How To Do Student as Producer

This is a section of a report on Student as Producer at the University of Lincoln for the Higher Education Academy (HEA), who funded the project as part of the National Teacher Fellowship Project Scheme in 2010-2013. The full report ‘Student as Producer: research-engaged teaching, an institutional strategy’, was written by M. Neary, G. Saunders, A. Hagyard and D. Derricott and will will be published soon by the HEA.


This is a guide to building or making or hacking your own version of Student as Producer, based on its core themes and ideas. It’s given away as a gift: an ‘excessive offering’ (Mauss 1967) in a spirit of abundance (Kay and Mott 1983): ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’ (Marx 1875). The spirit of abundance is the horizon scanner that just might get us into the future (Dean 2012). Find your own way. Do it yourself with others. No one will ever to do it the way we have done it.


Have some; not just ‘good’ or ‘novel’ ideas, but ideas self-consciously grounded in the intellectual traditions out which they have emerged. It is these intellectual traditions that give ideas substance, providing rich encounters for those who seek to investigate them fully. Student as Producer is derived from a Marxist critique of orthodox Marxism: a negation of the negation (Hegel 1874) – the positive power of negative thinking (Noys 2010). You are working in an academic environment so your ideas do not need to be consensual; indeed they should be uncompromising, Brutalist even (Meades 2014), to provoke challenge and critique. Avoid the overuse and under theorisation of affirmative concepts like ‘innovation’, ‘excellence’, ‘enterprise’, ‘co-producers’, partners’ and ‘engagement’. Only use these notions once you have discovered the full extent of their intellectual provenance and the assumptions on which they are based; otherwise they are likely to be seen as management fads and be unsustainable in the long term (Birnbaum 2001). You may have to defend your ideas, and you should welcome it.


Students are taught to mistrust and critique evidence and data. Science knows that facts do not speak for themselves. All data from the natural and social sciences is the outcome of the assumptions of the scientific tradition on which it is based. It is important that all data, including management information, is subject to the same rigorous application as your own experimental science, maintaining a sense of ‘dynamic enquiry’ (Fuller 2003). Produce your own evidence based on your own scholarship of teaching and learning, grounded in your own scientific assumptions, explaining why you have chosen your methodology and methods against other forms of investigation. Remember, data is only science to the extent that it is falsifiable (Popper 1977).

Art and Language

Learn from the Arts and Humanities. Think hard about how you present yourself and your work: write a narrative or story or draw a picture to express the current state of play with regard to your teaching and learning plans. Use painterly and writerly techniques: montage, cut ups, streams of consciousness.  Express what you know and what you have produced in a critically intelligent way, reflecting the ethics and values of your work, with a sense of its own emotional aesthetic. Artists and writers know that not everything has to be explained, but can be left unsaid, to provoke and incite, all of which add to the intensity of the experience of higher education.  The Student as Producer aesthetic is taken from Jacob Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’ (1913-15). Remember, teaching can be your greatest work of art (Lambert 2011).

Change – sublation

Do not try to change your institution. Much better to affirm what is special about your institution and celebrate it. At Lincoln we had a Festival of Teaching and Learning not as an event to which staff and students were invited, but by opening up our classrooms, labs and lecture theatres to each other and inviting staff and students to join with what we are all doing. Not just teaching and research staff, but colleagues from Finance and the Secretariat and Student Services and Estates and Catering as well as the porters and cleaners: the full range of academic labour. Find your own ways to express the uniqueness of your own institution as a place of higher learning, and then make it more. At the same time, embrace the contradiction that lies at the heart of higher education: we may have different institutional histories and cultures, but what we all have in common is that we are all concerned with the production of knowledge and meaning. It is only through commonality that solidarity and real change occurs, not simply at the level of the institution but at the level of society. Remember, ‘Philosophers interpret the world the point is to change it’ (Marx 1845). This is what is meant by sublation.


Students are a special life-force, but they are not at the heart of the university system. Student as Producer has identified the heart-beat of the system as the production of knowledge and meaning. Knowledge and meaning can be produced in collaboration with students through the teaching and learning process. Academics maintain their authority but gain stature by presenting themselves as part of a ‘mass intellectuality’ (Hall and Winn 2014) and the ‘general intellect’: knowledge at the level of society (Neary 2012). Students can advise us and be consultants about teaching and learning and how we can improve their experience (Crawford 2012), but academics cannot expect them to know the nature and purpose of higher education: that is our responsibility as academics. And remember, academics are students too, with much to learn from other students about how to be students and how to be teachers (Freire 1970).


