Reusable cooking objects

Recently a lot of emphasis has been placed on sustainability. Sustainable this, sustainable that. Here at the University of Plymouth we had a CETL - a Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning - dedicated to Sustainable Futures. We have also seen a movement toward 'reusable learning objects' (For many teachers, sustainable education might simply be about actually keeping students interested for a full hour). I guess it's not simply about being 'green' or environmentally conscious. It's also about minimising effort of the creation of learning resources, and adapting existing content into new contexts or for new groups of learners. It's about sharing. It's about common sense. I just don't know why we had to invent a name for it.

I was fascinated last year, while walking around the huge sprawling open market of Serekunda in the Gambia, to see a huge 'cottage industry' dedicated to recycling old aluminium, tin and other metals into really useful objects. The picture above shows some of the products of this labour - salvaged aluminium from old cars, refrigerators, cola cans and other household goods that have lost their inherent value. We walked into one of the market stalls, and out through the back into a yard which resembled Dante's inferno. Everywhere we looked there were smelting furnaces, and all around in the smoke, people were melting down metal and remoulding it into useful cooking utensils. The picture below shows a guy fabricating a cooking pot. Got me thinking about education.

How much content do we actually waste, and how often do we 'reinvent the wheel'? I remember a few years ago having 14 cohorts of students, all studying the same content. I simply set up a wiki and populated it with a set of learning activities. I then replicated the wiki 13 times more and let it loose. The result was that the students were each contained in their own little groups, studying the same materials but enjoying small group conversations that were unique and relevant to their own cohort. It didn't take long to do once the first wiki had been established, and in a sense, I re-used the same content over a dozen times. It should only be a small step from there to reusing other people's content. But it's actually a huge step, because many teachers want to protect their own intellectual property and are not willing to share their ideas or content with others. The Creative Commons movement is going some way to challenging this mindset, and we are also seeing the rise of open scholarship, where teachers and academics are willing not only share their content, but also to open themselves up to constructive criticism from their peers on the web. I share all my slideshows and papers on Slideshare for free, and only ask for acknowledgement. (Go on, click on the link and help yourself. You know you want to).

After witnessing the collective actions and sharing culture that exist among the poor people of the Gambia and realising that they are compelled to take this approach simply to survive, I am even more determined to share my own content and encourage others to do the same. Seeing how the people of Gambia use everything and throw nothing away makes me very conscious about our own wasteful consumer society and how selfish I can be with my own 'property'. Reusable learning objects....It makes a lot of sense to me now.

Click here for more pictures of Gambia.

Creative Commons Licence
Reusable cooking objects by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


CJ said…
Hi Steve
I am enjoying your posts about your visit to the Gambia.
I wonder what your thoughts are on WikiEducator
as a way to share and reuse/recycle educational resources.
Less is More said…
With the help of elearning courses, one can attain and establish financial freedom within his/her grasp.
Simon Ensor said…
This article is a slowburner, a  tasty casserole of a piece.  I read it and then it stayed on a shelf In my mind with a 'may come in useful' tag on it. 

Well yesterday I went to the local market to buy some sausages and some strange shaped tomatoes. You can't find these tomatoes in a supermarket, and even if you could it would be missing the point...

 There was an old lady taking her time chatting with the green grocer. 'i won't be there next week', she said, 'i'll see you in two weeks then', came the reply.

Well so what? 

It takes time to get great food, to find a supplier you can trust.  The   Quality of life deal depends on building up sustainable relationships.

Well, this brings me to my aunt, who used to ride a bicycle to buy her vegetables. Often she would come home and say, 'Just met an old pupil of mine.'  She was always delighted to do so.  

Yes, so?

Well, how long do we spend building relationships with learners only for them to disappear into to the ether, never to be seen again.  This is where social networking tools come in.  I am always delighted to be able to introduce learners so that they can help each other.

I feel deeply that underlying the recycled metal and the shining saucepans in this articles lies another message.

What is essential, is not the sustainability, recyclability of the content but the sustainability of the real  personal relationships which make up a market grounded in ethical community.  

Watching children die of malnutrition in Africa on the TV news last night, I wondered at the recycled reels of footage of human waste and thought about the hidden costs of our global hypermarket comfort. How sustainable is it?

These kids could have been our pupils...

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