To re-know the known

I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that have made the familiar be seen in a new light, which if not exactly as new, is certainly fresh. The first was watching the film Yesterday with my daughter. This is a cheesy, cliche-ridden rom com with all the usual Richard Curtis tropes (what is it with him and public declarations of love?). And yet, the basic premise – that everyone forgets the Beatles existed except the main character – is quite profound despite all the other stuff. It makes you, the viewer, also hear those songs as if they are new. Occasionally you might find yourself somewhere, a European city in the summer say, and a busker will be playing a Beatles song. And just for a second or two you hear it afresh before realising what it is, and in that moment you appreciate the quality of those songs. This is what parts of the film do and it is enhanced when watching it with someone who has an awareness of their music, but not a big knowledge of their catalogue.

The second experience was also film related. As many will know I am a huuuuuge Jaws fan. But I’ve not really seen it on the big screen, I was only 8 or so when it came it, and the first time I saw it was at a holiday camp when I was 11, projected onto a wall. I’ve seen it a couple of times in similar circumstances since, but it currently has a proper, digitally remastered, cinema release. Watching this very familiar film on a big screen was both an exercise in nostalgia (I wanted to cheer as “SHARK ATTACK” is typed out), and it also allowed me to see it differntly. For instance, in the scene where Hooper visits Brody with wine, I found myself watching Scheider open the wine bottle rather than Dreyfuss talking. It struck me that this was a brave directorial decision, because he has to cut the foil off, and uncork the wine, which could easily go wrong and ruin the scene, but it makes it very natural.

What both of these examples illustrate is the possibility to re-know the very well known. Jaws and Beatles songs are amongst the most familiar of modern cultural artefacts that it might seem impossible to find anything new in them. While walking the dog I have been pondering how these examples had some resonance with a couple of experiences with education recently (you are correct – there is NOTHING I won’t pressgang into use as a metaphor for education). As someone who has worked in higher ed, writes about ed tech, and through TEF and ALT has a reasonable (although not David Kernohan-level) understanding of the sector, higher education as a whole becomes difficult to see anew.

The first of these experiences is signing up for another course (in Classical Studies). It doesn’t start until September, so I’m trying to get up to speed, not having studied it at undergrad level. I’ve written before about the value in becoming a student again. One of these benefits is that allows those of us who work in education to experience it from a different perspective, both practically (what is it like to navigate university systems?) and emotionally (how does it feel to be out of your depth in a subject?).

The second is the experience of visiting university open days with my daughter who is in the process of choosing where to study. From these I have I have come away impressed by the resilience of the university system as a whole. Despite being a political football, having REF and TEF thrown at it, fees, precarious labour practices, the impact of new technology, and numerous metrics and policies it needs to support, the core offering of higher education is still attractive. I came away wishing I was studying these courses. None of this is to gloss over the issues in higher education, but rather to recognise that despite all of these, educators, administrators and all staff are still enthusing people to want to study. That is something to be acknowledged and cherished, and seeing the system from the eyes of a prospective newcomer to it made me appreciate that.

Both of these are about the HE system as a whole, but more local versions exist also. For example, we found that using OER caused educators to reflect on their own practice. In my 25 Years series, I argued that the shift to online made people question appropriate pedagogy, often for the first time in their careers.

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The benefit in doing so is to gain a different insight into your own practice, and in something as slippery and varying as education, that is always useful. My conclusion then is roughly twofold: it is possible to see familiar things anew given the right impetus; it is useful as educators to find ways of realising this within higher education. Mind-blowing, right?

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