Category Archives: Shift/Work

CONTEMPORARY ART & OPEN LEARNING

20.4.21 11:20 BST

A Reflective Practice paper at #OERxDomains21 organised by the Association for Learning Technology @A_L_T in partnership with Reclaim Hosting’s Domains Conference, this special edition of the much loved event is the 12th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy.

This paper reflects upon the @eca_edinburgh paragogic OER Contemporary Art & Open Learning that started Sept 2020 https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/artandlearning

‘SCOOP’

Intentional art education today takes diverse organisational forms: traversing small artist-led initiatives, international biennials, art academies and artistic practices. Artistic learning is porous and ubiquitous: it is lifewide: discovered through a wide variety of formal and informal arts contexts. Art education is a distinctly ‘live’, embodied experience. Until the pandemic pivot, there had been few virtual communities of artistic learners. How might artists catalyse the post-Covid recovery of the artworld by engaging with emerging edutech practices such as the open paradigm (Winn 2015), paragogy (Corneli 2011, 2016) and para-academia (Wardrop 2014)?

To partly address these issues, I will reflect on a new course I taught in collaboration with my colleagues Jake Watts, Emma Balkind and Beth Dynowski at Edinburgh College of Art.

Contemporary Art & Open Learning was designed to enable colleagues and art students to open access to artistic learning by peer-producing, codifying and sharing their own learning practices. The OER practised a range of peer-based theories of learning and knowledge production to extend open access into the communal Third Places (Oldenburg 1999) frequently produced by artists. In particular, it promoted ‘paragogics’, learning principles that offer a flexible framework for peer learning.

Embracing the Open Paradigm’s vision of education as a human right might better equip formal art education organisations – such as art schools, workshops and galleries – to fulfil UNESCO’s right to participate in cultural life. However, we must also remember that cultural life is fermented formally and informally. Working together, OERs and people can catalyse the recovery by forming symbiotic colonies of artistic learning and, thus, new artworlds.

Contemporary Art & Open Learning

Corneli, J. and C. J. Danoff (2011). “Synergising Individual Organisational Learning.” Wikiversity.

Corneli, J., et al. (2016). The Peeragogy Handbook. http://peeragogy.org, PubDomEd and Pierce Press.

Knox, J. (2013). “Five Critiques of the Open Educational Resources Movement.” Knox , J 2013 , ‘ Five Critiques of the Open Educational Resources Movement ‘ vol. 18 , no. 8 , pp. 821

Oldenburg, R. (199) The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Boston: De Capo Press.

Wardrop, A. W., Deborah (eds). (2014). The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit For Making-Learning-Creating-Acting. Bristol, England, HammerOn Press.

Winn, J. (2015). “Open Education and the Emancipation of Academic Labour.” Learning, Media and Technology 40(3): 385-404.

Plan S and the Pandemic Pivot

Increasingly, artistic learning and research is conducted in non-academic settings: in galleries, biennale, residencies, art fairs, and – of course – through artistic practice.

Para-academic art schools are perceived to be more personalised, flexible, engaged, accessible and cheaper than HEIs. Their alumni have already achieved many of the key performance indicators of our sector.

To remain relevant in this exploded network of artistic learning, HEI art schools must learn from para-schooling. Contemporary art is a parasite​(Serres, 2007)​; a good host forever seeking an equally good host. Pooling and sharing resources with partners that compliment the art school’s curiosities cultivates a climate in which all communities flourish.

As an SFC-funded charity, ECA must be a democratic intellect for the public benefit, visibly upholding the value of research-led art education, not just for artists, but as a means to develop a learning society.

Research-led Teaching

HEI art schools’ strengths here are the peer-esteem and artistic impact of their alumni and staff research. Emboldened by this, HEI art schools should systematically reframe research per se from the perspective of artistic research.

Tim Ingold argues that:

Research is not a particular thing you do for so many hours each day. It is rather a way of living curiously – that is, with care and attention.

​(Ingold, 2018)​

In this sense, all researchers should take their lead from artists, approaching re-search as a careful, continuous quest driven by curiosity.

Ingold’s vision of research is fundamental to re-imagining the art school’s contribution to knowledge and, in turn, its curriculum design.

