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Dunedin Free University Launch

March 27, 2014
The design of teaching spaces shapes our expectations of what we expect will happen, and tell us how we are meant to behave.

The design of teaching spaces shapes our expectations of what will happen, and tells us how we are meant to behave.

On Wednesday evening (March 26), I joined about 30 others at the launch of the Dunedin Free University. Appropriately, the event took place at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, in the heart of South Dunedin. The Twitter profile for @DunedinFreeUni describes it as a “Free Knowledge Community”. There is also a website and a Facebook page for the project.

The Dunedin initiative is based loosely on the Melbourne Free University model (@MelbFreeUni), which was started in 2010. We heard about how the Melbourne project is structured, how it has grown over the years, and how we could learn from it. Participants gave short talks about the increasingly instrumental nature of higher education, and how knowledge is often treated as a commodity to be sold, rather than as a contribution to the public good. We heard about the history of free education, and how citizens have initiated community-based intellectual discussions in different countries in the past. Someone reported on the problem that rising tuition fees presented, especially in the UK.

We talked about what a community-based knowledge sharing group could do, and what it would need. Meeting spaces were discussed, ideas about how to access books and other resources were suggested, and the use of a photocopier was offered. To get things started, a course on sustainability, running on the last Wednesday of the month for six consecutive months, starting at the end of April, at the Kokiri Training Centre, 51 Macandrew Road, was discussed.

Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the message (1977)

Whatever else they do, institutions institutionalise. Whatever else we teach there, we teach institutionalisation. Many of the systems and technologies that comprise, and operate within, traditional institutions of higher education have been internalised to such a degree that they have become invisible to us. We can’t change what we can no longer see. By operating outside traditional institutions, and by leaving behind the roles, hierarchies, and behaviours that they frame and enforce, we are free to redefine our relationships and to rethink what a learning community can be.

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