Notes from the Co-operative Higher Education Pedagogy Workshop

Date: 19th June, 2015, 10-4pm

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre, Lincoln, UK

Wheel of cooperation

Wheel of Cooperation

This workshop sought to explore  a pedagogy for cooperative higher education, starting from the practices and principles of Student as Producer, the foundational pedagogy for the Social Science Centre, Lincoln. Student as Producer is based on the notion that students are co-workers with academics and other university staff, contributing to the development of knowledge and science. At the core of Student as Producer lies the intention to overcome the social relations of capitalist production so that humanity-in-nature is the project rather than the resource for a post-capitalist society. The pedagogy that emerges from the workshop and from further discussions and research will provide the structuring principle of a framework for cooperative higher learning.

The workshop was interactive, involving high levels of collaboration and cooperation. The participants said how much they enjoyed the event, especially the format of the activities and the space, the hall of Croft Street Community Centre.

The main themes for the workshop were:

  • Content and subject matter of curriculum: cooperative studies or discipline focussed, or interdisciplinary based on themes, for example, current global and local emergencies
  • Assessment and evaluation, perhaps taking peer review of academic and student practice as the model
  • The learning environment and ecology: how to make a sustaining intellectual space for cooperative learning
  • Technologies for teaching: using web-based technologies in ways that avoid machinic and automated learning
  • Programme for first year of teaching and research, with plans for development through subsequent levels of higher education
  • The process of learning cooperatively: enabling students and teachers to learn how to cooperate in ways that sustain a cooperative educational institution

Nature and Scope

The workshop crystallised our understanding about the real nature and scope of the cooperative university that is being modelled:

The aim is to establish a cooperative form of higher learning conscious of its connection to and engagement with the historical and logical development of the cooperative movement.

The institutional form of the cooperative will substantiate the political, moral and ethical values of the cooperative movement, set within an educational context.

The pedagogy will be grounded in the practices and principles of cooperative learning, recognising that much can be learned about how to be a cooperator-student/teacher (i.e. ‘scholar’), while at the same time acknowledging that cooperative practices are already endemic in radical social interactions.

Areas for further development

No concrete plans for the curriculum were decided, however a number of areas were identified for further development:

The relationship between students and academics as well as other members of the cooperative is the central issue. These relationships will be complex and fluid depending on the nature of activities, but should be grounded within a constitutional framework that confronts issues of power, difference and desire, as well as (in)equalities, while at the same time recognising the importance of deliberative leadership.

The curriculum should be open and enquiring, based on outcomes that are not predetermined. At the same time there should be a sense of progress and structure. This structure might be validated by an accreditations programme that could be established.

Cooperative learning develops in a context within which the relationship between the individual, ‘I’ , and the collective ‘We’, is brought into sharp relief: as the social individual, or radical individuality.

The curriculum should be embedded in the real lives of the members as well as the communities within which the cooperative is situated. This community extends to the community of cooperatives engaged in related social and public issues: housing, health, employment etc.

The content of the curriculum should reflect the nature of cooperative society: critical political economy, the history of the workers movement, working class intellectuality and philosophy, gender studies (cooperative women), making links between the natural and the social sciences and  not merely as versions of  interdisciplinarity but as ‘troublesome’, ‘useful’ and ‘critical-practical’ knowledges.

The cooperative would need to establish its own resources (‘Library’)  to support teaching and research, making use of already available materials on-line and elsewhere. Care should be taken not to duplicate what is being provided elsewhere for similar purposes and for the cooperative model to find its own way of making a distinctive contribution to what could be shared and offered to others.

The technology should be open source making use of the legal frameworks that have been established to support mutualism and other collaborative ways of working. Examples of these can be found in the free software and free culture movement, creative commons regimes and commons based peer production, as well as the newly emerging open cooperatives.

The cooperative for higher learning to be part of a network of progressive, alternative higher learning provision, including Mondragon, Unitierra, and cooperative universities in Mexico and Colombia and elsewhere, yet to be discovered; and to make links with the ‘enlivened learning’ project.

Wheel of Cooperation

There was a recognition that all of these aspects are closely interlinked with other parts of the model for cooperative learning that is being developed, including governance, legality, the business plan and the transnational network. There should  be a recognition of the close connections needed to ensure the day to day running of the cooperative, so that roles need to be shared and supported within a culture of equivalence, respect and trust.


Andrea Abbas (University of Bath)

Maureen Breeze (International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education)

Keith Crome (Manchester Metropolitan University

Dunya Dunda (University of Brighton)

Nathan Fretwell (London Metropolitan University)

Luke Gregory-Jones (Goldsmiths College, London)

Mike Neary (Social Science Centre and University of Lincoln

Patrick O’Connor (Nottingham Trent University)

Spyros Themelis (University of East Anglia)

Joss Winn (Social Science Centre and University of Lincoln)

Tom Woodin (Institute of Education, UCL)

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