My name is Freya Aquarone – I am a LISS-DTP funded doctoral student at King’s College London. Alongside my PhD research, I have been teaching on KCL’s BA Social Sciences (BASS) programme since it launched in September 2019.
The BASS programme is trying to live out a set of principles and practices not commonly found in higher education. These include: an emphasis on social science for social justice, forms of direct democratic decision-making, alternative assessment practices, and a focus on small-group, participatory approaches to learning. The programme’s aims are not unique, but our journey so far has taught us a lot about the realities of trying to ‘do things differently’ within a mainstream education context.
A number of us felt that this journey warranted being documented and analysed – both in order to facilitate our own collective learning and reflection and also to share our experiences with others, beyond our programme, with an interest in radical educational practice. With this in mind, in January 2020 I applied to LISS-DTP for internship funding which would enable me to take a 3-month break in my PhD.
The internship consisted of leading a participatory action research project about the BASS programme, working with a team of ten undergraduate ‘student researchers’ from the programme, with support from senior colleagues. Together we designed the parameters and methodology of the research, carried out qualitative interviews with students and staff from the programme, collaboratively analysed the data, and wrote up the findings. What started as a small, internal report snowballed into a full-length book, co-written by myself and seven of the student team members over the course of the year. The book is called We’re trying to do things differently: the challenges of relationships and recognition in higher education; it was published by the Centre for Public Policy Research last month.
The book focuses on the experiences of one programme community, but in doing so it grapples with wider issues which are integral to debates about the priorities, purpose, and possible futures of higher education. These include how to meaningfully foreground emotional care, democracy, and partnership in learning communities, the role and limits of free speech in the classroom, and how to deconstruct enduring currents of inequality and marginalisation.
Thanks to some additional funding from LISS-DTP we have been able to distribute the text free of charge. The book has received a promising degree of interest (our launch event had 150 attendees) and positive feedback (e.g. see here for a full-length review by Professor Meg Maguire in the Journal of Education Policy).