Learning and Public Engagement (Jon Wardle and Richard Berger)

Authors: Jonathan Wardle and Richard Berger (Media School)

Alternative name suggestion: Learning (as Public Engagement might be better suited to being a cross-cutting theme)

Brief theme summary: Learning is undergoing a revolution globally as a world full of the unexpected realises a need for ingenious, indefatigable lifelong-learners. At the heart of these new directions lie exciting new media, new design, new teaching approaches, new business models and new ideas.

Understanding how to educate people for today’s politically, technologically and socially changing world is of critical importance as the ways in which people learn throughout life within educational institutions, the workplace and informal settings is of major significance for the future development of the UK and countries around the world.

Similarly, academics are increasingly being asked to show how their work has a societal benefit, and to explain their research to those outside Higher Education. Public Engagement is not a by-product of research, it should be at its core. As Kingsley Amis wrote:

“[I]t cannot be said too often that education is one thing and instruction, however worthy, necessary and incidentally or momentarily educative, another” (1998: 236).

As Bournemouth University moves forward, it must continue to provide an education not just for its students, but for other constituencies. BU is s justifiably proud of the learning, and public-engagement, which happens on and off campus, and we work hard with other stakeholders around the world to make learning seductive, engaging and effective. This effective learning is not just the result of an accidental whim; it takes research and reflection, practice and people, across all our schools and within inter-disciplinary research teams.

Allied to these agendas, we want people to consider, question and debate the key issues which impact society, and so we are constantly looking for new ways to encourage people of all ages and from all walks of life to be informed, inspired and involved in learning and research.

Scope of theme: what is included? – creativity; curriculum development; democracy; e-learning; engagement; life-long learning; literacies; politics and power; production and practice; public sphere.

Scope of theme: what is excluded? – careers guidance; e-commerce; intellectual property.

Which big societal questions are addressed by this theme? – how can learning be improved in schools, colleges and universities?
– can new media technologies facilitate new forms of learning and engagement informally and formally?
– how can those in work gain formal qualifications?
– are there emerging new literacies that need researching?
– What role can learning play in addressing issues of poverty, social mobility and civic engagement?
– What is a University in the 21st Century?

How do these link to the priorities of the major funding bodies? The major research councils (RCUK) now have a commitment to public engagement and impact. For example, members of the AHRC peer-review college are required to assess bids on the grounds of public engagement and impact. Submissions to RCUK are increasingly planning for more public events and exhibitions to disseminate their work.

Similarly, large charities such as The Wellcome Trust, have a wide public-engagement mission, regarding the communication of science and health issues.

Learning is also a key priority for policy makers, particularly at the axis where education and new media meet. In recent years there have been a number of government reports commissioned into young peoples’ use of new media (see Byron 2008).

A number of organisations are now focusing on new media and learning. The Higher Education Academy’s subject centre, Art, Design and Media (ADM – HEA) funds research in both public engagement and learning, as does the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), here with a more direct focus on technology. Other bodies are also active such as The Sector Skills Council for the Creative and Media industries (Skillset) who fund research which brings together education and industry and the Leverhulme Trust who are interested in social mobility and improving attainment in Schools.

BU has had some success with these organisations, but a defined research theme could mean our activity in this area could potentially be far more strategic, ambitious and wide-ranging. It is clear then that our own students’ work should have impact too. It is hoped that such a research theme would draw in and facilitate all of those in the BU community.

How does this theme interlink with the other BU themes currently under consideration? This research theme would cut across all schools, and should engage staff who have a particular interest in public engagement and learning.

This theme’s focus on new media and new technology could have alliances with other themes such as Culture and Society or Society & Social Change, Creative & Digital Economies and Technology & Design.

3 Responses to “Learning and Public Engagement (Jon Wardle and Richard Berger)”

  1. Jim Pope

    All very interesting. The inclusion of ‘life-long learning’ raises a question for me. Life-long learning seems an ironic concept in the current political climate. I think a core component of any research into learning should be a discussion around the right to learn. Current government policies in all sectors of education suggest that education provision is something that should be subject to market forces and access to learning be subject to the ability to pay. Rather than a right for all citizens, education is in danger of returning to its past condition on this country, that of being the privilege of the already privileged. I would like to see these assumptions interrogated and challenged. Learning for many parts of the community might in fact be very short lived, rather than life-long.

  2. Kris Erickson

    I think that this theme is particularly salient given the political debates happening in this country about the future of higher education, its price, and its ‘worth’ both to prospective students and wider society. A lot has been said about the importance of public scholarship by academics, but it is too infrequently prioritized given that it is one of the main points of contact with a large proportion of the public.

  3. Ashley Woodfall

    As learning is at the heart of everything we do at Bournemouth University, we should be bold in explicitly stating, exploring and sharing our strengths in this area.

    I feel that that as students pay more, and become better informed ‘consumers’ of HE, we can’t afford to not shout loudly about our commitment to learning and teaching.