Re-imagining and re-bordering conference spaces and edges: anticipatory reflections from the coordinators of BAICE 2024’s Borderless sub-theme

By Alison Buckler, Camilla Hadi Chaudhary and Hiba Salem

Meeting room with empty chairs
Image Source: Alison Buckler

“Educational practice, whether it be authoritarian or democratic, is always directive.”

(Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, 1992, p.82)

The theme for BAICE 2024 calls for a ‘radical re-imagining’ and ‘re-bordering’ of the work of education that goes beyond the rhetoric. Our starting point for the borderless sub-theme was a desire to reimagine (some of) the borders within the parallel-session convention of academic conferences. In our call for abstracts we suggested that conferences themselves can represent, reproduce and reify borders of practical and intellectual inclusion: who can attend, who feels welcome and whose knowledge is incorporated, endorsed and validated (see related article links below this post). In this blog we share an expanded explanation of our justification for, and hopes for, this sub-theme. How might these borders be disrupted? How might spaces and edges in parallel sessions be shifted, blurred, merged and transposed in ways that feel enriching, inclusive and generative? 

Our re-imagining focuses on three things that we think have potential for re-bordering: themes, projects, and the boundaries of space and time in presentation rooms.

First, we suggest that conference sub-themes and parallel sessions can create silos around bodies of work. This implies a particular way of organising knowledge and framing ideas in relation to the overarching theme and can limit opportunities for transgressing boundaries and seeing connections. The terminology doesn’t help: parallel lines never meet! In our borderless sub-theme, we invite abstracts with a broad perspective that complements (but may also challenge) the parallel sub-themes. We welcome contributions that centre a concept of (re)bordering education but sit outside or across the other sub-themes.

Second, most conference presentations focus on a project. Often this project is already complete – the data has been generated, analysed, prepared and polished for an audience. Even if a project is ongoing, it is usually a fixed entity: the literature has been reviewed, and the team, budget, locations, stakeholders, research questions and research design are in place. When we present projects we draw and assert boundaries around them, as well as our place within them. In our borderless sub-theme, we invite abstracts that centre an idea. What drives your work under the overarching theme of crises and borders in education? What frustrates it? What theories or approaches are at its heart? Do normative definitions or framings enrich or limit possibilities in this area of work?

We anticipate that ideas will likely draw on projects as inspiration, but we strongly discourage presentations that summarise project process (e.g., a chronological walk through research questions, approach, analysis, findings, discussion). Instead, we encourage presentations that showcase a particular aspect of a project with the intention of starting conversations and creating connections: if someone wants to find out more about the finer details of your project, you can tell them about it over lunch!

The third set of borders we have been thinking about are in relation to the (traditional) classroom set up of presentation rooms. There is a clear boundary between the presenter and the audience, and rigid timings dictating how long we get to spend on each side of the border: conventional patterns of hierarchical interaction that can limit collective learning. What if we didn’t sit in rows facing the front? What if we sat in a circle, facing each other? What if we didn’t have three people talking for fifteen minutes followed by a chaired Q&A? What if there were no power-points, but pictures, poems or objects to represent ideas? What if each presenter introduced their idea and then engaged in a supported dialogue around connections between them?

In the borderless sub-theme, we are hoping to explore these possibilities and welcome suggestions for others. We invite abstracts with ideas unfettered by normative conceptual presentational borders, from colleagues enthusiastic about engaging practically with new spaces and edges in a presentation room.

These ideas are complementary to the work of the BAICE 2024 conference committee, which is working hard to identify, question and re-shape normative conference borders in a wider sense. We will be working closely with them to see what might be feasible in our strand. We will also work closely with the inclusion sub-committee; we are conscious that conventional conference formats have in-built features and processes to support inclusion, and that well-meaning and enthusiastic ideas for change can be unintentionally exclusionary. However, returning to Freire whose pedagogy is a key inspiration in our initiative, we hope colleagues in the BAICE community will consider submitting an abstract to the borderless sub-theme, and join our attempt to become ‘ever more curious’ in terms of noticing the ‘directive’ nature of conference borders, and re-imagining alternatives.

A further note from the coordinators: 

Coordinating this sub-theme has been an opportunity to critically reflect on the idea of borders within the parallel session convention. We plan to write an extended and more academic piece, but we wanted to share our thinking at this point when we know colleagues are preparing their abstracts. If you submit an abstract to this sub-theme, please share your idea, how it originated, the research it draws from (if appropriate), how it relates to the conference theme and sub-theme, and suggestions for how you might introduce it in a borderless session (for coherence and transparency the panel will be guided by the main BAICE 2024 abstract review criteria of relevance, originality, clarity and significance). To help us develop the grounded groupings of ideas, please include 2-3 keywords.

We recognise that some people may have already submitted their abstract (and others may not read this blog post prior to submission). We will review these abstracts with enthusiasm and no one will be disadvantaged if their abstract does not align with the submission suggestions above: we set out in our initial call that this sub-theme was an opportunity to collectively connect ideas into a grounded and purposeful agenda. We will invite the authors of all successful submissions to be a part of this process and anticipate that all abstracts may develop accordingly.

If you have any questions, please get in touch with Alison Buckler, Camilla Hadi Chaudhary or Hiba Salem.

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