Ecologies of Learning Project

This project has two aims:

• to map previous and current practice for virtual, youth-led, critical pedagogy

• to pilot an innovative form of virtual educational interaction.

Through face-to-face and virtual workshops, the mapping component of the project will be used to pilot how young people (aged 17-18, n=40) can use safe virtual spaces – specifically, the virtual worlds of the metaverse – to re-dream the future of education. I want to do this work because the contemporary moment is a watershed for educational practice, both in terms of technology and political economy. European democracies are battling the effects of the pandemic and climate emergency, alongside large-scale conflict the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, and the persistence of unsustainable economic systems. Civil society groups demand urgent action, alongside campaigns for decolonisation, inclusion and diversity. Education is central to addressing these concerns, and yet to do so, schools may need to think afresh about their objectives, working imaginatively with young people to make them the authors of their own educational futures. The UNESCO Reimagining Our Futures Together Report (2021) calls for this kind of urgent, new social contract for education, in line with UN SDG4. Combining powerful historical examples of radical and critical pedagogy with contemporary advances in virtual reality is an exciting means by which to begin to make this challenge a reality.

Critical pedagogy (from Friere to bell hooks) and critical traditions in the sociology of education (from Althusser, to Foucault, to Ball), provide a theoretical underpinning for thinking education beyond the traditional modernist school. Although historically there have been many initiatives for ‘alternative’ education based on critical pedagogy (from Ferrer, to Montessori, Friere, the Summerhill School, and so on), these adult-led initiatives have often fallen short of their critical promise. What might be different if young people were empowered to imagine critical pedagogy differently for themselves? In the latter stages of the covid-19 pandemic, we are at an important moment for considering how virtual spaces work as alternative educational spaces complimentary to schooling, where young people can have agency to reimagine for themselves the future of education. Free and open access metaverse worlds (e.g. Eduverse, Decentraland) offer young people a radical and exciting opportunity to build new kinds of educational encounters beyond their lives at school, on their own terms.

Watch this space for more updates as the project develops!

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