Documenting for learning

I am a strong proponent of encouraging learners of all ages to engage in reflective practice. Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect. Students may […]

via Documenting and Reflecting on Learning — User Generated Education

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Planning a #Twalk for #SIGCLANS #MELSIG ?

On Wednesday 31st May we are planning a #Twalk and you’re invited! Wherever you are.

Twalk? A Walk-based Tweetchat. The itinerary is here. But it is somewhere near you.

Our purpose is to explore the topic of placemaking and learning by visting five ‘pause points’ in an hour between 13:00 and 14:00 UK. Wherever you are, if you are on campus, we hope you will join us and tweet the highlights from your campus.

If you are planning on doing this, especially if you are trying to organise it, here are some thoughts that might help based on my experience of planning a route for SHU:

  • Visiting 5 places in an hour will be a challenge – so consider some prep time for your group so they are very clear about what they’ll be doing, where exactly they are visiting. Even make this available online beforehand.
  • In fact, ideally each walker will have a printed copy of the rooms and places they are visting, the timings, and the topics, and the hashtags. In this way, they can walk independently as small groups and pairs (it can be difficult if the walk leader is continually shouting across conversations to move people on).
  • Consider a bell or a whistle to alert people.
  • Make sure people know that you will not wait. You will kick off at 1 o’clock and you will arrive at each destination at 10 minute intervals.
  • That means the spaces you choose to visit on your campus might not be your best examples. First and foremost they must fit in with a one hour 5 point walk.
  • This way all walks are in sync, discussing the same topics at the same time, and sharing pictures and comments via Twitter at the same time. This way we involve all walkers in an inter-campus conversation.
  • There are topics at each pause point, not Q&As – this allows each subgroup to make the conversation their own.
  • Make sure people do post to the hashtag #SIGCLANS using T1, T2, T3 etc (T for topic) and the #SIGCLANS hashtag
  • Assign (if possible) the role of Twitter Scribe to at least one person. Their job is to ensure each campus contributes at least one response at each pause point: an idea, a question for others, pictures, etc
  • Assign (if possible) at least one Twitter reporter keeping an eye on the hashtag and sharing points and questions raised elsewhere.
  • The walk leader is chief facilitator – the ideal academic: steer, clarify, prompt and keep them moving forward!
  • Make sure everyone has a great time.
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Digital ephemera and placemaking for learning

In this post, I continue to explore the idea of digital placemaking, what it means and why it is helpful for thinking about digital and blended learning spaces.

Let’s start with ephemera.

Ephemera is anything that is short-lived. Digital ephemera is an odd idea therefore because digital artefacts persist. But the idea of digital ephemera points to our experience of a digital context as represented by artefacts we may have encountered, made or changed during some online activity, e.g. a ‘like’ or a comment on a video. This apparent contradiction between the persistent artefact and the transient but significant experience of the artefact, is a useful way for us to unravel what digital placemaking means.

Now let’s look at the difference between space and place: simply, space is conceptual and place is lived (Lefebvre, 1974/1991). A space is designed, planned for, constructed and only later is it associated with the people who, one way or another, encounter it. Architects are often responsible for space; others inhabit it and, by doing so, create a sense of place.

A place, therefore, is about what happens or has happened, not what was ordained to happen in an abstract sense. A place is full of life, or at least, has been full of life.

For the moment let’s just say that if place is about life and experience, it is also about signs of life, experience, being, belonging, and becoming. And it is about the imagined potential for these experiences by would-be inhabitants or users. This echoes the “interconnected themes of place identity, attachment, and sense of community” noted by O’Rourke and Baldwin (2016, p.103).

Until now I have described place mostly in terms of that which matters to an individual; however, the social dimension, if not necessary, is usually important in discussions of place. Oldenburg’s ‘great good place’ (1989) is about the understated places that matter where people hang out. This idea of hanging out is important to learning spaces and non-formal learning, on and offline (Bilandzic & Foth, 2017) and it begins to explain why digital placemaking matters to us in education. I’ll pick up on places to hangout again in a minute.

