Revisting the 5Cs to discover value for different times

Bring Your Own Device 4 Learning

I have had an immense feeling of warmth and solidarity this evening as good thoughts and memories have been triggered by Sheila’s post on How Sheila Sees It ‘Bring your own device for learning or bringing learning to your device?’

Bring Your Own Device 4 Learning was a ground breaking experience (more than a course/not even a course). Structured around the 5Cs over 5 days, incorporating tweet chats and eventually leading to the LTHEchat, it was a remarkable experience – truely ecological, in that everyone who took part, whatever their role, found their own level/value/outcomes. Just as learning should be.

So please read Sheila’s post for a little more on the background and to see her proposition that there could be a place for it in helping us to respond to these difficult times.

Yes, somehow that does make sense. As Sheila says, not as BYOD4L, but BYOD2L – bringing learning to your device. Reaching out, and connecting wherever and however you are.

This idea of ‘wherever and however’ has been central to my own responsibilities and response to the pandemic. Working at Anglia Ruskin University with our commitment to active and inclusive learning, we squared up to the pandemic recommitting to our principles for active and inclusive learning when it might have been simpler to retrench pedagogically. Consequently we continue to advocate, develop and explore Unified Active Learning – a people-centred principle-based philosophy that encapsulates technical responses such as blended, hybrid and HyFlex. I learnt much from my own experience of BYOD4L that informs my thinking around UAL now.

So yes, let us explore together BYOD2L and share what we have learnt and applied from the 5Cs of connecting, communicating, curating, collaborating and creating.

Rediscovering the 5Cs

I know I have examples of pedagogies that reflect each C, and the technical connected space students and teachers have constructed to establish a rich and rewarding experience in trying and unpredictable times. I would love to share and play with the approaches and attitudes we have each drawn upon.

Thanks Sheila!

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Bring your own device for learning or bringing learning to your device? – howsheilaseesIT

Bring your own device for learning or bringing learning to your device? – howsheilaseesIT
— Read on

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Structure and memory-mapping in #activelearning

Photo by Alice Butenko on Unsplash

The idiom ‘from pillar to post’ both indicates the role of structure in a journey and, at the same time, cautions that substance, purpose and clarity are necessary to a fruitful experience. In the previous post, I discussed divergence and convergence as ideas that can help the academic to create regular patterns in curriculum design. The strength of pattern is that it suggests substance: a repeating pattern offers the predictability that the viewer needs. It allows them to become part of the creative experience by colouring within the pattern’s outlines. To do this, they use their prior knowledge, experience, or imagination. The viewer becomes colourist. When multiple colourists bring their aesthetics to the task, we create a discourse through collaboration.

In learning design, the patterns and shapes are different, but still the academic plays with ideas like ‘less is more’; leaving space for the learner to bring themselves to the task. The academic avoids filling in the space knowing that it would be futile to make all the aesthetic decisions for each and every student. Leaving space becomes is an inclusive learning strategy; one that accommodates their students’ diverse perspectives.

The art of teaching to an active learning philosophy, it seems to me, is about understanding how to create loosely structured learning maps so that each student can bring their aesthetic to it. Our challenge is to create a just enough structure so that our students can fluently navigate their topic or course, without them getting lost along the way; or rather, without them getting irretrievably separated from core narrative and its intended outcomes. This points to another topic: the value of deviance and self-determination.

Map reading

I incorporate maps in my use of twalks and learning walks. In twalks, where participants are not co-located geographically, the idea of map is incongruous yet even more important than situations in which participants are co-located. But how can you use a common map if you are not co-located? While the twalk map depicts common landmark types (i.e. library, lawn, staircase, etc), so that the activities can make reference to the meanings of such places, they can’t do much more than that. For example, the value in a twalk often comes from observing the difference between ‘my library’ and ‘your library’; in that way we discover ‘library-ness’.

Memory maps – learning as cartography

Your aim as a student on completing a twalk, a walk, or any other active learning event, is essentially to create a memory map.

You are given stimuli, challenges, questions, and discussions and these become structures your metaphorical map. Each of these constructions has some solidity and acts as a point of reference.

Your learning comes from your response to the stimulus, how you address the challenge, your response (right, wrong or different) to the questions, and what you gather from and contribute to the discussions. Your contribution, as a learning participant, is to distil your memories and to add colour, substance and annotations to your own memory map. That is active learning.

Photo by SEASHELL IN LOVE – Kristin on Unsplash

This points us to the relationship between active and reflective learning and the value of portfolios for learning: collections of personalised memory maps, carefully stored, curated, and ready to be reviewed by the learner later to inform subsequent explorations.

Co-creating memories

This idea of memory mapping is congruent with the social construction of knowledge. Learning alone can be soulless and dispiriting. In my experience, learning is lifted by comparing what you think to what others think. This can be competitive, but mostly the value is in co-operation and the appreciation of other, different or complementary ideas, and especially the growth of ideas and knowledge that comes from thinking together. In social situations, your experience, alongside the experience of your collaborators, is to create a rich picture from the bare bones scaffold of the landmark activities given you by your teacher, leader, or the situation itself.

