How do we create and curate affectionate and emancipatory learning encounters?
By Julia Wesely and Adriana Allen
In a very short period, the Covid-19 crisis has forced us to devise new ways to find social proximity while working and learning remotely. The past weeks have shown the high adaptability of academics, social movements, local governments and other actors to experiment with, and instigate, collective learning opportunities at an unprecedented pace and scale.
These experiences are what we term ‘remote pedagogies’. While acknowledging that they do not replace face-to-face learning, and also that many different forms of distance learning precede the Covid-19 crisis, WP5’s Adriana Allen and Julia Wesely hosted a webinar as part of the PostCovid-19 Urban Futures series to show and discuss the opportunities and challenges that these innovations and adaptations provide for social learning.
This webinar was co-organised by The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU-UCL), Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and the Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality (KNOW) programme. Its speakers included KNOW investigators Brenda Pérez Castro (Asian Coalition for Housing Rights ACHR), Barbara Lipietz and Catalina Ortiz (both DPU-UCL) as well as Emilia Saiz from United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Maria Silvia Emanuelli from the Habitat International Coalition – Latin America (HIC-AL), James Tayler and Sibulele Roji from KnowYourCity TV, and discussant Diana Laurillard from the UCL Knowledge Hub.
A quick consultation at the beginning of the session with over 100 participants from 30 countries, revealed major concerns but also many levers (see Figure 1 below) for the use of remote technologies to become generative to advocacy, collective action and social learning.
Figure 1. Opportunities of remote technologies to become generative to advocacy, collective action and social learning.
Major opportunities were seen in the flexibility remote learning offers in terms of time and space, chances for heightening inclusion and the breaking of dominant hierarchies of traditional learning environments. Severe caveats, however, were voiced (or, rather, typed) in regards to the lack of emotional connection and engagement, but also technical shortfalls, digital inequalities and lack of privacy protection.
The many identified concerns and opportunities urge us to think very carefully on how we orchestrate and curate remote encounters in terms of who learns, about what, how, and with which consequences. The following paragraphs invite you to view some clips of the excellent inputs from the speakers of the webinar.
You can find the full recording on the DPU’s YouTube channel
Remote learning is different, but not entirely new or unprecedented
Speakers from HIC, SDI, ACHR and UCLG have decades of experience in working remotely, as the necessity to connect with each other frequently to exchange knowledges and develop collective advocacy has been part of their DNA as networks.
Hence, they emphasised that adaptations of their work due to Covid-19 in terms of political tactics or modes of operation could draw from long-established capacities and relationships. Foundational pedagogic practices such as community exchanges and peer-to-peer learning have been turned, for instance, into online encounters, radio and podcast programmes; in the case of ACHR’s community mapping, switching to the Maptionnaire app has allowed for a rapid assessment and documentation of the realities of low-income communities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, during Covid-19.
You can see Brenda Pérez Castro explaining how precedent practices and relations have been critical for ACHR to respond to urgent community needs.
Flexibility and responsiveness to particular local, political and economic contexts are central for designing pedagogies that are relevant and useful for the diversity of urban learners which these remote experiences attract. Like many other remote pedagogies during this pandemic, UCLG’s Live Learning Experience therefore does not depart from a pre-given curriculum, but intends to stimulate an open-ended conversation that is tailored to changing learning needs in local and regional governments.
In the following clip, you can watch Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments, explain how UCLG’s Live Learning Experience has been built on peer-to-peer learning and action learning and how it strengthens the municipalism movement and transformational diplomacy amongst local and regional governments through offering a series of co-learning exchanges of lived experiences during this crisis.
Many speakers have observed that the modalities through which networks currently learn remotely have changed the scale and scope of their activities: Be it through the ability to reach global audiences through Webinars, the expansion of research activities from community-led data gathering to community-led analysis and visualisation, or the increased accessibility of learning resources in multiple languages. Hereby, attracting new audiences, particularly focusing on intergenerational learning, has been one of the central identified potentials of digital technologies, which many networks have sought to harness.
Watch Barbara Lipietz, Associate Professor at the DPU, outlining some of the unexpected gains brought about by the switch to remote engagements and the expanded scope of activities in the case of ACHR and its member ArkomJogja in Indonesia.
The attraction of digital technologies is also central to Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) and their Know Your City TV programme, which is paying increasing attention to the role of younger generations in sustaining the SDI network. The following clip shows Sibulele Roji and James Tayler explaining how Know Your City TV not only built the capacity of youth to make films and document their own stories, but has brought to the fore a new generation of leaders who take ownership of their learning processes.
Curating emancipatory learning for advocacy and change
Remote pedagogies like webinars, podcasts or films are fundamental to bringing people together to exchange knowledges, listen to each other’s experiences and learn from other contexts and realities. However, speakers have outlined a variety of tactics and important considerations for these learning experience to make the leap towards actionable and emancipatory co-learning for change. These include 1. the need for nurturing pedagogies that build affectionate relations amidst sensorial deprivation; 2. writing and audiencing collective advocacy documents; and 3. curating synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences.
One of the central challenges for co-designing critical remote pedagogies is the reconciliation of isolation and emotional burdens with the need for connection and care in building mutual learning experiences. Catalina Ortiz narrates in the following clip, how the Learning Alliance of the DPU’s MSc Building and Urban Design in Development in Medellín centres on urban storytelling in the design and curation of affective learning processes amongst students, community leaders and local student volunteers.
A second challenge has been the ability to strengthen learning for advocacy during this crisis. For instance, many housing collectives of the Habitat International Coalition have been at the forefront of denouncing the impossibility of stay-at-home policies for the majority of inhabitants in informal settlements, and have advocated for moratoria on evictions, and rent strikes, amongst others. Silvia Emmanuelli, coordinator of the Latin American office of HIC, describes in the clip how the collective writing of a manifesto and its audiencing through podcasts are promoting learning for advocacy amongst members of the Coalition.
Thirdly, all presentations brought to the fore how remote pedagogies are fundamentally implying a renegotiation of relationships in collective learning processes, stimulated by the engagement with different types of learners, a wider variety of geographies, or new skills, knowledges and emotional capacities. While much effort has been put into designing and orchestrating these changing relations, Prof Diana Laurillard from the UCL Knowledge Hub reminded us of the importance of curating learning experiences to activate their full potential for action. In the following clip, she illustrates the importance of curation with the example of synchronous and asynchronous learning environments and their impact on the scale and inclusion of learners.
Who learns, what, where, and with what consequences, are equally relevant questions to ask and answer from the walls of our homes, through the screens of our phones and the loudspeakers of our radios. However, the proliferation of remote pedagogies is not only activating and accelerating networked forms of social learning; it is also mobilising new narratives and voices, and in doing so, enabling the circulation of emancipatory ways of thinking and acting upon urban (in-)equality.