This is where I begin to diverge from some understandings of place and placemaking. Or rather, this is where my emphasis of what is important about placemaking is different to what others say.

Let’s backtrack a couple of blog posts. (Miss this if you want to get to the point)

Wyckoff (2014) describes placemaking as “the process of creating Quality Places that people want to live, work, play and learn in.” In this urban designer-centred view, there are four meanings given to placemaking (roughly, ‘targeted development’, shaping the character of a place, tactical urbanism, and ‘Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” (LQC)’. While not dismissing these out of hand, they are all strategies to socially engineer a space so that it is conducive to being lived in, i.e. they are basically conceptual approaches to placemaking in which experts, one way or another, create, shape or foster space so that it is accepted.

In contrast, we can consider networked spaces as being vibrant and dynamic and as places in which we all have agency. This leads us to a different conceptualisation of place and how it acquires meaning, association and identity.

The point is…

Digital placemaking is what we do in a digital context that affects our spatial experience, or that of others we know or don’t know, now or in the future, e.g. ‘I retweet your post’ – what does my action mean to you, me or others now or in the future?

It is the intended or unintended building of memories or the making of marks in the process of learning in a digital context which acquire and convey meaning, e.g. We collaborated to produce a report together. You found a supporting quote, while I found a graphic that represented our joint conclusion. How do we remember and value that experience?

It is evidence that we or others were ‘here’ and that ‘being here’ mattered to us or others, e.g. You shared an article you came across and my account scraped it and re-presented it for others.

It is about mattering (acts that end up being important) and significance. There is always the potential that what we do may matter to others, even though we may never know this. And that probably doesn’t matter. Hence, digital placemaking can also be understood as unconscious digital altruism or selflessness.

Places to hangout

Coming back to the idea of places to hangout, we immediately make connections to social media, and to pubs, and to spaces that matter to us in small social groupings, but are otherwise inconsequential or non-critical to the world at large. Place is personal and social therefore and is an outcome of our ‘being’. Most of us will recognise the importance of social space that reflects us, reminding us of who we are and who we aspire to be, and which we value in ways that are hard to explain.

These are the places (the third places) that define us – “Nothing more clearly indicates a third place than that the talk there is good; that it is lively, scintillating, colorful, and engaging.” (Oldenburg, 1998, p. 26)

In digital placemaking we are the people who define the metaphorical pub for others, who give the third space its character and reputation, and not always or necessarily the newcomer or novice. In a networked space we are all newcomers and old-timers. Who we are, what we do, what comments, marks and memories we co-construct and leave behind define us a digital placemakers.

Why digital placemaking matters to learning

Placemaking matters because belonging matters. As learners, learning spaces accommodate us, but our experience of learning can be enhanced by how well the spaces we use to meet our personal and collective needs to be stimulated.

Digital placemaking matters even more, especially when using social media, because we have high degrees of agency over the spaces we set up, shape and use, and how we make them work for our learning networks.


Bilandzic, M. & Foth, M. (2017). Designing hubs for connected learning: Social, spatial and technological insights from Coworking, Hackerspaces and Meetup groups. In Carvalho, Lucila, Goodyear, Peter, & de Laat, Maarten (Eds.) Place-Based Spaces for Networked Learning. Routledge, Oxon, United Kingdom, pp. 191-206.

Lefebvre, H. (1974/1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

Oldenburg, R. (1989). The great good place: Cafés, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day. New York: Paragon House.

O’Rourke, V., & Baldwin, C. (2016). Student engagement in placemaking at an Australian university campus. Australian Planner, 1-14.

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On placemaking

In this post I point to some of the literature on placemaking to inform the idea of digital placemaking which I introduced in the previous post and will develop in subsequent posts. O’Rourke and Baldwin (2016, p.103) note the “interconnected themes of place identity, attachment, and sense of community.” This gives us a sense of the room there is to consider a range of meanings. For understanding how it relates to hybrid learning spaces.

