The SSC’s new course, Co-operation and Education, began this week. The course, which runs from the 16th of January to the 20th of March 2014 on Thursday evenings between 19.00 – 21.00, was attended by 16 ‘scholars’ at the Pathways Centre on Beaumont Fee in Lincoln. The room was quite tight with this number of people and we are thinking of other venues to use, as we expect up to 20 people attending some weeks.
The session started with people introducing themselves to other members of the group. Half of the class were new to the SSC, which was wonderful to see. There was a fascinating blend of people, which included members of the SSC, undergraduate students, employees from Framework, academics, people involved in other co-operative projects (Lincoln Hackspace and Abundant Earth Community), members of the local community and some Ph.D students. It was heartening to see some new faces and this helped to create a sense of energy, excitement and curiosity as people were interested to learn more about each other.
Joss provided an introduction to the SSC and explained the rationale and nature of the Co-operation and Education course. He made it clear that if anyone wanted to be assessed on the course, that experienced members of the SSC would help design an expanded curriculum and methods of assessment appropriate to the level they are interested in. We also spent some time outlining the importance of the course as a way of helping us to think, co-operatively, about the SSC. We considered how the discussions we have on the course might be used to inform the content of a co-operative conference that SSC intends to host in March 2014, to write a collaborative conference paper to be presented at the the Royal Geographical Society Conference in August 2014 and to help think about and refine the SSC’s constitution and working practice at our AGM in May 2014.
As part of this process we are looking for volunteers to form a working group to help organise the SSC co-operative conference in March as well as help write, collaboratively, the paper to be submitted to the Royal Geographical Society.
The first task of the session was to read the SSC’s FAQ document, which is two pages long. Some people volunteered to read paragraphs from the text aloud. After some time for reflection we asked ourselves six questions to help us think about the nature of the SSC and its limits as a new model for higher education. One scholar noted that this is a very traditional method of getting students to think about a text. In this case, it provided a ‘safe’ and familiar approach to stimulating discussion among people new to the SSC and to each other. The questions were:
Describe the SSC in your own words
How is the SSC organised? What’s important about that?
How does the SSC approach teaching and learning? How is it different?
What was the context in which the SSC was created?
How can people be engaged in the SSC? What does it involve?
What are the limits to the SSC as a new model for higher education?
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, people thought about the SSC in different ways. Some people thought of it as a ‘political project’, others as a ‘university without walls’ or as a way of ‘hacking’ the best parts of a university from a form that no longer works and reconstituting one that does. Other words used to describe the SSC were, ‘organic’, ‘responsive’, and ‘flexible’.
We spent some time discussing the co-operative form of the SSC, consensus decision making and how this works in practice. One scholar said that ‘democratic, non-hierarchical, consensus decision-making’ was put into practice across all members for issues relating to governance, but that the day-to-day running of the SSC often relies on a small group of 4-5 people coming to agreement. When participating in the course, this aspiration is embedded in the pedagogic methods that we try to use.
There were some interesting discussions about how the SSC approached teaching and learning with the conversation centering on the importance of questioning and challenging the ‘traditional’ distinction between teacher and student and, instead, appreciating that both have a lot to learn from each other, but that somehow, this is often lost in ‘traditional’ forms of teaching and learning. Questions were raised about assessment and about how this might work in practice in terms of supervision, assessment and receiving some form of qualification. Whilst the SSC has always intended to offer some form qualification for the courses it offers, it has never done so in practice, although some scholars on the Co-operation and Education course showed an interesting in pursuing this.
We discussed how people could get involved in the SSC with one scholar noting that it was actually unclear in the SSC’s FAQ how people could engage with the SSC. A number of questions were raised by new scholars about the SSC which are not clear from the FAQ but are implicitly understood by some some members who helped set the co-operative up. Understandably, similar questions are asked when people first engage with the SSC and we need to prepare responses to these questions in a more explicit way.
Whilst some commented that the limits to the SSC were financial support and teaching and learning space, two scholars commented that the SSC was ‘limitless’.
The second task of the session (during the last 30 mins of the class), was to read the International Co-operative Alliance’s ‘Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles Statement, which were informed by the principles developed by the Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society. Again, we gave ourselves time to read and think about the document and organised our discussion of it around three questions:
Pick one value from the text that is important for you and tell us why
Given the context of its creation, how should we read this text?
Pick one principle from the text and state why you think it is important. How could that principle be used to inform the work of the SSC?
We discussed the importance of education, training and information to help think critically about running a co-operative and organisational forms beyond co-operatives. One scholar stressed the importance of concern for the local community and how co-operatives encouraged this. We considered the nature of democracy and its different forms and how this differed from consensus decision making. It was noted that there is no appreciation of ‘class’ in the document.
We concluded the session by starting to think about some of the themes that came out of the discussions with the aim of starting to develop concrete themes that we will examine for the rest of the course.
Download the class plan for our first session.
In preparation for next week:
- Produce a 300 word statement or equivalent that reflects on the first session and starts to concretize some of the key themes from reading and discussing the SSC FAQ and the ICA statement.
- Read Chapter Two of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which we will discuss next week.