • Learn each other’s names and listen to how each person says their own name
  • Use improvisation to explore the ‘status play’ at the core of some human behaviours

Please note that these are reiterative and embodied activities, best conducted in small groups through regular routines over weekly sessions (digital variants require adaptation).

The activity

This section explains how to conduct the activity, and might include a step-by-step description or session plan for the activity.

Pointing Name Game

The basic principle of name games is to welcome the group to the learning space and to encounter the various individuals in the group. The advantages of this specific game are that: a) you will hear each participant pronounce their own name, b) it creates a dynamic energy through game-playing and c) if caught out, participants have the chance to be welcomed back into the game.

  1. Form a circle on chairs, if possible, taking account of learners' needs;
  2. Explain that each person will point at someone else across the circle but say their own name out aloud;
  3. Start with an example and move slowly through the various steps of the activity, including the likelihood of being caught out if you hesitate, say the wrong name, or interrupt the flow;
  4. Model the seated position for showing you are out (torso facing out, bringing legs to one side, if possible) which will increase the possibility of being re-introduced to the game at a later stage;
  5. Run the game a few times until the group finds a fast but steady rhythm and every participant has been included in the activity.

Status Play

[The purpose of this activity is to use improvisation and role play to explore ‘status’ within human behaviour]

Prepare some cards with specific power-related binaries (assertiveness/passivity; authority/deference; leadership/teamwork) and distribute at random to each member of the group. Ask participants to find a space of their own and create still picture which captures the quality written on their card. Ask each person to find a partner and show their still image to each other, trying to read the body language and guess the quality shown through the body. The central task is to link the two still pictures into one image that communicates a relationship between them.

These images are then seen one by one and consequently body language is analysed in a way that tunes everyone into the physicality of open-space learning.

[The main development activity concerns using improvisation – and a deck of playing cards – to explore how we can all be flexible with our status behaviours (see Johnstone, 1981 and Panet, 2009). This is a more nuanced task for longer-term student engagement subject to face-to-face teaching in person over several hours.]

Activity resources

This section includes copies of resources used in the activity, and any relevant background research or supplementary reading.

Open-space Learning workshop practices

Drama games discussed in detail here (Boal)

Improvisation and 'status play' discussed in detail here (Johnstone)

Status activities and further ideas for practice here (Panet)

Reflection on the experience of planning and/or delivering the activity

This section includes a reflection by the member of staff or student who submitted the activity, on their experience of developing and/or facilitating the activity.

A full reflective account of OSL as a critical method for higher education can be found here.

There is more detailed evaluation of OSL as an academic pedagogy in the book Open-Space Learning: A Study in Transdisciplinary Pedagogy (Monk et al, 2011).


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