The idea of placemaking will grow in importance in higher education as discourse about student engagement and retention increases, especially in the context of the TEF. Kent (2016) notes its relevance to recruitment too. O’Rourke and Baldwin (2016) highlight the importance of engaging students in placemaking, however, in the next post I will explore how placemaking may be more usefully understood as an outcome of engagement, and how we make and leave our mark through our experience of the places in which we associate.

In the context of learning

Learnng in the context of placemaking can be understood broadly to include formal, non-formal and incidetntal learning where it can be a by-product or unintended consequence of experience, or as Carvalho et al. put it, “Learning is woven through the fabric of our daily lives.” (2017, p. 1)

What is placemaking?

Several authors address the question ‘what is placemaking?’ It is usually asked in the contexts of architecture, urban planning and facilities management where there is a greater emphasis on the profession’s interest in making and managing spaces for others. Sociologists, and I suggest educators, are more interested in an ontological view of place being an outcome of association and space as it is experienced, though in the context of educational development and digital learning, consideration is needed in relation to developing the built pedagogy (Monahan, 2002) of formal and non-formal learning.

  • “Placemaking is imagining and reinventing public spaces to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share.” (Kent, 2016)
  • Place can be understood as networked learning “the subtle connections the physical, digital and the multiple methods people use, everyday, in coming to understand the world, and act and comply within it.” (Carvalho et al., 2017) This view of networked place is interested in the extended situation created by the connections between the digital and material world. Within this there are opportunities for understanding BYOD for example.
  • Wyckoff (2014) proposes four ways of defining ‘standard placemaking’ (“the process of creating Quality Places that people want to live, work, play and learn in”). These are,
    1. Strategic placemaking – the targeted development of Quality Places to attract social groups;
    2. Creative placemaking – the shaping of the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities through partnerships;
    3. Tactical Placemaking – the process of creating Quality Places that uses a deliberate, often phased approach to change, including ‘Tactical Urbanism’ and ‘Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” (LQC)’ – a local development strategy, an iterative means to build lasting change.
  • “Placemaking is community participation for a particular purpose.” (O’Rourke & Baldwin, 2016, p. 104);
  • Creation of an “inclusive, community driven design in the built environment to create places of meaning,
    and neutral areas for people to meet, socialise and observe” (ibid citing Brunnberg & Frigo, 2012).
  • Placemaking is the interplay of the needs and the aspirations of the community enacted in the design of the built environment.” (Prakash Kelkar & Spinelli, 2016).

Ideas of meaning, being, belonging and becoming, and of community voice and agency feature in these discussions.

For the ‘built’ I environment I prefer to read ‘constructed’, to allow for social and digital spaces.

What makes a great place?

Places are spaces “that people care about and want to be in” (Wyckoff, 2014). PPS suggest great places are characterised by being,

  1. accessible and well connected to other important places in the area.
  2. comfortable and project a good image.
  3. attractive to people encouraging them to participate in activities there.
  4. They are sociable environments in which people want to gather and visit, again and again.

PPS cite Drew Faust (Harvard Common Spaces Program) who says, “We must continue to generate the conditions for serendipitous encounters—the unexpected conversation that becomes a fruitful partnership or the passing observation that sparks a discovery or innovation.”

Cities, corners or connectors?

Inherent assumptions about scale and agency reflect the context of this diverse literature. I think there is room for a new understanding of placemaking.

Towards co-construction of lived space and place

Campuses, digital networks, blended and augmented spaces are centres of social activity, and as such academia needs to explore place as an outcome of the Learner-Generated Context (Luckin et al., 2011). It is not enough to view learning space as something that is made for us. Instead, the users of academic spaces need to be understood as place makers. I will explore this next.


Brunnberg, L., & Frigo, A. (201)2. “Placemaking in the 21st-
Century City: introducing the funfair metaphor for mobile media in the future urban space.” Digital Creativity, 23, 113–125. doi:10.1080/14626268.2012.709943.