This leads me to two correlated observations:

  • Art students learn by doing, starting in the same place as their tutors, and participating in learning alongside them.
  • Peer-esteem emerges from peer-support. We need to be curious about each other’s work.

The residual culture in most European art schools remains motivated more by teaching than by research. To grow and diversify our research culture, research groups need to develop learning and teaching. This means we not only teach our research, we are actively involving students in the research process. Because this is fresh to colleagues and students, the curriculum  provokes curiosity.

The strategic management of resources is here is driven and transformed by what actually makes us curious; emerges from elective affinities rather being superimposed by discipline or kinship.

What we are curious about is what we care for.

Curious Commons

Artistic research isn’t just for artists. Everyone is curious and everyone cares. In 2021, open research became the new norm across the EHEA. A Plan S for artistic research presents a major opportunity in the form of a challenge:

How can the art school common more of its research and educational resources for the public benefit?

As it stands, a lot of art is freely accessible in public contexts.

Open Access additionally offers insight into the ‘workings’ of such research. Organisations such as the Society for Artistic Research lead the way here, creating open platforms that can be used as open educational resources.

Contemporary Art & Open Learning OER Introduction

The courseware for Contemporary Art & Open Learning (see: above) is open access. Students created open distribution frameworks (‘scenes’) to host their open research objects. What students produced for the course, then, formed part of the Art & Learning’s research activities.

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The Pandemic Pivot and Plan S coincided in a perfect storm to ‘disrupt class’ here. Both have transformed student expectations of course provision forever. Porous forms of artistic learning are, thus, a key catalyst for post-Covid recovery.

Porosity means breathing IN and OUT

Art’s sub-disciplines are crucial to its future development. Sub-disciplines are the expanding lungs of artistic practice. Sub-disciplines are entangled and porous, venturing far beyond the boundaries of the art world. For example, think of UWE’s ongoing project on the artist’s book. To do justice to their research question, what is the artist’s book in the 21st century demands an extra-disciplinary approach.

ABTREE altered diagram by Dr Emma Powell, UK http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon/
ABTREE altered diagram by Dr Emma Powell, UK http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon ​(Powell, 2008)​

The challenge here for art education is this:

How do you teach what you don’t know?How do you teach what you don’t know?

The art school doesn’t have to try to teach everything, rather, it needs to carefully curate access to existing methods and resources that support working in less familiar fields.

To facilitate such Fantastic Journeys, the art school’s internal research and educational resources need to be aligned in ways that foster intermediality, extra-disciplinarity and more co-investigation. Sub-disciplinary expansion also means focusing not only on what we teach, but on on how artists learn and on the many different environments they learn in.

Care Ethics

Since difference is fundamental to educational diversity; it must mutually embodied. This requires a more carefully coordinated delegated authority and a care-based ethics. To bring educational diversity to life, all art staff need to be empowered to be visible leaders. To steward our colleagues to visibly lead our respective fields, leadership must nurture staff commitment, curiosity and initiative.

To transform a vision into a practice, good intentions must become good habits. Part of my artistic research – Shift/Work – involves creating workshops wherein peers compose new forms of artistic learning for each other to playtest. Participants shift from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from being passive to being active agents in their learning organisation.

Regularly composing and leading such workshops with colleagues and art students is a proven catalyst to collectively instilling good habits. In art schools, such a method of sharing insight and lending support can afford colleagues regular opportunities to align learning with their research by co-designing and updating the curriculum with students and stakeholders.

In turn, this can make the art school’s wide variety of practices more porous for students and our broader publics, dissolving barriers to learning to ensure that we can all feed our curiosity.


  1. Ingold, T. (2018). Anthropology Between Art and Science: An Essay on the Meaning of Research. Field. http://field-journal.com/issue-11/anthropology-between-art-and-science-an-essay-on-the-meaning-of-research
  2. Powell, E. (2008, October 28). ABTREE altered diagram. What Will Be the Canon for the Artist’s Book in the 21st Century? http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon/
  3. Serres, M. (2007). The Parasite. University of Minnesota Press.
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Neil Mulholland – Plan S and the Pandemic Pivot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. 16.2.2021

Contemporary Art & Open Learning

Introduction to Contemporary Art & Open Learning

The Rules of the Game

Learning/Experiments

Collaborative Inquiry

What are the learning resources?

