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Work and Learning Network: Network News: January 2021

UALL Work and Learning Network: Network News: January 2021

Welcome to the January edition of the newsletter.

Embracing change and supporting activism

The new year has begun and the academic year 2020-2021 continues. The UK remains in lockdown. Due to the rapid nature of these changes, safeguarding and well-being practices have been prioritised at universities. Brexit has occurred, which will drastically alter the UK landscape of higher education for students and staff. The Turing scheme has been introduced to replace Erasmus+. Political changes have become more evident in the news, global causes such as Black Lives Matter are leading to wide-spread and generational soul-searching. As a result of this, a return to activism has been a way to redefine our ethics and elevate our standards during these turbulent times.

Let us highlight you in 2021

We are interested in celebrating a diverse range of practitioners and researchers within the fields of work and learning, especially those committed to enacting change as a result of the past year. If you feel this describes your work, please don't hesitate to submit a spotlight feature - we would love to share it!

Editorial: All change

If 2020 was the year of change, 2021 is the year of action. COVID, protest and political unrest have led many to the conclusion that to improve the safety and equality of the structures within which we find ourselves, we must do so from within them.

In this newsletter, we are highlighting activists working within higher education, such as Jan Etienne, and raising awareness of different methods of creating change from our positions.

Spotlight: Jan Etienne - Black feminist activism – Championing diversity in higher education

Jan Etienne, Chair, Womanism, Activism Higher Education Research Network

At a time when there is an urgency to decolonise higher education (HE) institutions and in the light of the strengthening BLM campaigns in the UK, there is a new impetus for organisations to maximise understandings and awareness of the complex nature of racial discrimination and its impact on the learning and professional development of black minority workers.

Inside the UK HE Academy, Black women educators and researchers are actively collaborating with grassroots activists in a new effort to shine a black feminist (Womanist) lens on approaches to ( challenging race discrimination. Black feminist networks working in HE makes perfect sense, especially when developing strategies to close the black attainment gap or by reinventing Matriarchal Learning Hubs in animated online environments where congenial intergenerational exchanges flourish. Workplace organisations can benefit from such approaches as such collaborative forums inside workplace organisations can begin to expose issues such as the prevalence of racial micro-aggressions which stand in the way of promotional opportunities for black, minority ethnic staff.

Collaborate diversity networks work well in HE as they open-up discussions on possibilities for change. We learn about the reason why a black single mother might choose alternative early years education for her son when the British education system is disproportionately failing black boys? Activist sisters, both black and white, are collaborating with us and confronting the demons of structural racism. Critical black feminist research matters greatly, and we are strongly grounded in our commitment to black feminist epistemology as we strive to expose the usefulness of Womanist evidence-based research so our voices can be heard.

Using a black feminist lens, allows us to move forward in working alongside leaders in work-based learning organisation to develop culturally appropriate strategies to address issues negatively impacting on black staff in their roles as teachers and learners. As black women, in our various activist roles in the educational spaces we occupy, we have never felt a more urgent need to represent.

Dr Jan Etienne

Chair: Womanism, Activism Higher Education Research Network

Birkbeck, University of London

More on activism during COVID

Non-violent action is on the rise. Earlier last year, a collection of academics made an inspirational list of different ways to provide support and mutual aid during COVID lockdowns. Although we are now in 2021, the mood of activism certainly has not passed and remains relevant to our practice.

To read the article from The Guardian please click below:

Looking to the past

Activism within the field of adult education, continuing education, lifelong learning, and work and learning is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it could be said that work within the field is an activism within itself, as it empowers a social mobility whole sector to seek new knowledge and levels of expertise that may not have been possible otherwise.

In 2004, Sue Webb (now Professor of Education at Monash University, Australia), presented a paper titled 'Adult Learners: stories of learning, activism and education' at the SCUTREA 34th Annual Conference, University of Sheffield, 6-8 July 2004, which highlighted the activism inherent in empowering adults within education.

To read the paper, please click below:

Methodologies of activism – sharing PaTHEs activism webinars

PaTHES Webinar – Towards a New Academic Activism

Utilising an online format for webinar discussion, PaTHES ( held its first ever discussions of this kind in April 2020 under the heading ‘Towards a New Academic Activism’. This discussion took on the pressing global issue of combining academia with activism, with academics joining from 12 different countries and a selection keynotes from a diverse range of professors. With this webinar, PaTHES managed to pre-empt the international wave of activism that took place during the summer of 2020 and provides us with an ample, generous and timely resource for activist academic practise.

To watch the recording of the webinar keynotes, please click below:

Introduction by Associate Professor Søren S.E. Bengtsen, Aarhus University, Denmark

“Border U” - Key note talk by Professor Ryan Evely Gildersleeve, University of Denver, United States

“From Activism to Advocacy” Key note talk by Professor Nuraan Davids, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Commentary and reflections by Emeritus Professor Ronald Barnett, University College London, United Kingdom

As a compliment to the webinar, PaTHES also published a series of short submitted ‘interventions’ from a diverse range of academics working globally. These vibrant interventions from a wide range of fields can be found below and are highly recommended reading.

To find these collected short interventions, please click below:

Campaigning for change

Lobbying for policy change is a crucial feature of activism. In an article for WONKHE titled ‘Government could support lifelong learning, or just launch initiatives’, Jonathon Michie calls on the government to honour a commitment to supporting lifelong and adult education, instead of launching short term initiatives. Within this article, Michie highlights the work of three separate organisations who are working towards the aim of expanding adult and life long education in the UK, including the Adult Education 100, the Right2Learn campaign and UALL’s new re-launch as a charitable incorporated organisation.

To read the article, please click below:

Recent publications

Talbot, J. & Bennett, L. (2020) “Facilitating literature searches for Work based learning students using an action research approach”, Research in Post Compulsory Education, 25:4, 445-460, DOI: 10.1080.13596748.2020.1846315.

This paper describes an action research project in a university to identify the requirements of Work-Based Learning (WBL) students in respect of literature searches for practice enquiries and outlines measures subsequently taken to improve student support. The study confirms previous research that WBL students need to consult a wide variety of source material and not just academic texts. Students report uncertainty in using non-academic sources and difficulties searching. As a result, academic practices have been adapted to provide more consistent, comprehensive support. These include the production of online resources and modified practices by tutors and librarians. In line with the action research approach, practices are monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure their continuing relevance.

Please note there are videos made as a result of the project to help WBL students conduct literature searches. These can be accessed via:

Book: Communities of Activism

Black women, higher education and the politics of representation

Jan Etienne

A must-read for all those concerned with social justice.

Webinar: Ulf-Daniel Ehlers @uehlers shared a new webinar series

Part 1 of this webinar series will take place under the title "Developing a high-performing digital education ecosystem: institutional self-assessment instruments" on 26.01.2021 from 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm.

You can register until the beginning of the event!

Best of luck to all for the remainder of 2021.

UALL Work and Learning Network.

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