Carvalo, L., Goodyear, P., & de Laat, M. (2017). Place-based sacefor networked learning New Ork & Lodon: Routledge.

Knight, B. (2016). Placemaking: Attracting and Retaining Today’s Students. Community College Journal, 87(2), 8-9.

Luckin, R., Clark, W., Garnett, F., Whitworth, A., Akass, J., Cook, J., Day, P., Eccesfield, N., Hamilton, T., & Robertson, J. (2011). Learner-generated contexts: a framework to support the effective use of technology for learning. In: M.J.W. Lee & C. McLoughlin “Web 2.0-based e-Learning: applying social informatics for tertiary teaching. Hershey: Information Science Reference, 70-84.

Monahan, T. (2002). Flexible space and built pedagogy: emerging IT embodiments. Inventio, 4(1), 1-19.
Online at:

O’Rourke, V., & Baldwin, C. (2016). Student engagement in placemaking at an Australian university campus. Australian Planner, 1-14.

PPS (Project for Public Spaces) (2016) Placemaking: what if we built our cities around places?

Prakash Kelkar, N., & Spinelli, G. (2016). Building social capital through creative placemaking. Strategic Design Research Journal. 9(2), 54–66.

Wyckoff, M.A. (2014). Definition of placemaking: four different types. Planning & Zoning News,

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Digital Placemaking

I have been developing the concept of hybrid learning space through various activities, research, and writings over the last few years and I will be publishing further on this soon.

From this work it is time to bring into focus the concept of placemaking – a concept with a diverse literature which I will explore in the next post.  I will marry this with the digital and social media context that has intrigued me and my network for many years.

I am interested in ‘learning’ and  ‘learner engagement’ and how they affect our thinking about learning space. There’s a lot of learning in that(!), but there are also important connections that need to be understood: what do we mean by space, by engagement, and by learning? These are not simple questions, but we tend to use them easily and freely. This uncriticality may have something to do with a lack of ownership we feel over the spaces we use as academics and students. When our spaces are shared, bland and general it is less likely we will form a significant association with spaces. They are, in general, meaningless. I believe that the spaces we have for teaching and learning are mostly unmemorable, generic and inadequate, being either inherited or at least not informed by what we know about learning. Often learning spaces are informed by superficial and historic understandings about teaching because it is difficult to co-ordinate the designing of learning into space.

Our learning spaces are conceived to be functionable and servicable spaces, but they are not, in general, places that reflect who we are, what we do or what we aspire to be in particular.

Places are spaces that reflect us in some way. There is a question of agency in this too – how can a space come to reflect us or, conversely, how do we assume the identity and customs of a place as we become associated with it. Here, a place can be understood as being homelike, for example a club (Oldeburg, 1998). Agency and place start to reveal something about placemaking which I will develop later. For the moment, it is enough to understand there is a connection between spaces and how we act formally and informally.

When we talk about learning space there is no reason to assume our interest is limited to physical space, though that assumption is often made. We may equally be interested in digital space (often called virtual space) or, indeed, it is probable we will be talking about a blended notion of physical-digital space to some degree. Neither will we be talking about it necessarily as simply a spatial construct; explicitly or implicitly we will understand space temporally, psychologically, socially, culturally, and experientially, for example. It is these holistic and experiential ways of thinking that connect us to place and placemaking.

The effect of the digital on our lives is plain to all of us. The digital is both ubiquitous and pervasive. As such, it shines a light on the way we experience the world in general, but most of us can see quite clearly how our daily habits and transactions have changed in recent years. The pervasive quality of the digital means it is a dimension of nearly any space as we experience it.

A focus on engagement is key to understanding the terms ‘place’ and ‘placemaking’. It comes down to the importance of belonging and becoming in how we understand learning and the spaces we create and inhabit. Engagement is caught up with motivation and therefore the inherent value a space holds for us as imbued by its functionality or customs.

Digital placemaking, conceptually connects space and place as they are expienced, actually or digitally, and socially.

In the next post I will explore some of the literature on placemaking.

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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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