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Learning for an unknown future: emotional positioning in and for expansive learning
Umeå universitet, Teknisk-naturvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för naturvetenskapernas och matematikens didaktik. (EMOTE, UmSER)ORCID-id: 0000-0001-9667-2044
Umeå universitet, Teknisk-naturvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för naturvetenskapernas och matematikens didaktik. (EMOTE, UmSER)ORCID-id: 0000-0003-3614-1692
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. (EMOTE)
2023 (engelsk)Konferansepaper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Fagfellevurdert)
Abstract [en]

STUDY OVERVIEW AND PURPOSE: We live in troubled times. Faced with increasingly serious and urgent, wicked sustainability challenges (Lönngren & van Poeck, 2021; United Nations, 2015), such as climate change, pandemics, and violent conflict , more and more people experience anxiety, hopelessness, and worries about the future (Barrineau et al., 2022; Ojala et al., 2021; Pihkala, 2020). The United Nations’ Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; United Nations, 2015) may offer a comforting illusion of a yellow brick road to a known and livable future. Yet, complex systems studies have shown that the future is not only unknown but ultimately unknowable (Dewulf & Biesbroek, 2018; Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993). In light of such radical uncertainty, Barrineau et al. (2022) argued that environmental and sustainability education (ESE) is not only about “promoting [pre-defined] skills and competencies in sustainability education with which to equip students to tackle sustainability challenges” (p.3) since we do not know yet what competencies they will need. The only thing we know for certain is that future generations will need to develop knowledge, skills, and practices that are different from those we know today, that is, those that have given rise to our current predicaments. In other words, students need to “learn something that is not yet there” (Engeström & Sannino, 2010, p. 2).

In recent years, a range of educational theories and concepts that touch upon this type of learning have increased in popularity. For example, Engeström et al. (Engeström et al., 2022; Engeström & Sannino, 2010) have drawn on cultural historical activity theory to examine expansive learningprocesses that allow learners to develop “expanded pattern[s] of activity, corresponding theoretical concept[s], and new types of agency” (Engeström & Sannino, 2010, p. 7). Similarly, Barrineau et al. (2022) have described emergentist education as a form of teaching and learning that engages with “the possibilities of the not-yet-imagined” (p.2). Others have described related theories, such as transformative and transgressive social learning as crucially important in ESE (Lotz-Sisitka et al., 2015).

These and other traditions of transformative and expansive learning theories have in common that they attend to the role of social interaction for learning, stressing that learning always takes place in social contexts (Lenglet, 2022; Lotz-Sisitka et al., 2015; Van Poeck et al., 2020). Another common thread through many approaches is an attention to spirituality, affect, and/or emotions (Hoggan, 2016; Lenglet, 2022; Lotz-Sisitka et al., 2015). For example, Hoggan (2016) argued that learners must be “emotionally capable of change” (p. 61), pay attention to emotional experiences, and learn to utilize emotional ways of knowing. Similarly, Östman et al. (2019) have used pragmatist theories to argue that strong embodied experiences can trigger transformative learning. This intersection between expansive learning, social interaction, and emotions is the focus of our contribution.

The aim of our study is to explore how expansive learning can manifest in and through emotional interaction when student groups engage with wicked sustainability challenges. To do so, we draw on positioning theory as a theoretical tool that allows us to study emotions as a form of social interaction (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999) rather than something individuals have and experience. More specifically, we explore processes of emotional positioning (Lönngren et al., 2021; Lönngren & Berge, forthcoming), analyzing how students use emotions discursively to position themselves – and each other – in relation to their (expansive) learning and (future) agency to work for sustainable and desired futures.

METHODS: Emotions can be expressed through a wide range of modalities (e.g., speech, gestures, facial expressions, intonation, bodily positions). Therefore, multimodal approaches are particularly suitable for studying how emotions are expressed and used in social interaction (Goodwin et al., 2012; Hufnagel & Kelly, 2018; Lönngren & Berge, forthcoming). For this study, we video-recorded group work conducted by four groups of engineering students. The group work sessions took place during two sustainability courses for engineering students at two Swedish universities and they were part of the students’ regular course work. No researchers were present during the sessions, but teachers entered each room occasionally to check on the groups’ progress. In total, we recorded approximately 70 hours of video data. To analyze the data, we first watched all recordings (~70h) to familiarize ourselves with the data. Thereafter, we formulated sensitizing concepts (consensus/dissensus, convergence/divergence, comfort/vulnerability, intensity, and social positions) to narrow our focus on situations in which we could study emotional positioning and/or expansive learning processes. The sensitizing concepts allowed us to select a smaller number of excerpts for in-depth analysis. For each excerpt, we then developed narrative descriptions of any processes of expansivity and expansive learning we could observe. Finally, we applied the analytic tools of positioning theory to make sense of the ways in which students used emotions discursively while engaging (or not) in expansive learning.

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS: Our preliminary findings point to multiple ways in which emotional positioning could facilitate expansive learning during group engagement with wicked challenges. For example, when students suggested norm-breaking methods or solution approaches, other students could validate those ideas by listening attentively and expressing excitement. By validating unconventional ideas, the students also positioned themselves and each other as expansive learners with rights and duties to reach beyond known approaches and solutions. In other excerpts, we observed high levels of emotional congruence between the group members. When one student laughed, others would often join in. In other instances, students would fall silent simultaneously, much like a general pause in an orchestra concert. By enacting these and other forms of emotional congruence, the students could co-construct their group as a team – working together, building on each other’s ideas, and taking collective responsibility for any outcomes they produced. Thus, they also constructed a shared safety-net, reducing perceived risks associated with expansive learning: If the outcomes of their work had turned out to be flawed or ridiculed by others, they could have shared the burden of the perceived (!) failure and helped each other focus on the exceptional learning they had achieved. These findings demonstrate how students could use emotions discursively to position themselves and each other as (a) students who can and should engage in expansive learning, and (b) sustainability agents who can and should contribute to developing innovative solutions to wicked issues. The findings also show how emotions expressed in interaction can have profound impacts on learning, which further stresses the importance of more ESE research on emotions in and as social interaction. A better understanding of emotional interaction in ESE would also support educators in developing teaching and learning environments conducive to expansive learning.

sted, utgiver, år, opplag, sider
2023.
Emneord [en]
emotional positioning, engineering education, expansive learning
HSV kategori
Identifikatorer
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-218340OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-218340DiVA, id: diva2:1821109
Konferanse
ECER 2023, European Conference on Educational Research, Glasgow, UK, August 22-25, 2023
Forskningsfinansiär
Swedish Research CouncilTilgjengelig fra: 2023-12-19 Laget: 2023-12-19 Sist oppdatert: 2023-12-19bibliografisk kontrollert

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