Developing reflective communities in Higher Education: Learnings from the photovoice project Identities in Transition

Image credit: Hammed Kayode Alabi

In this post, Hammed Kayode Alabi reflects on his experience presenting at the Learning and Teaching Conference 2022, on the topic of “Developing reflective communities in Higher Education: Learnings from the photovoice project Identities in Transition”. This post is part of our Learning and Teaching Conference Hot Topic.

In 2020, I left nearly everything back in my home country Nigeria to study at The University of Edinburgh. I had high and big dreams of living in a place like Edinburgh and studying there at the same time. However, I had never thought transitioning would be an issue. After all, we are all global citizens. First, I had to quickly learn to cope with the academic style and criticality of turning in an essay paper. I am someone who learns so much in physical spaces, but those spaces were taken away from me due to the pandemic. So, I had to navigate and find ways to engage.

Likewise, I missed the work that I do in my home country. Back home, I work with children in rural and under-served communities, and help them develop life skills. I speak at a couple of events as well. I suddenly missed those spaces. Those spaces were like drivers. The fact that I feel happy knowing that I have helped someone gives me the confidence to do other things. I could not find spaces advocating for such issues in Edinburgh. The issues were alien to me and I was losing my confidence; my drive for social change.

So, it took a lot of self-reflection and conversation to understand what I was going through, carefully find meaningful ways to transfer some knowledge of social change into the space in Edinburgh, and find ways I could engage with the work that I do back home. I would say that the impact of that work boosted my confidence as I became open to others. I started finding home far away from home. This led me to participate in the identity in transition project funded by the MasterCard Foundation at The University of Edinburgh and the University of British Columbia to understand how African students transition into Global North Institutions.

So, when I had the opportunity to be a participant in the research, and when I read about the themes we were going to be exploring – “Home, Community, Movement, and Transition” – I thought about my journey and how I have not even had the chance to debrief with anyone or share with anyone. I thought this could be an opportunity to create a systemic change and shape policies around transitioning at the University. The method was also unique. I have never used photovoice as a research method. I wanted to see how photos can be an entry point to understand social issues and to understand what is going on on the inside. The process became an opportunity to learn about myself and others.

‘Photovoice’ involves taking photos about an issue and phenomenon and speaking to the photos through a reflective post or blog, and then sharing with others through a focus group discussion. This is how I see it from our project. We had about six meetings, and I loved every one of those meetings. As I shared and heard others connect and speak about their experiences, I felt I was not alone in the process. I felt there was someone who said, “Hammed, I hear your struggle and I feel the same”. I felt a sense of recognition. And, as I continued to attend the meetings, the space became a safe space for me and also a space for critical reflection. A sense of being developed along with a sense of confidence, vulnerability, and comfortability. I could feel that my accent would not be a concern and people could relate to what I felt, even if I have alternative thoughts. They understood my struggle and sometimes this is what international students yearn for: someone to listen and acknowledge their struggles, and the university – the tutors, lecturers, and fellow students – create a space for reflexivity and diversity.

Earlier in 2022, I got an invitation to present at the Learning and Teaching Conference. As a researcher, I created a presentation about how we can build reflective communities in higher education, drawing on lessons from our photovoice project. I started to think about our discussions, and the concept of ‘home’ struck a chord. I critically looked at the concept, and I noticed that ‘home’ is beyond a place. It is a feeling; it is an experience, and it is people who create such experience and feeling. It is the reason why we would always feel attached to a place, to a community, and look forward to always wanting to go there and be there. Home is a place where we can call our own. And for me, this is what the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Programme represents as well as the photovoice project.

This further reflection showed how photovoice is beyond a method and a process; it taps into your feelings and continues to create a space for constant reflection. Moreover, I enjoyed sharing this idea of “Home” at the Learning and Teaching Conference, and I could recall the spark I felt from the questions I got from the participants and the openness in responding to those questions.

One of the questions that I feel deeply connected with, and that I have often asked myself, was, “how do we create a home in The University of Edinburgh or a safe space or a space of recognition?” I responded: that by creating small community groups, trusting and sharing in those groups could create a sense of connectivity and being and we need the university to create such opportunities and spaces. A place and university where we can call our own.

Hammed’s Learning and Teaching Conference presentation is available to view on the Conference website

photograph of the authorHammed Kayode Alabi

Hammed is passionate about education access in underserved communities and for young people with forced migration backgrounds. Growing up in a slum “Makoko-Nigeria”, education became his lifeline, and he has dedicated 13 years to working in the space. He started as a teacher at the age of 15 and later founded a non-profit “KLCI” that has helped 4000+ children in underserved communities in Nigeria develop life and 21st-century skills to researching on education in emergency settings. He also completed his Masters degree in Africa and International Development at The University of Edinburgh through the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, and recently spoke as a UNESCO youth delegate at the Pre-Summit of the Transforming Education Summit at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Follow Hammed on Instagram and Twitter: @iamkayfactor, hashtags: #IdentitiesinTransition.

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