SoN at HEA Manchester

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) Annual Conference #HEAConf17 took place in Manchester on the 4-6 July 2017. Shades of Noir’s Education Developer Melodie Holliday and Content Developer Tiffany Webster both attended this Conference in Manchester to facilitate a Shades of Noir workshop and attend the various other workshops that took place during the day one of HEA’s ‘Health and Social Care, Arts and Humanities’.

This was my first time participating and taking part in a Conference representing Shades of Noir, I had never attended a Conference before. I mentioned to Melodie that it felt like I had walked into a large room full of deans, headmasters, teachers, academics, etc. and I seemed to be the only student, (now recent graduate) at the conference at the time. It felt quite odd and I felt out of place, here the imposter syndrome that I often felt had crept in again silently, I felt as though someone was going to tap me on my shoulder and ask me if I was lost or why I was here and to show them my pass.  

The day opened with a keynote lecture by Dr Alison James titled: “Finding magic despite the metrics” sharing interesting insights on the importance of play in the educational environment. Followed by another workshop discussion on outreach and attainment gaps comparisons between UAL, Kingston and Bournemouth. This discussion, (from a student’s perspective) I felt was more generous as I could add my own student experiences to the discussion that the actual head of courses and tutors themselves were having, in this discussion I felt heard and that what I had to contribute was valued.

This then made me question why there weren’t more students at these conferences, or at least, student representatives of the universities in attendance. I then thought that perhaps these spaces are intentionally created just for the academics and the course leaders, the tutors, etc. to gather and discuss whilst being informed by case studies and students experiences, but again, I didn’t really see much of this apart from facts and statistical figures.

Our Shades of Noir’s session consisted of a facilitated workshop prepared and ran by Melodie Holliday, this workshop included our Shades of Noir ToR (link to ToR page) from a couple of our events, a sound art piece that Melodie created called ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ alongside a powerpoint presentation with activities and questions for the participants to engage with during the workshop. The participants were expected to respond to the sound art piece and a series of questions, which opened the space to discuss what the relationships between arts activism, inclusive teaching practice and social justice are, or what they understand them to be. Melodie also wanted to know how the ToR zines could inform the participants work and how they would use them themselves. These questions served as important conversation starters that informed various interesting discussions between the academics that I myself began to engage in. Here again, my input was appreciated as they asked me questions they had been asking themselves for a while it seems, regarding their own students of colour within the arts. This made me reflect on my own thoughts and beliefs on academia and course leaders that teach in higher education, it made me question how the relationships between tutor and student are so incongruous and precarious that these questions couldn’t be asked to their own students, and even perhaps I wondered if my own tutor thought about these things too?  Leading me to conclude that perhaps through opening up the space and allowing for these ideas to be explored gave them the permission to ask these questions more openly. Shades of Noir created the space for this to happen.

This experience served as an insight for me into how academics, course leaders, teachers, all those in HE come together and discuss their experiences and ideas and thoughts on how to improve students experiences, how to implement new methods of teaching and most importantly it made me realise how important navigating these spaces are in assuring the initiation of change within these institutions, the ‘planting of the seed’ that can serve as a catalyst for further direct action and again, on how important the labour and practice of all those involved in Shades of Noir, staff, students, graduates, academics, practitioners, etc, working together as a team all make these discussions possible.