Review of Learning, Transforming, Technique

Sharon Winfield from Union Jill wrote this rather splendid review of the Learning, Transforming, Technique weekend which took place early April this year.

We hope to run the event again next year.

Perhaps this write up will encourage you to come along in 2016…


The weekend was designed to explore learning techniques and transformational education practices – but was not your average education weekend. We had decided to submit our show as a session not just to contribute to others’ ideas on pedagogy, but to investigate our own techniques and how they could be further developed as audience-based methods. Our project is feminist and we felt this weekend would be a safe and constructive space in which to experiment. It exceeded our expectations.

Entering the rambling and atmospheric converted mill, tucked away in the Welsh countryside, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendly informality and the creative buzz that greeted us – along with the best cup of tea in the world. Other delegates were engrossed at one end of a large, light-filled upper room. We were clearly missing something creative but, keen to scope the space for our own session, we unloaded our equipment and paced out a stage area. As performers, our aim was to showcase how our act has developed from passive audience experience to an experiment in feminist pedagogy. We no longer ‘just sing’ – we hop over that fourth wall and work with the audience through an entertaining set filled with comedy, banter, activity and, of course, music. Though the brief was broad, we hoped our session would not be too incongruous.

Two women wearing fake moustaches perform in the mill, they are singing and playing guitars.

The other delegates drifted towards us holding articulated puppets, beautiful caricatures that indicated the level of creativity being explored during the weekend. Creative learning is a chance to shake off some of the academic dryness to which we become accustomed. This event was crammed with opportunities to jolt rigid thinking, be bold with approaches to disseminating knowledge and to generate unique self-learning experiences. That is not to say we disengaged our intellectual motor; grappling with Deleuze in one session still aimed to itch the grey matter. To be allowed, though, to turn this dense text on difference into poetry, or to read in a patch of sunlight or to use a Star Wars analogy was academic freedom we rarely allow ourselves. A ‘learning walk’ was ideally timed for us to recalibrate to the rhythms of a relaxed but challenging residential. The facilitator skilfully had us talking and listening deeply to each other, experimenting with the way sounds, smells and spatial awareness affect how we absorb and process information. It also gave us chance to learn a few names and suss out our ‘audience’ for our own contribution that evening.

Our session was a mock-up of a show and as we played through the set we pushed the themes much further than we would do in a folk club. It was fascinating to see how delegates entered into their role as audience and contributed to the content of the show in ways we had not seen before. For us, the experiment gave us clear sight of boundaries that can be played with and helped us understand which elements of the show create a learning experience. We were grateful for the feedback and the ensuing discussion, which was excellent preparation for our next project – Edinburgh Fringe Festival! The weekend as a whole took us out of our comfort zone at times, but was an unforgettable experience that has shaped how we think about our show. Look out for this event next year, it may provide some fascinating insights.

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