Podcast: Professor Keith Smyth’s Inaugural Lecture; ‘It’s Third Space, Jim, but not as we know it’

This is a podcast and record of Professor Keith Smyth’s Inaugural Lecture; ‘It’s Third Space, Jim, but not as we know it’.  As I pull away in the train from Inverness, I leave with the thought of ‘pivotal moments’. This is one of the messages which I have taken from Keith Smyth’s inaugural address for his Professorship in the University of the Highlands and Islands. That we should be seeking them out and trying to join them up in our world…

Professor Keith Smyth
Professor Keith Smyth


Much as I am always counting pennies, and weighing up what I can do in terms of opportunity costs, there is very little which could have been a better opportunity than have made the journey to listen to this vocational educator talk about what education and pedagogy mean to him. I am skint, but tonight I am a little richer.


This is a podcast of the Inaugural Lecture of Professor Keith Smyth at the University of the Highlands and Islands: “It’s Third Space, Jim, but not as we know it: universities, community and digital practice”


Keith Smyth talks about the new and innovative ways that the digital can be used to support learning, and how the idea of empowering the learners can be an important space to set up for inventive learning and education. Getting the tools to create and the latitude to be creative can often be a missing element from education.



What strikes me about the lecture was the way that this man has spoken about abstract academic concepts of pedagogy and related them in clear and tangible terms to our lives; to his life. It is a special cask brandy which so many refined thinkers indulge in, to disappear into their own language and leave behind the fertile communities which spawned them – all of us. Language can so often sit as the divide, and it is not uncommon to hear a major objection to academia being the way that knowledge is locked out away from people by using obscure jargon.


In this inaugural address I hear a man – which I have known for a few years now – still diligently working to open up meaning in the words and work which he does. I met Keith through his work trying to engage the Adult Learning Project, and share his skills – and those of Napier University – with a broader community. Then as now, I appreciated him developing the language that people can relate to, and which unlocks doorways into vast communal conversations about meaning and learning.


I had the pleasure of hearing him talk about on pedagogy at various times, and highlighting how it lacked peer reviewed journals or investment in the subject. I cannot think of anyone better to place Pedagogy on the radar as a powerful and important study in and of itself, as well as a way of thinking which is integral to all other things; a sui generis, if you like.


I think it is obvious in his inaugural speech as Professor of Pedagogy, that he is one of the individuals who has developed ‘the eyes to see, and the ears to hear’ – a rare thing for being something apparently so simple. Listening and seeing are precious qualities which we can all acquaint ourselves with through engaging with Keith.


I think his messages are balanced, interesting and impactful. It was particularly delightful knowing that as he spoke about the distributed geography of the University of the Highlands and Islands, he was perceiving the space in which in which we all live rather than just those in the academic space. He was looking at his family – in attendance – and what he has learned from them; the number of ‘pivotal moments’, as he puts it, which weave together in life, a story that holds meaning.


I can see that him scan the encounters he has with the various spaces and individuals. His lecture title spoke of three spaces; It’s Third Space, Jim, but not as we know it: universities, community and digital practice”. He is aware of his roots in the home (the first place), he lives attentively the professional mantel he carries (the second place), and interestingly (unusually), he looks outward towards the community – the world – in the third place…


Star Trek


In an atomized world, the habitual and convenient gaze is inward. It affords us neat ways of representing the world, ones which set aside the messiness of in-finite complexity of outer-space. The habit of mind is to create a bounded system of perception; draw a line around the things you have greatest control over – where you have greatest security – and keep the attentions and energies pointed inwards; banking rather than distributing.


To him the digital merely presents another tool in a set to achieve the aims of education as a public good. The fetishizing of technology is easy to do, and the promises of liberation that have come with the silicon age are not new – they are as old as the printing press. The Massive Open Online Course has daydreamed away from its promise but still holds potential to reach the uncharted on the charts…


The challenge is to look outward toward the horizon, and understand ourselves, the structures we create to live and work in, as things which are a part of a web of mutuality. The challenge is to understand that it is all linked, and that our lives and work are both the ends and the means; the challenge to our ego is to accept that we learn from each other in a synergistic process of acting together.


UHI locations
University of the Highlands and Islands locations

Listening to the way that Keith talks, it is clear to me that he is understanding in new terms the spread of the reach of a unique university in the UK – like a Mycelium. The reach of UHI is one which has capabilities borne out of the unusual terrain it has to cover. A campus which is discontinuous, and ranged over hundreds of square miles, but is – as his colleague put it – a learning laboratory held in the mingling of its peoples.


You will find in his address that he talks about destabilizing the boundaries between the second and the third place – the place of work, and the place the community gathers to live. He talks about a makers culture where artefacts are created through research processes which deal with real life problems in the community; real life needs that are important to people.


To me it is connected thinking he demonstrates where he talks about the problems of one line of teaching not relating to another. Rather than a student leaving one module and putting out of their mind what they have engaged in so that they can enter into another, he introduces the idea of relevance and carrying the knowledge into these new spaces and across boundaries.


I can imagine that his ideas will appreciate – they will gain value and relevance – like anything that is nurtured will. He is a long distance innovator growing and maturing the ideas which are needed in the educational context (which extends far beyond the formal spaces); and most significantly, he is someone who is not separating himself out from each and every person. I perceive him as standing together with people and looking out to the horizon….


Further Reading: