Campuses as pedagogical possibilities

As you are reading this title, you are probably thinking "of course campuses are spaces of pedagogical possibilities. After all, that's where learning takes place, in lecture halls, seminar rooms and labs." But what other learning opportunities can campuses provide? What if we re-imagined university campuses as much more holistic and explicit spaces of teaching and learning? That was exactly the topic of a workshop I co-ran with several Sussex colleagues at the 2nd Global Festival of Active Learning organized by the Active Learning Network, a week-long celebration of creativity, imagination and collaboration in learning.

Sussex campus map
A map of water infrastructures on Sussex campus created by students

The inspiration for our workshop came from one of the creative university prototypes I proposed in the conclusion of my book, where I suggested to redesign campuses around allotments as central spaces of holistic learning, well-being and community building. I wrote that allotments 'could become meeting and working places, research facilities and jump off points for nutritional and biological experiments, projects for mental and physical health, deeper understandings of ecological issues and collective labor.' This is not a far-fetched idea, as several learning activities are already happening on Sussex campus now. It was these learning activities that our workshop presented as inspirations for other participants to think about their own campuses and their pedagogical possibilities.

I briefly talked about two of my own campus activities: students walking across campus to map infrastructures and note their use and interaction with their various environments - a great way to make students aware of the materiality of infrastructures that is easy to overlook when just reading about them - and students designing campus-focused activism campaigns, ranging from housing issues, sexism on campus, the commodification of education and campus spaces and digital dependency. Next, John Parry and Perpetua Kirby presented their Forest Food Garden, which combines students planting and caring for trees and shrubs with learning about civic ecology and creating learning materials for secondary school students. One of the things I love most about this module is its longevity and pace, where students care for the plants that were planted by their predecessors in previous years. It embodies the future-orientation of all sustain-ability work (I like this spelling of the term, borrowed from design scholar Tony Fry, that draws attention to our ability to sustain life in its interdependence), an orientation that can be fostered with and also generate critical hope in students.

Another presentation came from Jo Walton, a creative practitioner and researcher at Sussex who is part of an initiative to design a sustainability teaching toolkit that would make it easier for educators to embed a sustainability focus across the curriculum. Jo also teaches video game design and talked about using campus as a space to understand feedback loops or the management of risk. Peter Taylor from the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), which is co-located on Sussex campus, talked about participatory pedagogies and about students conducting mini-ethnographies about IDS itself as a development institution. And there are so many other possibilities on Sussex campus, which is located in the South Downs National Park and has quite a few green spaces, which some colleagues are turning into a living lab for students to monitor and measure biodiversity, to study eco-acoustics and the effect of campus spaces on mental health and well-being. There is also Sussex' brutalist-modernist architecture designed by Basil Spence and its history of student activism.

And Sussex is no exception to the pedagogical potential of campus spaces. Other workshop participants talked about on-campus museums and object-based learning or the urban spaces in which many campuses are located. We explored walking and twalking seminars with Andrew Middleton and the use of the physical environment to explore space metaphorically. Gardens were a recurrent theme. It was a truly enjoyable workshop and inspired the creation of a community of practice called CAPPCollab (Campus as Pedagogical Possibility Collaborative). Get in touch via or @DrAnkeSchwittay if you want to join.