You will need to build, repair and refurbish your infrastructures to provide a firm foundation for your project so that it can be embedded across the whole institution. Start with your bureaucracy, not simply as a system of technical procedures, but as a moral and ethical framework. Following the work of Max Weber (1864-1920), reinterpreted through contemporary sociology, bureaucracy is ‘a site of substantive ethical domain’ (Du Gay 2000: 2) and ‘a particular ethos … not only an ensemble of purposes and ideals within a given code of conduct but also ways and means of conducting oneself … the bureau must be assessed in its own right as a particular moral institution and the ethical attributes of the bureaucrat be viewed as the contingent and often fragile achievements of that socially organised sphere of moral existence’ (Du Gay 2000: 4). In this way, the bureaucratic environment contains its very own rationality and sense of purpose (Du Gay 2000: 75) against the amoral networked principle of our contemporary digitised society (Kleiss et al 2011).


Your teachers will need support, probably more than you will be able to give them. Create formal spaces and time for teachers to discuss and show their work to each other outside the normal performative events that exist within the audited university. This can be done inside staff development programmes and by encouraging staff to take teacher qualifications, particularly the Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. The qualification is an important recognition of your professional accomplishments; but, more significantly, these programmes can provide time for rigorous critical reflection and review of our own academic practice on our own terms. You can enhance what support is provided formally by creating informal networks of teacher support,e.g., like the Teaching Academy at Lincoln. These (in)formal spaces enable connections to be made with conscientious and committed teachers who may have become disaffected with the commercialisation and heavily audited nature of academic life, characterised by performance measures, student as consumer and the pedagogy of debt. Harney and Moten (2013) have identified this group of academics as  ‘the undercommons’, who are ‘always at war, always in hiding’. You should find ways to connect with these colleagues, they have much to offer.

Learning Landscapes – teaching for complexity

The learning environment starts from the curriculum, but this needs to be enhanced by the design of learning and teaching spaces, where it is possible for you to do this, at the real (spatial) and virtual (temporal) level: to create a new pedagogy of space and time (Neary and Amsler 2012) . What kind of classroom space might reflect the democratic and collaborative practices and principles of Student as Producer?  Such a classroom already exists: The Reinvention Classroom at the University of Warwick. This space is profoundly utopian-modernist in its sensibility, Brutalist, even (Hatherley 2011). It was created as ‘a machine for teaching ’ (after Corbusier), as a ‘psycho classroom’: or a work of art ( Lambert 2011 after Beuys). One national newspaper reported it as:  ‘The Learning Mould is Smashed!’ (Independent Education Section 2007). The room was designed to dissolve the distinction between student and teacher, i.e., to remove the ‘power-point’ from the classroom, providing a fluid and dynamic democratic complex space, certain of its sense of architectural and critical intelligence; and profoundly anti-flexible (Neary and Saunders 2011).


Student as Producer is an experiment, grounded in an inductive (empirical) and deductive (non-empirical) methodology. It makes no claim to be new or innovative, seeing itself as a brief moment in the radical history of the university (Williams 2006). Scholars write their own histories of higher education, ours begins with the University of Berlin (1812), fast-forwarded to Universities in Paris and Italy in 1968 when students were not merely engaged, but were ‘revealers of a general crisis’ (Ross 2012), and brought up to date by Occupy and the student protests in the UK in 2010-2011 (Neary 2012). What can we as educators learn from Tent City University (Stanistreet 2012). A part of this experiment is teaching ourselves the basics of our own radical history. You should experiment based on what you know about your own institutions and what other universities have done. Look for the history of experimental science outside of your institution. At Lincoln we found the astonishing figure of Robert Grosseteste (1175-1252), Bishop of Lincoln and first Chancellor of Oxford University. Grosseteste is recognised by medieval historians as playing a key role in the development of rigorous (falsifiable) research methods within a sound conceptual framework based on the origin of light, i.e, Grosseteste established the basis for inductive and deductive research methodologies (Neary 2012). What light can you throw on the unrecovered history or your own institution and its location?


Following Mathiesen and his ‘politics of abolition’ (1974), your work to reinvent your institution through experimental science is never finished. Mathiesen argued that ‘the alternative lies in the unfinished: in what is not yet fully existing. The “finished alternative” is “finished’ in the double sense of the world… The alternative is “alternative”…in so far as it contradicts and competes with the old system [as a form of] competing contradiction’ (p.13-14). Starting from ‘the unfinished’ does not mean that Student as Producer is forever, but that the form in which Student as Producer is produced will itself be transformed [sublated] in ways that are appropriate to the moment in which it has come subsist, or it will die. In other words Student as Producer must reinvent itself as yet another subversive form of higher learning if it is ever to be fully realised. Student as Producer is a recognition of the critical impulse of higher education: Student as Producer and the University cannot be contained.


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