Transdisciplinarity, me and my anchors

It is the time of the year for our UWAS course ‘Film, Work and Labour’. It is a University-wide Art Studies course we run for the second time with two of my colleagues. The approach is interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary or ‘post-disciplinary’ as the UWAS slogan states. UWAS courses can have a good mix of students from all six Aalto schools and there should be no one discipline that is considered better than the other. In this sense, UWAS courses aim at transdisciplinarity. 

Our course this year has made me reflect my take-aways from such an environment, let it be teaching, research or activism. I feel that me reaching a truly multi-voiced dialogue takes time and energy because it requires me to become aware of  my preferred ways of thinking and working. However, my and others’ disciplinary anchors are not ‘bad’ for transdisciplinarity, quite the contrary. When things get complicated, it is useful to hold on to something familiar.

Photo by Denys Argyriou on Unsplash

I present you some of my (disciplinary) anchors based on my observations during this winter and early spring: 

  1. I’m inspired by people’s experiences about what they do. As a working life researcher I’m always excited to learn what people do for work, let it be waged work or non-waged work. For example, when I meet people, I often end up hearing stories about their work, for example subcontracting for a construction site, speech therapy or running a citizen cooperative for local food. As a result, I learn from various ways to understand and work around phenomena. But what really matters for an equal discussion and what cannot be overcome is valuing people’s own perspectives. People are experts when it comes to their own labour or work. This approach has also been referred to as the practice approach or lens, with an emphasis on practitioners’ knowledge. 
  2. This is something I learn every time I spend less time with others: My creativity is truly sparked off by others’ projects. As a result, my anchor is to spend (enough) time with others. I might get inspired by something I hear just briefly on a walk to a caféteria or it might be something I have followed for years. In February, I spoke with a UWAS colleague who works on a project with plants. It is truly remarkable in terms of artistic and scientific work. Another colleague has been studying young female scholars for years, and every time I hear or read about it, I’m so inspired. 
  3. Although at times I’m impatient (ask my family for evidence), transdisciplinary interactions take time. This doesn’t mean that it would be always difficult to grasp others perspectives (although it can be) but it is not straight-forward to find a common vocabulary, let alone trust someone who has a different vocabulary. Do I get them and do they get me? Therefore, it is important for me to meet others half way and try to adopt their language, bodily movements and ways of thinking. By learning about their perspectives it is then more likely that I can come across experiences that resonate with something I might be able to link to. And vice versa, I appreciate this approach from others.

Having written all this, transdisciplinary engagements reminds me of ethnographic work. Indeed, in ethnography I (and others) have an experience of ‘working within hyphen-spaces’, ie. working between certain clear positions, such as outsider, insider, same or different. Rather, we glide between the poles of, for example, outsider-insider or sameness-difference, during a project and within single moments during a project. Such a slide – or sometimes it feels like a strain – could be common in transdisciplinary projects as well.

Our course ‘Film, Work and Labour’ takes place again in early 2020. If you are an Aalto University student, you can register in late 2019. You are warmly welcomed to join us and experience some inter/transdisciplinary interactions!

The invisible side of teaching

My teaching for this autumn kicked off in early September. It was as great and thrilling as I suspected. In fact, I too had a dream the night before the first session. In my dream I was teaching but failing terribly and not being able to stick to my plan. The next day I was joking with a colleague that we should get paid for the teaching taking place in our sleep. Only half-joking, as a matter of fact. Getting ready for the actual thing by dreaming about it is not making you feel like you slept well.

Teaching or, rather, enabling learning involves some things that one might not think spontaneously before actually being responsible for it. When I prepared my first sessions some years ago I was amazed how much it requires time. It takes several hours to prepare a session of 90 minutes. The more I introduce new elements, the more I spend time planning. Of course preparation takes place in small bits, but eventually it adds up to hours.

Another invisible aspect is that teachers make up to 1 500 decisions during one day in the classroom. Not having read the original study, I suppose the figure goes for teachers having several hours of teaching daily. This high number excludes the decisions made before and after the session. Thus, you can say that teachers are, or should be, very good at improvising, despite how well they have prepared their session.

I am happy for the fact that I can be involved with enabling people to learn. Hopefully their learning includes things thought to be relevant in the curriculum, and not only learning for life. By the way, the category ‘learning for life’ is my personal motivator as a student when my expectations for a session are failed and I have to get my kicks from somewhere else. Like mentally redecorating the classroom or observing the group dynamics.

My classroom teaching is over in October for a current course. However, teaching the course continues with assessment tasks. And that is an interesting aspect of teaching, which requires a lot of fresh thinking and renewing traditions!

My (almost) reading pause for a week

I tried out a reading pause for one week, inspired by Julia Cameron and the Artist’s Way. For me a reading pause concerned anything I read for leisure, for instance newspapers, magazines, social media and online content. What did I do then? I spent time with family and friends, took photos, listened to music, kept a diary, and just sat and pondered.

However, there’s one fundamental thing I must confess. Well actually two. First, my pause was on my holidays in August, and thus it was easier. No work related reading required. Second, I broke my pause deliberately once due to a devastatingly long trip back from holidays and read a book.

Still, I was surprised during my experiment how attached I have become to reading without actually realising what I am reading. For instance, when I come across a magazine or a newspaper I usually end up flipping few pages. I do this instead of thinking what else I could do in that particular place. Like talk to the people around me.

I’m eager to try my pause again this autumn with daily routines, like work reading and e-mail. However, not during teaching as I need to answer student’s questions via e-mail. But off the teaching season it is possible. Any ideas what I could do at work during a reading pause?

I went to School last Saturday

I went to School last Saturday and it was fun! The peer-learning festival was situated in an old hospital Lapinlahden sairaala (hospital) which was the first psychiatric hospital in Finland. A lovely spot despite the cultural connotation.

The School had openly invited teachers from different domains. For instance flamenco, longboarding, doing things wrong, creative writing, recycling, making boots, sketching, animal rights, time banking, Nietzsche’s relativism, Finnish folk dance, and practicing democracy. There were up to 200 lessons spread across the old hospital during the two days. Such an inspiration!

I took a flamenco class and attended a session about peer-building. That’s when a group of people plan a housing project by themselves for themselves and manage it. Of course, help should be brought from consultants who know the business. After the lessons I chilled out in the lovely autumn weather and enjoyed lunch. Such a perfect day!

Of course this event didn’t pop up by itself. The organisations making the event happen are Demos Helsinki, Sitra, Helsingin Juhlaviikot and Aalto University. Despite the fact that the practical set up was enabled by volunteers and facilitated, the content was up to the peer-teachers. I am impressed by the willingness of people to come and teach others with the stuff they find interesting.

There is so much power in peer activities. It creates such a warm atmosphere when people are ready to share what they know and help others. I wonder what I could teach the next time I go to School?