What are workshops?

What is a Crit?

OERs and Paywalls

Stand-up

#studywithme

Edutech Tooooooooools

Week 1 | Marginalia on the Educational Turn

Week 1 | Assignment-1-Build-A-Basho™️

Week 2 | Open Learning, OERs, Open Access | Learning Module

Week 2 | Para-Academic

Week 2 | Art Assignment #2: Learning to Learn

Week 2 | What is the Open Paradigm?

Week 2 | Should all education be Open Education?

Week 3 | Paragogy | What’s happening?

Week 3 | What is Paragogy?

Week 3 | (De)Codifying Tacit Knowledge

Week 3 | Jake Watts on Paragogy

Week 3 | Art Assignment #3: Make Gold

Week 1 | Marginalia on the Educational Turn | Build-a-basho

Contemporary Art & Open Learning >

The Rules of the Game

Learning/Experiments

Collaborative Inquiry

What are the learning resources?

What are workshops?

What is a Crit?

OERs and Paywalls

Stand-up

#studywithme

Edutech Tools

Week 1 – Marginalia on the Educational Turn

Week 1 – Assignment-1-Build-A-Basho™️

Contemporary Art & Open Learning | An Open Educational Resource

Max Headroom’s Basho

キタ━━━(゜∀゜)━━━!!!!!

Contemporary Art & Open Learning is a brand new 20 credit course running as part of the MA Contemporary Art Theory and MFA Contemporary Art Practice programmes in the School of Art, ECA, The University of Edinburgh.

The Course Organiser and designer is Prof Neil Mulholland. The teaching team includes Dr Jake Watts and Dr Emma Balkind. Dr Watts’ field of research expertise is the artistic workshop, Dr Balkind’s is commoning and the open paradigm.

Contemporary Art & Open Learning is a paragogics that draws on Shift/Work (Mulholland, Watts, Naomi Garriock and Dan Brown) and Neil’s research on Re-imagining the Art School via a number of open learning theories, tools and practices.

Courseware is distributed across a number of online platforms, some of which are closed access (MS Teams; Blackboard are for UoE students with a login) and many of which are completely open (e.g. WordPress, Notion, Twitter).

Neil will be attempting to post all of the OpenCourseware here on the course’s Art & Learning blog to create an Open Educational Resource (OER).

If you want to use the OpenCourseware personally or with your own students, please do so making sure to attribute the author(s) using the licence posted on each page (nominally a CC Share-Share-Alike licence).

If you do use it, please contact me (Neil Mulholland) to let me know a) what you do with it b) how you get on. I won’t be able to help (unless you are my student at ECA) but I’m interested to see how the OpenCourseware is used so that we can recalibrate our learning design and improve the OER from one year to the next.

The course begins on the 21st of September. You will find an Introduction to the Course here:

https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/artandlearning/2020/08/27/the-rules-of-the-game-contemporary-art-open-learning-course-intro/

More posts will follow on the Art & Learning blog as the course commences…..

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キタ━━━(゜∀゜)━━━!!!!! is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Shift/Work Speculations

Shift/Work Speculations Cards (2017) designed by Jake Watts

Neil Mulholland ‘Shift/Work: Speculations’, in L. Campbell (ed.), Leap into Action, New York: Peter Lang. 12th December 2019. pages 21-26; 39-40; 59-60 ISBN 9781433166440

Shift/Work is a performative paragogics (Corneli 2011) that supports the active peer production of Open Education Resources (OER) for artists. Shift/Work arose from participatory action research (PAR) into art education’s hidden (anti-)curriculum as a means of intervening in the monadic culture of self-sufficiency performed by its atomising technologies of the self. An iterative practice continually re-performed like a musical score, Shift/Workers compose and play-test intersubjective workshops for one another prompted by a ‘gesture that interrupts’ (Biesta 2017, 36); a MacGuffin that playfully amplifies our different educational expectations in order to draw our collective attention to how learners are subjectivised as artists. Drawing on a paper presented at ISoTL17 in Calgary, this chapter delineates Speculations (Shift/Work 2017), a Shift/Workshop composed and performed in Scotland, India and Norway during 2017 and in Ottawa in 2019, the parameters of which were scaffolded by Dan Brown, Jake Watts and Neil Mulholland.