Objects, pictures and interpretation

I have worked with colleagues over the years who have been captured by the idea objects as a tangible focus for learning through conversation and contemplation.

For example, Beatriz Acevedo and myself interviewed Alison Greig for our Exquisite Corpse podcast. In the discussion, Alison shares how she engaged her students in learning about systems and sustainability. With participants all over the world, Alison engaged them in discussing ideas by using self-selected geographical landmarks. With minimal framing, they used these as the basis for understanding complex concepts: from a canal in Manchester to a fish market in Hong Kong. In the following recording, Alison presents some useful insights from this experience.

Exquisite Corpse podcast

Alison’s use of self-selected objects in the landscape is a good example of how objects lend themselves to personalised and interpretive discussion. Such analytical devices elicit conversational learning, creating a fluid and immersive experience where the learner has a high degree of agency over their learning. At the same time, the collective contrivance of the object in the landscape, in this case, connects the thinking, and learning, of all those who take part.

In conclusion: daring to provide no more than just enough

Whether it is outlined patterns or objects, the active learning teacher scaffolds learning by creating a learning environment composed of just enough direction to send students on their way with purpose and clarity. Providing clarity and removing clutter go hand-in-hand when the learner is intent on creating their own substance from a process of mapping memories.

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Playing with divergence and convergence: designing #ActiveLearning

Playing with divergence and convergence – designing #activelearning

Active learning is a process of opening up and closing down possibilities.

Whether you look at course, module, session or activity design, knowing that your role as an academic is to play with divergence and convergence can be really helpful. As a teacher, you are a designer and an orchestrator of learning experience.


Divergence is about opening possibilities and creating choices (Brown, 2008).

Knowledge is usually hard won, interpreted, and not a matter of certainty in higher education. Ambiguity can be an important characteristic in many disciplines where students learn immersively, taking deep dives to explore ideas and produce new knowledge. Learning requires an open and creative attitude to navigate and negotiate complexity, even when theoretical knowledge is well-established. Exploration, play, brainstorming, problem-solving, experimentation, enquiry are all examples of generative approaches to developing knowledge and they often begin by expanding and making ideas and problems more complex.

Martin (2009) proposes the value of ‘integrative thinkers’: those who can take a broad view of a situation even where this breadth increases complexity when considering problems. Such people are able to consider and evaluate alternative perspectives. They are able to think laterally (de Bono, 1970) and can address detail while keeping the entire problem in mind. Such people are able to think creatively and critically.

Looking at de Bono’s description of brainstorming, it is useful to note that divergence does not by any means equate with a chaotic free-for-all. Sessions are intentional, structured and involve provocative stimuli framed by cross stimulation, suspended judgement, and the formality of the setting. As an approach within active learning, divergent lateral thinking activities make sense. Indeed, “The more formal the setting the more chance there is of informality in ideas within it.” (de Bono, 1970)

However, this opening up, or divergence, can be challenging for many students if their expectation is that they should be told what they are ‘meant’ to know. But there is no challenge in that, and therefore little meaning. Further, knowledge beyond the classroom does not work like that and so generating divergent complexity is as much a strategy for developing self-efficacy as it is for developing knowledge – we learn we are capable of devising thinking strategies. A student learns to see their own capabilities differently as they engage with learning strategies that develop their confidence, resilience and agility.

On the other hand, didactic methods are generally disingenuous to the student – they reflect the ‘spoon feeding’ tendencies of training methods. Instrumental teaching strategies simply give the students what they think they need and are characterised by little divergence or convergence. Lecturing is often described in this way, but we need to be careful. We all remember inspirational lecturers, so it is not about lecturing per se – a good lecture will be one that inspires curiosity (opening up possibilities) and engages the learner in an exploration of a topic’s dimensions before arriving at some conclusion (a convergence).


In design thinking, convergence is about working towards a single best solution having started with possibilities. From the breadth of opportunity, learning is often a matter of making sense by trying out and testing ideas, usually with others, through analytical thinking or reflection on action.

The learner has agency over their learning: they are ultimately responsible for the construction of their knowledge. Convergence, therefore, refers to the scaffolded and effective processes that teachers deploy to ensure a student learns by selecting and evaluating options, making decisions or commitments, and drawing conclusions.

Spotting patterns

Patterns of divergence and convergence can be discerned in any active learning strategy at course, module, session, and activity levels of design. They can be repeating patterns as in exploration of a pattern of weekly topics through a module or learning cycles. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984), for example, incorporates concrete experience (an open exposure to something), reflective observation (a convergent process of analysing what happened), then abstract conceptualisation (an expansion as the definite experience is generalised), and then active experimentation as generalised knowledge is evaluated and committed (a convergent resolving part of the cycle).

In a webinar I ran recently on divergent and convergent design in active learning, the question of assessment was brought up. It is always interesting for me when assessment comes up. It always feels like we may descend into an impasse. When considered holistically in an active learning paradigm, assessment does have an important (if sometimes distracting) summative purpose; however, assessment should really be considered strategically as a pattern to be designed within the learning experience. Within any assessment pattern there will be elements that appear to have little to do with the summative act but which are, nevertheless, integral to the assessment. This is all to be played with, but elements such as ‘outcome setting’ and ‘challenge’, for example, are orientation dimensions that may be used at the start of a module to open up and develop curiosity. Then ‘brief’, ‘question’, or ‘task’ suggest focus and convergence within the assessment strategy. Good formative feedback is about opening up and generalising the particular so it can be applied to other situations, while the summative task can be used either to test for specific application knowledge (convergence – ‘what is the correct answer?’) or create a divergent learning space (i.e. the major project – ‘tell us what you found out, why and how’). So, the design of active learning assessment strategies provides a good example of how patterns of divergence and convergence and can help the academic designer.

Here’s a list of divergence and convergence ideas:















In conclusion (but only for the moment!)

I was frustrated as an art student. I felt I got little guidance when I needed it. Everything was “open, open, open”. I felt I never arrived. It was dissatisfying – for me. I needed tension, challenge and feedback. But in other situations I have got equally frustrated – HR training courses do my head in! There is no room for contextualisation and interpretation, and quite honestly I don’t retain what I learn on those training courses. I need to be stimulated.

I don’t think I am alone. A well-designed learning experience, I think, is stimulating and has ebbs and flows, loud and quiet movements, complexity and revelation; patterns of activity that are equally inspiring and challenging, and ultimately informing in a way that makes sense to me.


Brown, T. (2008). ‘What does design thinking feel like?’ Ideo Design Thinking [blog], 7th September 2008. Online at:

de Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: a textbook of creativity. London: Penguin Books.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Martin, R. (2009). The opposable mind: how successful leaders win through integrative thinking. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

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Learning Spaces Iceberg

This infographic represents the complexity of learning space discourse and points to the experiential value of the ‘hidden depths’ where the space is least understood because it is least represented and least visible – who are the advocates for the non-formal experience in which the agency and spatial literacy of all stakeholders is vital?

The iceberg metaphor suggests space is ‘off the radar’ for so many people. We may have a surface engagement with what we perceive, but mostly learning space is not as hospitable as we need, often being cold and alienating and frequently slippery.

We keep our distance from this ambiguous landmass, knowing that it is potentially complex, out of our control, and fraught with dangers – whatever our role.

We understand that we are knowledgeable, experienced, equipped and resourceful to different extents.

At the heart of these dilemmas are the common ontological matters that connect all of us with an interest in education. Space should not be problematic, we know we all want to be part of something and fully engaged in spaces that help us to thrive, together. To thrive we need to understand and develop our spatial literacies.

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Being part of something – having a sense of presence #activelearning

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on

The idea of ‘being’ is about presence and is central to an active learning philosophy. It reflects two things: personal identity and social presence in the learning environment. Lehman and Conceicao (2010) describe this as ‘being there’ and ‘being together’. Both relate to embodiment and the ‘ways of being’ that are projected by individuals and those with whom they associate: who we are, how we come to present ourselves, and how we are received. Fostering presence by paying attention to ‘being’ potentially counteracts “transactional distance” and feelings of separation and even isolation (Moore, 1993). Teacher presence, on the other hand, encourages co-operation, community cohesion, and public discourse (Zilka et al., 2018).

Sung and Mayer (2012) explain that presence refers to the extent that personal connection with others is felt, i.e. being noticed; sharing; interaction; identity.

As such, being and presence connect with both enactment and belonging (association). These ideas also relate to becoming and social connection making.

Being, therefore, is really about being part of something. This is different to having a sense of belonging which describes an affective state; that sense is an emotional response to whether we feel part of something. Being is more active, conscious, intentional and agentic, as in ‘being in the moment’, ‘being there together’, assuming and developing an identity, and experiencing identity as it is mirrored in acts that respond to or affect others. This understanding leads to the teacher considering the nature of interaction and the role of intellectual, emotional and intrinsic feedback; the latter being the feedback that is integral to the learning activity and environment. Teacher presence, thereby, encourages a climate of co-operation, community cohesion, and public discourse.

Being, as embodiment, is about experiencing and curating identity and so is related to learning as reflection; especially reflection in learning – that heightened sense of self-awareness, or self-feedback, which can be equally fragile or exhilarating.

Being, therefore, has great value to learning design. It becomes a useful lens for the academic who, in a student-centred paradigm, can monitor engagement in learning by evaluating the nature of an individual’s active presence: what evidence is there that the learner has bought into the activity or the course as a whole? For example, to what extent has the learner adopted the disciplinary attitudes, tools and language? How do they wear (sometimes literally) their emerging identity? How does the learner position themselves culturally – as an insider, or outsider?

On the learning space walks I organise from time to time I like to look in on labs: what do the white coats mean? What do the lab books mean? What do the half-erased marks on whiteboards mean? What does the smell of the lab mean? What do the burn marks in the work surface mean? What does the apparatus mean? We start to see that our experience of a space is situated within, not only a disciplinary knowledge and tradition, but a culture through enacted behaviours and common beliefs. Our being is part of that story. For me, as a former art student (painting and printmaking urban artefacts as symbols of our own experience) the paint on the studio floor, the smell of turps, and the miscellaneous noticeboards and debris of endeavour were as significant as anything I may have been ‘taught’.

I suggest fostering being as a dimension of learning should be the concern of every academic involved in designing learning activities and creating their learning environment. Developing a supportive communal learning environment that is attentive to student needs will improve the learning and teaching experience and its outcomes (Chickering & Gamson, 2000).

Authenticity is a key word in achieving this. I often use the idea of authenticity to refer to activities that reflect a real world context (e.g. Herrington & Herrington, 2006), however, here I use authenticity to refer to the viability of the learning environment itself as one in which learning activities, teachers and students are in tune: the situation they create exudes commitment and their actions are understood by all as an expression of being and communal presence. The learning environment is not primarily perceived to be an abstracted or ‘pure’ academic construct.

Being, presence and hybridity

Being and presence are particularly recognisable in spaces such as studios, labs, field trips, workshops, editing suites, maker spaces, and those non-formal learning spaces to which learners and teachers gravitate between times (e.g. stair wells, cafes, lawns, social media, perching seats, and water fountains, are a few of the many examples). Such spaces accommodate a high degree of personal agency within a social context while also adding value to the adjacent or the associated formal learning spaces. Together these spaces create a spatial ecosystem, and may reflect an urban metabolism (an idea I am exploring for a future post).

But what about the online digital domain that, on the face of it, appears sterile and ‘other’? How do we penetrate its veneer to reveal “the signs of distress, embarrassment, difficulties with the material being taught” (Zilka et al., 2018) or, more positively, to explore it as affinity space (Gee, 2005) or a space of learning friendship (Middleton, 2018), characteristic of social learning?

Well, if you’ve stumbled across my blog, I know you know that the online domain is equally a place of being. If nothing else, our reading or engagement with what we find gives the domain its life. Online media are intrinsically stimulating – we react to them, even if it is to leave them as quickly as we found them. But as with any learning environment, the online learning spaces we use have their functionality and inviting affordances (Withagen et al., 2017). And by the way, that is no different to any other space: space becomes place once it is experienced (space + meaning).

A hybrid, blended and unifying space

Like any other educational developer in higher education, my challenge since March 2020 has been to understand, make recommendations for, and develop practices and infrastructure for supporting learning across the physical-digital domain. How simple it is to say that!

All of a sudden our academics have discovered that they cannot ignore the significance of space and its relation to either teaching or learning. For example, our students freak out our academics when they turn off their cameras and microphones, becoming invisible (the assumptions about that invisibility can be explored in another post)! So many things we may have taken for granted have melted into air to reveal real insight! C’est ne pas une pipe!

Without exploring the detail of the Unified Active Learning model we have developed to understand the possibilities for engaging all of our students (however they access their learning), there are questions we need to ask: how can the academic designer create hybrid spaces in which a sense of being and a heightened sense of presence have a role? How do we epitomise that notion of authenticity in the ecosystem of personal environments that are experienced each time we meet our students, even when they are co-located temporally but not spatially? Or when they meet each other? How do we manage our own voices and encourage the voices of our students to populate the environments we create together? How do we foster learning cultures and identities in the connected space? Beyond enactment, how do we promote being and presence to ensure becoming and social connectivity follow? What are our ‘lab coats’ and unifying signifiers (Norman, 2013) in this hybrid space?

These are the sorts of questions the academic, as designer and orchestrator, needs to be answering for themselves. Zilka et al. (2018) observe that physical separation between teacher and learners in the blended space may lead to transactional distance. That is the challenge. That distance needs to be reduced by developing teacher presence and social presence. They make the following recommendations from their research,

It is preferable to create a learning environment that supports the learners
and is attentive to their needs and to the creation of an active learning community. It has been found that these factors greatly influence the process and the quality of learning in the course.



Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (2000). Development and adaptations of the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. In: M. D. Svinicki (ed.), “Teaching and learning on the edge of the millennium: Building on what we have learned”, pp. 75-81, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gee, J. P. (2005). ‘Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces’. In: David Barton & Karin Tusting, eds, “Beyond communities of practice: language power and social context.” New York: Cambridge University Press.

Herrington, A. & Herriington, J. (2006). What is an authentic learning environment? In Authentic Learning Environments in Higher Education, edited A. Herrington and J. Herrington, pp. 1-14, Information Science Publishing. Online at:

Lehman, R. M. & Conceicao, S. C. O. (2010). Creating a sense of presence in online teaching: How to ‘be there’ for distance learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Metabolism of Cities website:

Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining spaces for learning in higher education. Palgrave Learning & Teaching.

Moore, M. G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In: D. Keegan (ed.), “Theoretical principles of distance education”, pp. 22-38. London, New York: Routledge.

Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. New York: Basic Books.

Sung, E. & Mayer, R.E. (2012). Five facets of social presence in online distance education. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(5), pp. 1738-47.

Withagen, R., Araujo, D., & de Poel, H. J. (2017). Inviting affordances and agency. New Ideas in Psychology, 45, April 2017, pp. 11-18.

Zilka, G. C., Cohen, R.,& Rahimi, I. D. (2018). Teacher presence and social presence in virtual and blended courses.. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 17. Online at:

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Non-human actors and experience

Photo by Benjamin Thomas on Unsplash

I have touched on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) in a previous post and the challenging idea that many actors are non-human – they are therefore actors without the potential to intentionally affect change. Objects, ideas, and processes have a role and may be share the stage with sentient beings, so to speak, but to what extent can they interact? In that earlier post, I was trying to work out the extent to which studio could be considered as more than an inanimate setting with no meaning and influence over the human actor(s).

One way of putting this, picking up on the comment from Ed Mayo to an earlier post, is what power does it exert? Or I could ask, does the studio have agency?

Power, agency, and influence are present at the very least as latent values: dimensions of a cultural landscape. My use of the word latent, rather than implicit, suggests a hidden influence or one that is waiting or ready to be enacted. For example, the presence of a technology in a given setting (e.g. a studio) speaks loudly – Why is it there? How did it get there? What is its usual function? How else might it be used? What does it amplify about identity? etc. It is not only on the stage but part of the conceit and of the plot that might unfold. If, in this example, it is ‘my’ studio, what does it mean to me?


I dug out my block printing press over the summer and bought some news tools and materials. Now I am back at work, too busy to engage in the process of printmaking again, they haunt me. Really, I must put them away for a while.

Objects, ideas, processes and other non-human devices are indisputably part of the context and they have a role to play. Intention, on the other hand, maybe viewed as no more than a distinguishing characteristic of the human actor in the same way that non-human actors have their distinguishing characteristics.

This, of course, raises the question of whether ANT has any value to understanding spaces for learning in which the primary interest of the educator is the human act or experience of learning. As I noted, ANT seems to depersonalise the idea of learning space in which nothing is anterior (Fenwick & Edwards, 2010), distancing us from the ontological position of seeing learning as an outcome of doing, being, becoming, belonging and connecting. However, it is a socio-material construct and, for me, usefully makes us think about the significance of context on learning and specifically the idea of embodiment – how the environment as a whole speaks to us.

The actual environment, the tools we use, the things we and others make, the things we find, stumble across and take notice of are all very important influences upon us as professionals and learners but, as actants, in a learning ecosystem, such objects and artefacts have a sub-ordinate role because they do not have intention. 


Fenwick, T. & Edwards, R. (2010). Actor-Network Theory and education. London: Routledge.

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The problem with communities… a consideration of alternatives

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Why do I explore ideas like being, belonging and becoming in relation to networks, but I hardly talk about communities any more? In this post I will look at why networks and affinity spaces more than communities have come to dominate my thinking. My professional context is as educational developer and innovator – that means I think about staff development and the spaces we devise for learning in equal measure. However, my outlook is shaped more by my own history of being a musician in bands and an artist in studios – these settings have attuned me to the significance of creating co-operative spaces for creativity. Learning is the ultimate, unifying act of creativity – we all continually experience, struggle, resolve and learn independently in a social context.

The concept of Communities of Practice (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002; Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998) sits within this learning ecosystem. A community of practice (CoP) is a,

“learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular domain. They use each other’s experience of practice as a learning resource”

Wenger, Trayner, & de Laat, 2011, p.9

Wenger (2004) explains that a CoP is composed of :

  • Domain – topic of common interest
  • Community – the group for whom the topic is relevant and who interact with the purpose of learning
  • Practice – “the body of knowledge, methods, tools, stories, cases, documents, which members share and develop together”

I agree with J.P. Gee (2005, p. 215) that “the key problem with notions like ‘community of practice’, and related ones like ‘communities of learners’, is that they make it look like we are attempting to label a group of people.” He argues that there may be various ways of describing a group as a community but people within the group, or beyond the group may not perceive or experience that grouping as a community. Even where they do, the reasons for, and the levels of, commitment may vary to such an extent to make the intended description of the group meaningless. Further, the dimension of change over time makes the labelling of a group in this way problematic. How is a community of practice delimited, and who decides?

A CoP, then, is a convenient way of organising and communicating how a group has/can coalesce around a topic and engage with it for mutual benefit. Knowing that you are part of something and having a shared understanding and commitment to that something is important. For a band (and I have been in many!), making an initial commitment to some creative endeavour needs to be simple, clear, bold and well-framed because you are forever basing your artistic decisions on one of the few solid things that you have. It’s why manifestos and ‘frameworks’ and principles are important in my world – everyone can sign up to these things or not. They create tangible roadmaps. But the trouble is such things do need to be refreshed and renegotiated – especially when you come to the ‘difficult second album’!

My own reservations about the term CoP are to do with its inadequacy in representing fluid learning networks; a concept which I believe reflects learning through online social networks and which is potentially of great use in understanding blended learning and hybrid learning, as well as the spatial design needed to support fluid learning. Savin-Baden (2015) calls this ‘liquid learning’.

Hence, we would like CoPs to be solid and well-defined, but experience tells us creative bonds are pragmatic, never solid and always fluid.

Affinity spaces

“many young people today have lots of experience with affinity spaces and, thus, have the opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences with these to their experiences in classrooms”

Gee, 2005, p. 223

Affinity spaces are places of,

  • common interests, endeavours, goals or practices
  • sharing of common space
  • portals or ways of engagement
  • internal grammar (practices) shaped by external grammar (evidenced notions of accepted practice)
  • intensive and extensive knowledge
  • individual and distributed knowledge

Gee’s ideas extend CoPs usefully. For example, the idea of a space that is shared recognises the dynamic nature of mutuality. I still worry about that idea of common goals – or rather, how it may be read. In my band analogy, that idea of goal is, in reality, tenuous and pragmatic. Only this morning I have been discussing aesthetic decisions with band members and can see how, after all these years, we still have to sensitively negotiate around some very deeply held values. In fact, the more experienced you get, the clearer and more entrenched you get potentially. Negotiation requires a creative maturity – more than ‘thick skin’, it is an ability to stand outside of and observe what you are doing.And to be generous in doing that. Aspirations and senses of becoming are very subjective and emotional. As learning advocate, the teacher’s role is to ensure a learner’s goals have space to develop, grow and form in relation to the student’s own changing world view and to help facilitate the social space so that it works well for the individuals who become associates in joint enterprise.

Hodkinson (2004) proposes that CoP theory needs to be extended by, integrating individual learners into social theorising about learning, considering and accommodating what we know the impact of power differentials in relation to access to learning, and going beyond the binary of formal and informal conceptions of learning.

Good learning is an outcome of common experience, one in which mutuality and shared repertoires frame our creativity. Ultimately, such a space is dynamic and fleeting in nature. As teachers, our attention may be on ‘the now’ and how we establish the construct of a communal endeavour. However, the bigger lifewide, and lifelong interest is better served by recognising the need for the individual learner to develop themselves in terms of ‘owning’ their knowledge and identity, valuing their social capital, enjoying their cultural identity, and curating their resilience.

A networked learning paradigm and appreciation of constellations, affinity spaces, distributed cognition, and assemblage theory (Delanda, 2016) catch my eye more than the CoP construct.


Gee, J.P. (2005). Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces: From the age of mythology to today’s schools. In: Barton, D., & Tusting, K. “Beyond communities of practice (Learning in doing : social, cognitive, and computational perspectives).” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Delanda, M. (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Hodkinson, H. (2004). A constructive critique of communities of practice: Moving beyond Lave and Wenger. OVAL research working paper, 04-02. [Sydney]: OVAL Research. (

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. London: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.2307/2804509

Savin-Baden, M. (2015). Rethinking learning in an age of digital fluency: Is being digitally tethered a new learning nexus? London & New York: Routledge.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., R. McDermott and W. M. Snyder (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., & de Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: A conceptual framework. Heerlen, The Netherlands: Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.

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Feedback: where learning begins #activelearning

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While the title of this post is intentionally contentious, it allows me to reflect on one or two recent discussions and reinforce some key ideas about active learning design, especially in the context of ‘unified’ active learning (UAL): how it is recorded and how activity inputs and outputs are key to identifying knowledge moments, producing feedback and giving focus for learner reflection.

Unified Active Learning is central to our teaching and learning response at Anglia Ruskin University as we approach Trimester 1 this year. It encapsulates our extant strategy for active, inclusive and collaborative learning and emphasises the value and opportunities our thinking allows for engaging all of our students as one, however they have chosen to access learning on their course. As I review lecture-based strategies on Twitter in which academics elsewhere bravely state the extra effort they are making to find new ways to lecture, I remain convinced that a response based on the learner’s deep engagement with knowledge, rather than its delivery, is the right approach. ‘Content’ has its place, but what does it look like and how does it integrate with learning?

Feedback has an important part in this paradigm. To be brief, feedback’s role in active learning should be mostly forward-looking and, if understood as ‘the end of something’ – the final full stop following summative assessment – then its possibilities and value have been lost.

This week, I have been responding to the question of how we support late-comers and students who fall ill. Inevitably lecture capture surfaces as a response. Leaving the irony of that to one side, it is useful to ask “Well, what do we capture from our teaching then?” What can we put in front of those students who need to catch up?

This reminds me of non-Covid era questions that arise around active learning like, “Where’s the content our students need to revise?” “What is solid/static enough to call content?”, “Is content, or context king/queen?” etc. These questions are riddled with assumptions that knowledge is static and packageable, rather than an outcome of learning within the context of student-centred learning ecologies.

It is not only late-comers and students who fall ill that we should think about, but all students who in the course of their learning need to have ways of revisiting key ideas and critically reviewing what they have learnt.

Without going further into detail, the answer to such dilemmas lies in understanding active learning as a matter of,

  1. Inputs and stimuli
  2. Activity and exploration
  3. Outputs, objectives and outcomes

The iterative idea of learning presented in these three phases reflects and simplifies other familiar ideas of learning cycles. It also reflects ideas such as flipped learning, especially when the aim of activity is understood to be generative – a matter of producing representations of knowledge that have real purpose – again, part of something and not the end of something.

1. Feedback as stimulus

Feedback is a personalised asset which should be revisited to provide a personal context for future learning activity and practice.

2. Feedback as self and peer assessment in learning

Feedback is a dimension of the negotiation and navigation that characterises exploratory activity. The learner can record and annotate their deliberations (e.g. sketchbooks, lab books, notebooks, sketchnoting, audio notemaking, etc).

3. Feedback as reflection on learning

The third phase of the active learning schema above considers what we are left holding after the activity is over, and the need to curate this. For example, portfolio-based learning and assessments ask the learner to evaluate their learning, not as a backwards-looking closing-down process, but as a metacognitive learning activity. It’s about making sense of activities that can be frenetic and confusing when they are happening. By representing their experience of exploring a topic, the learners process their experience by asking: What have I done? How well did I do? What do I draw from this? What do I need to do next? This process of active reflection can take many forms for the individual or the group, making presentations and producing reports being other assessment strategies that garner feedback as part of reflection on learning.

4. Feedback on assessment

Feedback on assessment is what we mostly discuss and understand feedback to be. As the extensive literature confirms, there are many ways to approach and think about this, but perhaps one key idea in the context of this post is understanding of ideas about feedforward – how, with careful course-focused design and learner development, feedback can motivate, challenge and clarify the student’s understanding of a topic but also, and critically, their understanding of how they learn.

Reflective learning – how one thing leads to another

The second conversation this week in which I turned to this three-phase model of inputs, exploration, and outputs, was looking at the new Reflective Learning project we are running this year. While a key theme in the Course Enhancement Intensive programme we have just run across the University, we will be developing and evaluating best practice in this area. Reflection here, and the idea of self-assessment and self-feedback, is captured in the idea of ‘becoming’ and the need for each and every learner to define and moderate their aspirations and directions. Fittingly, this project is an outcome of the employability in practice project I have been leading for the last two years – one thing leads to another!

Feedback, when understood as an evaluation of activity and as a stimulus to further learning, helps us consider what we should record, how we should use note-making, and how we should understand reflective learning as being about generative learning activities: the beginning of further and deeper learning.

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Networked authorship as a site of learning

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The co-creation of knowledge is, I think, represented in the idea of networked authorship. It’s a term that works very well for me, though it is not widely used as far as I can tell.

It was Matt Johnston at Coventry University who asked me if I was familiar with the idea a few years ago. I had been talking to him about his Box of Books method for a case study I produced in my book Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education.
Matt talks about this project in an article he wrote for Hybrid Pedagogy. He discusses the book-based generative events he facilitated in over 30 cities globally and says, “From the outset of the Photobook Club, it was clear to me that in order to promote truly open and community-driven discourse and expression, my own authorial role would need to be either reduced or distributed.” Matt’s position is not one of feigning modesty for effect, but a matter of pedagogic realisation and principle.

Both the idea of book as passive artefact and the role of teacher as instructor are disrupted in the idea of networked authorship. The book, in the social context of the book club becomes a medium for interrogation and exchange. Like the comments on a blog, it is the thinking and conversation that it facilitates, socially and individually, that is important. In this case, the teacher’s role is minimal and certainly not dominant. For Matt, he had the idea of the book as a stimulus; one that could connect thinking amongst club members and, through the international postal system, a notebook of comments that travelled with the books, and Facebook Groups, he facilitated a slow discourse as the book box travelled the world. Because the selected books in the box were about the work of luminary photographers, conversation focused on exploring interpretations of image and this allowed conversations to be more open to possibilities. Ideas of ‘ownership’ over conversation and the knowledge it can generate become more feasible. I am not sure how well a dense academic text might work in this situation without access to greater teacher facilitation.

This points to the idea of co-ownership or distributed ownership; an idea that is risky but full of potential pedagogically. The analogue nature of the book box is important for me because it demonstrates that the significance of ‘network’ is not that it is digital, but that it is primarily facilitated through human interaction and exchange around common interests.

