A few months ago I wrote a post about exploring (Sussex) campus as a space of pedagogical possibilities. Well, on a very rainy Friday afternoon a few weeks ago I went on a walk with several colleagues from different schools at Sussex to explore those possibilities in practice. We had planned to visit several sites across campus and share our campus-related teaching and research. Here is a brief summary of our walk.
We started off next to some bicycle stands where I talked about my Urban Futures class, for which students research and then map campus infrastructures during their own walking seminar. The aim is for students to better understand the materiality of infrastructures and their interactions with human users and natural ecosystems. Students always invariably discuss how bicycle-friendly (or not) Sussex campus really is.
Because of the rain we did not make it to the Forest Food garden where each year students design an aspect of a two–hectare garden, which they then handover to the next year’s cohort to plant. This garden is a great example of how engaging with the campus through working with their hands and bodies can teach students about civic ecology, climate change and uncertainty but also foster long-term action. Instead of visiting the garden we ducked under some trees, where a colleague from the School of Life Sciences showed us several recording stations used by students to study animal life on campus, including bug traps, hover fly lagoons and trip cameras. This is part of ecology-focused teaching that focuses on animal behavior, biodiversity and conservation.The stations also provide important data that postgraduate students use in their own research projects.
A colleague from the School of Media, Arts and Humanities talked about her work with eco-acoustics, for which she takes students on sound walks across campus, through buildings and into Stanmer Park, which is part of the South Downs National Park in the university is located. Throughout the walk students are taught to listening to ecosystem health, also as an experiential reminder that we are a part of that system. I experienced the power of such immersive learning for myself during a 'Creating with uncertainty' workshop with school children over the summer, when I was able to listen into an anthill and a pond. The sounds were not only fascinating, but also prompted the children to comment how loud humans are.
By now the rain had forced us inside the building of IDS (Institute of Development Studies) where a colleague told us about the Institute's use of campus and its green spaces as intentional learning spaces, for example for participatory action research on the experiences of students on campus. IDS also lends itself to students doing a mini-ethnography of a development institution right here on campus. Inside the building, we admired the small Japanese garden at its center, which was a great jumping off point for a colleague from Art History who has studied the campus architecture to tell us more about Basil Spence's architectural designs here.
He uses campus walks for a module that provides students with an opportunity to study art, architecture, heritage sites and monuments in situ, exploring their relationship to the built environment as well as historical, social and political contexts. Another colleague working with the commemorative art on campus involves students in on-site discussions of campus art works and commemorative plaques.
Exploring campus architecture led to some interesting discussions in our group around the heritage status of Sussex campus and the meaning of conservation, including in an ecological sense. Should the grass be mowed regularly so that people can admire the listed buildings or should it grow to provide wildlife habitats? Can the ponds and moats (as pictured above), whose original purposes was to reflect the sky, be turned into similar wildlife refuges? (Right now, some are completely dry while others have fish in them). Since these questions call for a much longer discussion, we decided to focus our next event on exploring the dynamic relationship between campus buildings, their human inhabitants and the natural environment in which they are situated.
We ended this campus tour in the basement of the library, looking at the newly created space for the British Library of Development Studies (BLDS) which has been relocated from IDS to the library and is currently being catalogued. The entire BLDS collection comprises over one million items, from government and international agency reports to pamphlets and writings by civil society actors, research institutions and political parties; documents from participatory and community-based research; serials and related books. It was absolutely fascinating to see the stacks, where, for example, material from Barbados takes up dozens of boxes while Belgium has two. A colleague from the library commented on the symbolic location of this collection in the basement, being physically and metaphorically marginalized, but at the same time the current cataloguing will open up its accessibility to people around the world.
The library was also the location of Murmurations, a final year project by drama students creating a site-specific installation. A colleague teaching the students explained how students are researching each of the spaces where their installations take place, and in the case of the library explored its diverse inhabitants. It was a very creative and inspiring end to our campus walk!