As you walk around your city or the cities and towns you visit, you will see walls and interstitial spaces alive with colour, poetry, art and agitation. I can been seen with my camera looking up at doorways, railway arches and courtyards to find stickers, posters, spray can art, stencils, installations like 3D printing, ceramics, and ephemera (mirrors, old plates etc) that amuse, inspire, anger, agitate, advocate, and confuse. Like my other art passions of sound art and zines, street art is democratic, accessible, and DIY. It is also often fringing around the fuzzy bounds of legality democratising, and some would argue liberating public space. Street art is also highly impactful in part because its messages can be produced with such immediacy even if they fade and are replaced by the next layer of story and inspiration. The ephemerality is quite unique to these forms of DIY art. The ephemerality of the work is countered (or I would argue complemented) by the passion of the audience to chronicle the street art they see on social media, giving the art and the artists a digital resonance that outlasts the physical work.
Street arts spaces in Dirckenstrasse in Berlin replaced with underground or political flyering (left) and then with advertisements for fashion (right)
There is a battle happening in these public spaces, over and above gentrification and public space ‘cleaning’ to make a city look nicer. In the same spaces that street artists use as a gallery, art is being replaced and plastered over by advertising for underground or independent arts and culture, with flyers posted for DJ nights, exhibitions, gallery shows, gigs, marches and rallies leaving little space for the artist to use the wall or door as a gallery. But the aesthetic and visuality of these spaces also becomes fertile ground for exploitation and these rapidly vanishing spaces are co-opted by corporate posters, advertising jeans and trendy alcohol and other products aimed at younger markets hoping the location where agitating street art used to be will imbue the product with some of that rebellious outsider mystique.
In higher education, the ways in which we have embedded the capacity for our students to effect real change now, and in the future has followed a similar pattern to that of street art galleries. We have moved from being real advocates for change, enabling students and staff to use research and teaching as platforms for enabling innovation, ideation, conflagration, and integration to seeing rebellion and resistance as brand names and markers of an authenticity critical to defining in marketing terms the worth of the institution. We have moved from DIY to corporate branding, blanking the canvas for the next generation of emerging voices, who will go looking for other ways to express themselves and make impactful and necessary change to how we are destroying the planet, enabling right wing radicalism and retrograding decades of progress on gender equality, LGBTQI+ rights, violence against women and the critical importance of expertise and knowledge in decision making and governance. Universities have to be at the very centre of those critical societal missions through their research but also through how their curriculum enables action, debate and the capacity to develop leaders who can make a difference to the direction we seem to be heading.
Our marketised and legislated higher education sector has co-opted ephemerality as a virtue, though perhaps not with the potentially daily turnover of popular street art galleries. It has also co-opted attitude and action as a virtue signalling institutional worth and value to a society that it is duty bound to serve. Let me explain. Government policy prioritises graduate employability as a demonstration of the success of a university. This is reinforced by rankings that use employability as a proxy for the quality of education. The views of ‘industry’ are canvased regularly as to whether graduates are serving their requirements, as if a) there is such a concept as a singular ‘industry’ and b) graduates only work for such conceptual simplicity and not for themselves, for government, for civil society or the community (who are rarely canvassed with the same regularity or authority as ‘industry’). The result is a deeply ingrained sense, from both the transactional experiences of students to the structure of programs and assessment, of what I term ‘first job-ism’. First job-ism is where the entirety of the university experience, inside and outside curriculum is focused on students primarily getting their first and desired graduate job.
This leads to curriculum that has a limited life, with a limited scope for action and a limited ambition for learning 3 or 5 or 10 years down the track. The experiences that our students have in their classrooms, in their assessments and in the ways they engage and connect with others throughout their education needs to spark and catalyse the capability to bring disparate learnings together and create a new artwork, a new message that inspires others to create, to join the cause, to debate the directions and to make a difference, in whatever field they study in. We need to design curriculum with change now and change later built into their DNA. We need to have assessment contexts that are authentic and offer students the opportunities to be leaders in safe, transitional spaces. We need to reward calls to action through the way we mark and grade. We need to stop saying we are making a difference and actually start making a fucking difference, in how we teach, how we learn and how we support students to do the same. It is in these spaces that experiences are created, and it is experiences that are remembered as future crisis or opportunities are faced, however many days, months or years that happens post-graduation. This is what employers are looking for, even if they don’t articulate it in those terms, or are given the opportunity to. I was told by a leading financial employer that she didn’t need people who could tell her what problems she was facing today, she had hundreds of people like that already working for her. She needed graduates who could tell what the problems in five- or ten-year’s time were going to be and then be the ones that could help her, and her organisation solve them.
I have proposed the term resonant learning (see Bryant, 2023) to represent how we can counter the co-option of the street art gallery, the impacts of first job-ism and create spaces for students to experience real action, with real consequences and authentic experiences in safe transitional spaces, recognising that we are all still developing as leaders.
Resonant learning is the longitudinal epistemic influence for students of learning in transitional spaces. Resonant learning is in effect a counter-concept to the immediacy of the overt focus on the attainment of the first job. It is simply how we can make learning something that lasts, can be recalled, remixed, and repurposed throughout the lifetime of the learner.
It is true lifelong learning. It recognises the uncertain, uncanny, and reflexive states we are all residing within at various times during our lives. Resonant learning offers the possibility of a positive education, not defined by deficit or by a singular transactional approach requiring ‘topping each’ each time we need to shift gears.
