Open education: “c’est du bricolage”

  Teachers’ workshop, Hanoch Piven

Last week, I was invited to a vision workshop where experts gathered from all over Europe, organised by the European Commission’s prospective think tank - Institute for Prospective Technological Studies. It addressed the issue of school education and Open Education Resources (OER) at the horizon of 2030.

One of the participants – Alex Beard – argued in his intervention that “teachers will be bricoleurs” and that by 2030 “adaptations, mash-ups and bricolages will be the norm”. It helped me to understand OER in a different way than its usual technology-oriented definition. I was challenged by Alex’s description of the teachers-bricoleurs “continuously using, adding to or adapting new resources for new learning needs, inviting peer-review and providing evidence of learning results”.

Bricoleur is a French word described by Claude Lévi-Strauss in ‘The Savage Mind’ as “someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’”.

“Whatever is at hand” is exactly what we experience with the artist Hanoch Piven, engaging teachers in thinking about their practices as if they were bricoleurs experiencing the art of mash-up with everyday objects. Hanoch asks teachers to use objects in a distorted way in order to think creatively about what they do in the classroom, and why. During the workshops that we organise all over Spain as part of the Aulas Creativas (Creative Classrooms)  initiative, Hanoch reinvents Huberman’s vision[1] of a teacher “who is always busy, creating or repairing learning activities of different kinds with a distinctive style or signature”.

What is essential to Hanoch Piven’s approach is the role played by the entire community of participating teachers in developing a new vision of teaching in the classroom. The whole Aulas Creativas initiative builds upon Huberman’s analogy between teaching, artisanship and jazz improvisation, which is highlighted by Joan Talbert and Milbrey McLaughlin in their analysis of the artisan model of teaching. Bricolage in this context is no longer a “second best solution” but is central to creative thinking. In the words of Seymour Papert,bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”, or in the words of Pivenputting math and art together”.

The bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom, in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.

In my contribution to the Open Education 2030 workshop, I wrote that “major changes will take place by 2030 if school education is based on the active participation of the students themselves; the enthusiasm and engagement of digital natives constitute the new milestone for our educative systems.”

To fully engage students, teachers will have to bridge the gap with “learners that communicate in a language that most of them don’t yet understand”. Peter Bryant tells us of the young learner’s dismay when entering the classroom for the first time to discover that the device he or she uses to interact with peers socially in a creative and collaborative environment won’t connect to the school’s network, or that teaching is based entirely on lectures and tutorials. In words of John Seeley Brown, their language “is an ever-evolving language of interpretation and expression, an interactive approach to learning, creating, and responding to information through a complex montage of images, sound, and communication.”

According to Larry Hanley, the solution relies on social media usage that “develops specific literacies and encourages the learner to remix and reuse (mash-up) skills in order to apply them to new landscapes (contexts).” In his article ‘Mashing up the Institution’, Hanley argues that the bricoleur-teachers will have to depart from the over-riding design principle of the CMS interface – which is promoted nowadays as the ultimate solution for change even if it reproduces traditional pedagogy in a more efficient way – and disrupt existing representations of teaching and learning by asking “students to make meaning through new conjunctions of sound, image, and text”.

Hanley asks: “What happens when we think of ourselves, teachers within public school systems, as bricoleurs rather than the users and clients inscribed within the CMS?” and he answers: “we’ll have to abandon our institutional identities as users and clients to embrace more inventive, experimental, self-conscious identities”.

The bricoleur-teacher will emerge as a strong figure in these times of crisis when the institutions’ credibility is challenged by the lack of resources and by “the daily scramble for a dry-board marker that still has some ink in it.”

Teachers will no longer be seen, as Eileen Honan states it, as “policy-users who compliantly follow instructions and programs laid down by policy developers” but as “bricoleurs” that design artisanal solutions that will fit individual and community needs.

In this new vision of Open Education “c’est du bricolage”.



[1] Huberman: the model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations in: J.W. Little & M W. McLaughlin (Eds) Teachers’ Work : individuals, colleagues, and contexts (New York, Teachers College Press) 1993


4 Responses to “ “Open education: “c’est du bricolage””

  1. Larry Hanley says:

    Thanks for the excellent piece! Sharp, concise and super helpful. It’s great to see the idea of the teacher-bricoleur being moved forward.

    • Pierre Antoine Ullmo Pierre Antoine Ullmo says:

      Thanks Larry. You are the one to “blame”. Your vision of the teacher-bricoleur is very inspiring and can’t be limited to higher education. In fact primary and secondary education teachers must feel free to engage into “bricolage” in order to (re)think their practices in a creative way. I was these past 3 days in a very inspiring conference at Mindcet and I referred to your work as a way to escape from the curriculum’s dictatorship and start adressing the real problems in the classroom in a “non-consumerist” way.

  2. Alex Beard says:

    Excellent post. This line really stood out to me in particular: ‘the bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom, in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone’. I feel strongly that this principle of hybridity will be key to re-imagining the role of the teacher in the way that you outline above. I am really interested though in the point that you raise about learners communicating in a language that they (the teachers) don’t understand. How far do you think that the community or the teacher should be enabling the learner to communicate in the existing language of the community? How free is the learner to create or change that common language? How do we see the bricoleur-teacher facilitating that ‘shared language in flux’?

    • Pierre Antoine Ullmo Pierre Antoine Ullmo says:

      I think the language gap is central to explain why so many children felt so strange about what is taught in the classroom and how it is taught. I refer to the use of digital media as a new language and social media and gaming as a new literacy that isn’t considered as such by any of our core curriculum and not mastered by most of our teachers. I recommend the interesting project Q2L developed by the Institute of Play.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe now

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers