Designing interactivity into large group learning spaces

Professor Simon Lancaster’s article on the effective use of clickers is well worth reading and sharing. First, Simon’s general point is to caution against the general tendency to adopt novel technologies in order to tempt academics and students into new practices. My own experience is that this is strategically shortsighted. Attracting people to innovation has limited value if those participants are not driven by particular pedagogic challenges and, in those cases, developers need to work closely and honestly with academics to explore the technological advantage. Novelty alone is potentially dangerous if there is no pedagogic exigency. It can leave academics exposed and vulnerable a little way down the line when the technology is not bringing clear benefit to academic practice and learning. In a large classroom situation, such as the use of clickers in lecture theatres, we must think carefully about why it is good for students to click their clickers. It is much more than checking they are awake. It is about enlivening them.

This is Simon’s main point. Clicker interventions need to be very carefully thought through. Good interventions really do require a designer’s attitude and, arguably, have the potential to become the most significant pedagogic intervention in the lecture – more important than the dissemination of content. The right clicker intervention should be a challenge to the learner and one that will check their own thinking. That word ‘check’ has several meanings: ‘Am I right?’ ‘Why do I think that?’ ‘How do I apply that knowledge and that thinking?’ Clickers in lecture theatres should set the learning hares running. The design mind then should be asking, “How can we harness this engagement to take us deeper?”

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Come to the event formerly known as Prince – or #bleetchat

Apologies for the title – knowing what to call this post sums up much of what I want to capture here following one of those Twitter excursions where an indeterminate number (but including  @JefferyKeefer) discussed our interest in devising something risky that could be called an unconference, a barcamp, a hackathon, OpenSpaceTechnology, a serendipitous happening, or a fringe event. (Oh, the #bleetchat reflects the similarity of some of the thinking to the tweetchat but locates it in a blended context, and what’s wrong with the allusion of sheep flocking anyway?)

We began by noticing how some people read their conference papers… and a while later we were discussing how to think about conferences differently. I think we agreed on certain ideas that could contribute to us making an event happen (note I did not say ‘organise’). These included:

  • would be open to anyone
  • no admission fee
  • no set agenda or programme
  • valuing people being in the same place (but not necessarily physically co-located)
  • could think about ’round tables’ – as in format more than furniture
  • could flip the hard stuff (eg papers) to value the soft stuff (ie people)
  • where the event makers support the curious to find their voice – respect the novice (yes, we’re all novices really…)
  • learn from networked behaviours in designing a blended place that is open and connected
  • consider how the physical space is not necessarily raked or teacher-orientated. In fact, consider atriums or other busy spaces (and therefore a conference with movement? Nobody mentioned flash mobs, but maybe I should for completeness)
  • could look at an event with a purpose (or purposes ecologically and heutagogically speaking) rather than a programme
  • Perhaps the visual artefact has a place where before only the written text was given space. Certainly, we mentioned being creative with formats.
  • Redefine scholarliness (slightly different to scholarship – that would be audacious) ie we mentioned papers without references as being unsatisfactory.
  • Innovation – as in anything, but maybe as in creating a space for ideas. Did we shift away from people who already have content towards people who want to discuss? Yes, I think we kept coming back to just valuing people and whatever it is they bring.
  • Despite this open and vague idea, we come back to being clear with people who want to be involved. Does this mean having few set ideas, but being very clear about what those (principles?) are?
  • ‘We just need someone to take a risk’ – so I think the ‘someone’ here is everyone? Value risk as the basis for getting together and taking part. (But at some point we will get real and there will be risk about investing time to making this happen and hosting it – though #BYOS4L (Bring Your Own Sandwich for Learning) answers much of that.
  • ‘Place and Space’ could unite us thematically – and perhaps that (and our networks) is all we have… (though I note we also have teaching, learning and research in higher education, ideas about networked learning, disruptive thinking about space and place, and a healthy attitude towards technologies and media in common I think)
  •  – see sets out a useful approach that reflects much of what we discussed.
  • We could take a ‘fringe’ approach – that is, take ‘the idea’ to an event or events that are already taking place (and funded). This connects with the idea of MetaTeaching&Learning – an experiment I developed last year with Alex Spiers and Viv Rolfe to connect, open up, and create a bigger platform for people presenting at their own Teaching & Learning Conferences. To amplify peer reviewed ‘local’ sessions and make them national by sharing Slideshare versions of presentations and other digital artefacts. See: (a great idea – if still only full of potential. And it’s time to promote this again anyway)

So, to conclude. We are interested in taking a risk to create an event that is accessible and will encourage people to participate in ways that make connections and support new thinking about Place and Space in higher education.

PS: The other thing is, we could find a common date and time, set a common problem/challenge, meet in our institutional spaces, with our institutional T&L mavericks/innovators and PLNs, and network in situ and across social media to ‘solve’ the problem…

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Reflecting on Hybrid Learning Spaces Tweetchat #LTHEchat

This week I led the #LTHEchat and I have spent the best part of my Saturday reviewing what everyone said. It was that valuable. Thanks.

//[<a href=”//” target=”_blank”>View the story “Hybrid Learning Spaces” on Storify</a>]

There are some key themes that came out of the chat.

As usual, when you ask people where they learn best it is rare they tell you about classrooms, lecture theatres or even institutionally provided spaces (admittedly this audience was not primarily made up of students). Equally, they do not tend to refer to other spaces by using recognisable characteristics of familiar formal spaces. Nobody suggested they preferred to be lectured at. Instead, there were common themes and anecdotes about learning outside, while walking, at home or in homely environments (e.g. cushions).

There was some discussion about offices. How people like to personalise them and have a door they can close, but also one they can keep open and inviting. Time of day came up too: either early or late in the day.

It became apparently that ‘learning’ is an inadequate word for a discussion like this. Different learning purposes or phases are critical to understanding learning space: people tended to gravitate towards the idea of learning as being a reflective matter and this is when ideas about home, gardens, woods, walking and being outside were raised.

There was also discussion about more active forms of learning and spaces.

The discussion moved towards social media as a learning space, by which point there was little need for any debate on the legitimacy of social media as an effective and appropriate conceptualisation of space. This was to be expected given this group (the #LTHEchat network).

The final question was about conceptualisations of future learning space. I was expecting more people to pick up on the idea of hybrid space. They didn’t though. With one or two exceptions, I think people were focused on a provided and constructed idea of learning space rather than a shift towards heutagogy and self-determined or self-constructed notions of space. This is to be expected as we tend to refer to what we know in the context of what we do – imagining a future that does not have our metaphorical seat firmly planted in the centre of the vision is difficult.

Next time, we should start with a vision: you no longer have a role in higher education. Why not?!

Great to be back in the #LTHEchat after several months. It just shows how hard I have been working on other things. But when it returns in May I really hope to tune in more.

Thanks everyone!


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(Dis)embodiment in social media space

Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on the role of embodiment in learning. It’s one of those neglected matters (there a lot of neglected matters when it comes to learning spaces – maybe I should rattle off a series of posts to include topics like friendship, presence, leaderful learning, graphic media…).

The key point from yesterday was how much can be conveyed through ‘being there’ – physical embodiment within an actual space. The subject of the discussion was the embodiment of dance and, by inference, intimacy and flow as a context for learning. I won’t steal the thunder of my colleague by explaining further here, but I hope to link to her work soon.

So, to this evening and the subject of disembodiment and presence in learning space. It’s a brief and quite tenuous observation about space. As this evening’s #LTHEchat got underway my colleague Sue Beckingham throws out a tweet in response to question 1. She’s on a train on her way back from the #OER17 conference. She says she’s on her way and hopes to contribute but is unsure that she will be able to contribute much. My reaction was, this comment has already said so much about learning space. Implicit in her comment was the value of the tweetchat space to her, the people taking part and the validity of the subject. Her physical embodiment on a train hurtling home at a hundred miles an hour late in the day reinforced her sense of ‘dis-placement’ (an idea I have been writing about recently for publication is the value of having no fixed abode or corporeal association). Like negative space in a painting, this simple articulation ‘answered the essential question’ of tonight’s tweetchat: “what do we mean by learning space?” Indeed, my concluding comment intended to summarise the discussion was that learning space is first and foremost a personal construct, but one that values the potential of a social discourse and co-operative experience. When people tell you why learning spaces matter to them, actual/physical/technical factors (e.g. Sue’s lack of reliable technical connectivity) are subjugated to affective and ontological matters. Individually and collectively, what matters is that we share a co-operative space full of good intent that gives succor to our own interest and thinking. Learning space is mutually validating. Sue’s (possible) lack of actual presence nevertheless resulted in her having a valued yet disembodied presence.  (Here, disembodiment is used to mean non-attendance in person, physically or digitally). I suppose the idea of ‘here in spirit’ captures what I’m getting at. Learning space can be thought of in quite intangible terms.

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Learning is not about enclosures

In tonight’s #LTHEchat on Learning Spaces (8pm-9pm UK at #LTHEchat) I argue that the richest learning space is that which is defined by the learner as they navigate across and between spaces. Learning comes from making connections: to people, ideas, and experiences. When I ask people ‘Where do you learn best?’, it is rare that they point to a classroom or lecture theatre. It is their personal, social and experiential spaces that matter. That is where ‘sense making’ happens. And increasingly it is space experienced with social media, like the #LTHEchat itself, that invigorate us.

Learning is not about enclosures. Learning is open, pervasive and serendipitous and it is time to challenge the appropriation of the term ‘learning space’ by those who primarily understand learning as a problem to be managed. I encourage anyone in higher education committed to developing rich understandings of learning to challenge and work with colleagues to develop our collective appreciation of learning beyond educational enclosures.


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On the value of placements – a tweetchat

Join us via tweetchat at #SHU_AL (Applied Learning Academic Interest Group) this Thursday morning at 9am – 10 am as we explore the topic of Successful Placements.

“When students come back from placement it is like they have had their eyes opened.” This comment is something I hear frequently from academics. It appears that, for many students and their tutors, a placement experience is a prerequisite to being able to engage as a learner in university. Until that point, the comment suggests, learning has been an abstracted activity with little to interest one in the way of life context.

This one hour structured discussion will explore successful placements and how they enhance student learning on their course.

To take part simply search for the #SHU_AL hashtag on Twitter between 9 and 10. There will be five questions (Q1… to Q5). Answer A1… to A5 and include the hashtag in your reply. Reply to, favourite and retweet responses from others. Share your experience, useful links or ask further questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

The tweetchat will be run in parallel with a workshop in which the same questions will be discussed.

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Active or dependent learning

I am doing a lot of thinking about the overuse of binaries in describing learning and learning spaces. One that comes up frequently is the active-passive binary, typically in discussions about the value of lectures in higher education.

I was challenged by a PVC on this a few years ago when I was doing some work on ‘good, inspirational teaching’. He commented then that it was not about learners being passive in lectures: they are cognitively engaged. Ideally, this is true. This suggested that my use of the word ‘active’ needed to be defined more usefully because he had picked up on an unintended meaning.

In writing about active learning and the active classroom, the idea of passivity does not seem as useful for describing a non-active learning space or state. More useful, perhaps, is the idea of dependency. In a lecture or other didactic situation, the learner is more dependent on what the teacher provides than in an active situation in which the learner is expected to be more resourceful. In any learning situation, the learner brings their ecology to bear on their learning. Where the situation is active, the learner is expected to draw upon what they already know, and when that context is social, the learner is in a co-operative dependency. This way of thinking makes ideas about networked learning and communities of practice easier to comprehend too. 

So, while the proposition of passive learning disregards the learner as having a role at all, considering ideas of dependency does more to recognise the intent of the instructional design and the learner’s agency in any situation.

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