Figure 1: The model of resonant learning (Bryant, 2023)
Resonant learning as a curriculum design principle is in part defined by Rosa’s sociological critique of modernity where resonance is ‘defined by moments in which one dwells in, feels present with, an absorbing experience—whether it be social, aesthetic, religious, bodily, or environmental’(Anderson, 2023, p.2), resonant learning leverages the memories, feelings and reflexivity of those learning experiences to represent pathways towards the lifelong value of learning. Rosa (2018) argues that resonance is an essential aspect of how humans flourish and grow, and is closely linked to our ability to engage with the world and to develop meaningful relationships with others, noting:
Resonance is a cognitive, affective and physical relationship to the world in which the subject, on the one hand, is touched…by a fragment of the world, and where, on the other hand, he or she ‘responds’ to the world by acting concretely on it, thus experiencing her or his own efficacy. (cited in Lausselet & Zosso, 2022, p.275)
Resonant learning is created through learning experiences and the emotions, attitudes and ambitions that are promulgated when students engage with the curriculum and the activities in authentic ways enabled by the design of experiences that make positive action real. The impact of the resonant experience lasts longer than the currency of the theory or the abstracted examples of practice. It lasts past the getting of the first job and well past the attainment of a desired grade or degree classification. Resonant learning is more about the ripples that emanate from a rock thrown into a pool of water, rather than the rock itself. Once advantage of resonant learning is that the discoveries made during the process of learning enhance the generalisability of the insights that were gained, effecting the capability of students to apply skills to different unknown future circumstances.
How can you develop resonant learning in your programs, courses, and teaching?
Create action-based examples and activities. Rather than talk about Bob’s Plumbing Services as an example in class or in an assessment, use real data or real examples from people and organisations making a real difference.
Make assessment authentic. Don’t test memory or recall as the sole measure of student performance. Design assessments that students learn through doing (I have written a long form piece on authentic assessment that starts here).
Design opportunities for decision and actions with consequences. Transition doesn’t mean abstract, and consequences are more than grades. Give learning meaning and outcomes, but in safe spaces.
Create learning experiences that build and leverage connection and collaboration. Connection, however fleeting or lasting fosters active and engaged learning.
Develop programs that build the structures of lifelong learning through the duration of the learning journey. Design for learning to be come back to, remembered, ignored, transferred, and shared for longer than the 120 minutes of your weekly class.
Recognise that a degree doesn’t end at graduation and experiences can be shared backwards and forwards into the learning of others (alumni is more than money).
Co-design learning with students, with alumni and with people engaged in authentic positive action. Bring other voices, perspectives and people into your design and teaching, let them tell their stories, let me share their experience and make them part of the learning.
Model the design behaviours we are trying to build into education. Be active yourself, don’t fall back on reciting theory uncritically, bring your own research into the class and make it part of the real action and change that both you and your institution attest to.
Resonant learning for positive action
Learning is a liminal process. We are all in transition through life, work, play and learning. But it is without doubt one of the most enablers of real change ever invented by humans.
Like the street art discussed at the start of this post, learning takes many beautiful, complex, personal and creative forms, and the experience of it may last only a few fleeting minutes. But then someone takes a photo of that experience, shares it on social media, talks to you as the artist, and then gets inspired to make their own. The form propagates and rhizomatically seeds more creativity, more ideas and more inspiration perhaps not in street art but in photography, in activism, in design, in government or simply in their life. The liminality comes from the transitional journey we are taking and are taken on through uncertainty and enmeshing and challenging different and sometimes challenging social structures. A higher education is a vehicle for the uncertainty and liminality. It is also a community of other liminal beings, seeking each other, seeking collective and individual experiences and not seeing ephemerality as a marketable objective but as part of the identity we are forming as we engage in effective learning. It is our responsibility as academics and educationalists to create opportunities through teaching, learning and assessment for resonant learning that spawns positive actions across our communities lives and careers. The art may fade or be replaced but the message and the learning can last a lifetime.
Street art from around Boxhagener Platz, Berlin, Germany,
I have been photographing an amazing street art space in Berlin since 2007. Dircksenstrasse is under the S-Bahn between Alexanderplatz and Hackescher Markt. It had an amazing sequence of political, social and just beautifully creative art that covered challenging topics such as gender equality, refugees, war, transgender rights and the rise of the right-wing in Germany as well just a whole of funny, cutting and inspiring works. Over the years whenever I visited Berlin, I headed down to the space and took a long sequence of snaps, chronicling the new art but also how the older art was fading and changing over time. My last visit was 2017 and some of the art I shot then was so inspiring and powerful I had my photos printed up and framed for my office wall. I have returned to Berlin this year for the first time in six years. The whole gallery space in Dircksenstrasse has been replaced by large swathes of corporate advertising. There is little new street art to be found, and if it exists it is in the nooks and crannies above the advertising for jeans. But the shoots of rebellion and resistance are showing. Advertising outside of proper spaces is being torn down. But equally, masking tape is being applied over words advertisers don’t like in the remaining street art, new poster art is torn down in a tit-for-tat battle for space. It is incredibly sad to see the end of the space for art. It now looks like a tatty street lined with old railway viaducts with trundling metro trains running overhead every 3 mins.
On a positive note. Street art is just moving to other places. I am staying in the east, in an area called Friedrichshain and in the streets, doors, walls, power poles, public utilities and inside bars and restaurants there is street art everywhere. It is alive and well in one of the most important galleries of street art in the world, the Hackesche Höfe. This is a courtyard space full of decades of street art in all its form, supported and in part curated by the community (also great bars, a cinema, and a cool bookstore with heaps of zines). Maybe none of the art lasts forever, but the desire to make, share and create an emotional response through art certainly will.
Street art from Dirckenstrasse, around Friedrichshain and from the Hackescher Höfe in Berlin, September 2023. Artists unknown.