“The distribution of authorship encourages responsibility and a more genuine sort of meritocracy, but it also allows projects to be shifted and shaped in ways in which the original author could never have foreseen. My project became something much bigger than it had first set out to be. As a practical note, however, this networked authorship can morph into undesired areas and quickly become cumbersome, thus I found it helpful to create a short, and purposefully broad, project statement to refer back to on regular occasions in order to ground the work.”

Incorporating collaborative writing as a form of networked authorship

Recently I ran a workshop which involved collaborative writing. We needed to bring together a wide range of ideas into a structured form. This required negotiation of the knowledge exposed during several activities – moving from divergence and generation towards a convergence and synthesis of thinking. So, as I have done many times since the emergence of Writely in 2005 (before it became Google Docs), I set up a series of pages for the group to write up key ideas using my C is for Course-focused Practice framework.

In short, it worked really well, but it surprised me that only one or two people in this group of educators had come across the idea of collaborative writing. They did not immediately grasp the pedagogic value of writing as a largely negotiated process. Some people put their names at the top of ‘their’ page and this struck me as odd. It was only then that I realised ideas about collaborative writing and co-ownership were unfamiliar to them. Collaborative writing is an archetypal form of active learning, being social and person-centred, where the learning value comes from the flow of detailed negotiation as ideas are considered and joint commitments to ideas and the way they are communicated are made.

In this workshop, all this was apt given that our focus has been developing ideas around co-operative pedagogy, considering co-poduction, co-creation and connective learning. Only the day before we had spent some time considering learning and teaching ecologies while reflecting on the use of a learning walk as a space for learning. In both cases the opportunity, and challenge, comes from recognising ways in which we can accommodate and value diverse thinking.

But networked authorship is about much more than the idea of collaborative writing using a tool like Google Docs or Microsoft Word 365. It is more than being democratic or being a team – it is about generating ideas as an emergent collective mind in ways that reveal insight that could not be discovered by an individual. Networked authorship is about generating knowledge from contributions so that the knowledge is novel and greater than the sum of its parts. This perfectly reflects assemblage theory (DeLanda, 2016) and aligns to the principles of co-production.

Matt says, “I have consistently encouraged autonomy and self-governance throughout the Photobook Club.” This idea of authorship relating to assuming authority is, I think, where our interest lies. It is about empowerment – not empowerment given, but empowerment discovered. It is about learning as self-determination within a social context.

The idea also reflects distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995) – the idea that knowledge resides across a network and can be accessed to (in)form new knowledge. The ‘teacher’s role is also redefined in networked authorship because it is centred on an idea of knowledge that cannot reside with a single person – that is the point. Knowledge is found to be a dynamic concept. As Matt says, “each community ultimately shapes how this space is seen and used.” Knowledge is a unique outcome of communal consideration, not of individuals within a community. Again, this epitomises assemblage theory (DeLanda, 2016).

Callahan (2013) discusses distributed authorship as a feminist scholarship “…that touts openness and accessibility through the tools of digital technology while simultaneously featuring an ever-growing concentration of wealth and control over resources.” It is fraught with difficulties.

Networked authorship threatens academia which, despite its appreciation of collaboration and team work, struggles with assessing and accrediting co-authored work in which the output is greater than the sum of its parts. If, for example, we see pedagogic value in networked authorship, can we conceived of a form of networked assessment? In a successful networked creation, the author is impossible to identify. Further, in networked endeavours it is the originality that comes from a collective voice that is valued. This is much more fitting for the times in which we live where sole authors and lone geniuses are increasingly anachronistic. Rather than denying this or passively resigning ourselves to this different paradigm, how can we reify the collective thought  in higher education?

Biggs (2020) points us towards ideas of diffused authorship and Latour’s concept of Actor Network Theory (2005). He notes the close relationship between agency and authorship. However, while ANT acknowledges and is interested in the role of non-human actants, it is not where my interest lies. For me, networked authorship is intriguing because it more closely reflects a non-hierarchical world of navigation and negotiation for the common good. In this way it is a fitting area for pedagogic innovation and one that seems to have greater authentic value than the legacy pedagogies and systems we have inherited. Technologies are certainly part of this, and increasingly so, but I think the greater and more immediate challenge is for us as academics to reconceptualise our practices to incorporate learning as a process of connected authorship.


Biggs, S. (2010). Authorship and agency in networked environments. Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice (ELMCIP). Online at

Callahan, V. (2013). Toward networked feminist scholarship: Mindful media, participatory learning, and distributed authorship in the digital economy. Cinema Journal, Fall 2013, 53(1), pp.156-163.

Delanda, M., (2016). Assemblage theory. Edinburgh University Press.

Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. MIT Press.

Latour, B (2005). Reassembling the social: an introduction to Actor Network Theory.
Oxford University Press.

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