Sunday, 4 April 2010

Climate, Differences, Conferences and Colleagues

It was reported this week that the size of the Arctic ice cap has increased this year to levels not recorded since 2001. The freezing winds blowing across the Bering Sea over the past few months  resulted in thousands of square miles of ocean to freeze.

These winds are the tangible consequence of something called an Arctic Oscillation. The artic oscillation is an example of what has been called a climate oscillation. These are different to a climate change. Unlike climate oscillations, climate changes do not automatically correct themselves. Oscillations are variations that happen regularly, but are not permanent. It was this Artic Oscillation that was also partly responsible for the cold winter experienced in northern Europe and eastern America, and last week at the University of Lancaster campus, where I was attending the first Mental Health in Higher Education Conference. We had freezing winds, driving rain, and overnight, sufficient snow to lie on the ground.

Unfortunately for some reason not told, the temperature inside the buildings was as low as they were outside.

The conference was the first and possibly might be the last facilitated by the Mental Health in Higher Education project. This was originally a one year project which aimed to enhance learning and teaching about mental health across the disciplines in UK higher education. The projects objectives included:

supporting the development and dissemination of good practices in learning and teaching about mental wellbeing and ill-health; providing a testing ground for new ideas and promoting pedagogic research.

• embedding service user and carer involvement within mental health teaching programmes and facilitating the exchange of good practice in this area.

• providing support, stimulating enthusiasm and facilitating the mutual exchange of resources and ideas.

These aims and objectives, whilst articulated within a mental health context, are equally applicable to our more general ambitions as a School of Nursing and Midwifery. So I was pleased to be able to participate in this conference and share with others many ideas, problems, concerns and importantly, some very creative possible futures for educationalists, practitioners and service users. Over the two days the buzz from what was the most eclectic group of individuals to attend a conference of this nature was fantastic. There were academics, educationists, practitioners from many different professional groups, service users and carer’s. The participants represented all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience.

The conference theme was living and learning. The theme was enacted throughout every aspect of the conference. Feed back on sessions, workshops and presentations was ongoing and continuous. Audience participation was encouraged and it was easy to join in. There was much discussion and debate around accommodation difference. Some of this was very challenging, but all of the conversations were simulating and in the main, individuals respected the rights of others to hold very different views over what might have been the same issue or concern. This debate was most often the consequence of how individuals had experienced their own mental health and well being (concepts which in themselves promoted much debate).

From an educational perspective, the debates were centred on harnessing the notions of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, both of which are concepts that resonate with the work Sue McAndrew and I continue to develop in this area. Our interest and work has been in exploring how students, practitioners and educationalists might be better prepared to think, work and respond in that place at the edges of knowledge and knowing, (not knowing).

Understanding and applying these concepts can, at times, be difficult. The thinking involved mirrors that in trying to make the connections between the sometimes complicated and complex factors involved in what we describe as climate change and the impact our behaviour as individuals or as communities might have on these futures.

As I write this blog it is 3C here in Bolton, whereas in Sydney it is 24C and a number of my colleagues have started to make their way to Australia for the 3rd NET/NEP conference. I wish them all a safe journey and I hope they have as productive and experience there as I did in Lancaster – although of course, my carbon foot print in so doing, was much smaller!