Weaving across the digital physical space


Understanding the interconnectivity between the physical digital learning space has been central to my thinking since the participatory web emerged in about 2004. This is what drove my interest back then in podcasting and the ‘digital voice’ and it continues to intrigue me about technology and learning.

On Friday I ran a workshop with Sue Moron-Garcia from UCLan on networking and collaboration and I will share more on this over the next few days via Twitter and Storify. But I thought I would spend a little time reflecting on our use of the tweetchat through the workshop – something that I think is becoming a good habit for me.

This post first describes the physical-digital tweetchat method we used, then considers the meaning of the different spaces used by the participants.

A description of the physical-digital tweetchat method

I have used this approach several times over the years starting in a multiple room activity in a MELSIG event in Sheffield in 2011. There, I used Twitter and Twitterfalls to run activities amongst multi-located participants creating room-based teams in a little competition. Admittedly I remember it involving me running up and down a lot of stairs checking that teams were on task as I posted new challenges.

But today I automated the tweetchat prompts, having planned the timings for the workshop in some detail with Sue! I realised that I wanted to give the people in the room my full attention and I didn’t really want to be typing in the tweetchat questions live. I scripted the tweets last night and entered the timings into Social Oomph which worked really well. I used this online software to post the tweets on my behalf to coincide with the structure of the workshop. I created some ‘run up’ announcement tweets to prepare the world beyond, potentially including those observing or taking part from other conference sessions, to remind them about and engage them in our activity. All this allowed me to pay attention to preparing the room and create space for my thoughts prior to the face-to-face workshop.

There were five questions and so five Question tweets using the hashtag #SEDA_NETS.

In the workshop we had the hashtag posted up on a flip chart and on every slide of the presentation. I briefly explained the protocol for responding to the questions and said, “You can either tweet your answers or write them on post-it notes using the same numbering system, or both.” As we reached the relevant points in the workshop our slides threw up the numbered questions so they coincided with the end of discussion activities allowing participants to summarise their discussion. As is usual in workshop mode, we invited a couple of verbal offerings as we progressed too.

The workshop felt like a workshop. That was important, possibly the most important thing for me. The twitter dimension did not detract from it as far as I could see, and actually I think the planning and structure helped enormously. Sue and I could see tweets coming from the room, and this provided us with feedback that the session activities were understood. An unexpected bonus.

I am checking with some of our online participants to hear about their experience and I will update this then (see my next post for their very interesting response). We did not share the presentation online, though a couple of images were tweeted by workshop participants. Again it was important to me to retain the integrity of the online experience and to avoid engaging them as surrogate second class participants. It was important to protect integrity of the tweetchat too.

Liminal connections

The method we used breaks the 4th wall and shatters the notion of the classroom as ‘enclosure’. I have written before about the value of connecting with ‘external voices’ and how audio, video and webinars in synchronous or asynchronous modes allow the university teacher to break through the bounding enclosure to safely involve their students in authentic networks and situations globally. Twitter, and the tweetchat method, do this well too. I am fascinated by the tweetchat, but slightly frustrated by the lack of ambition often exhibited in exploring its pedagogic potential. The method is seen as an online space, however I would like to challenge this perception in several ways.

First, and obviously, people tweeting are real and situated in a physical context; something Maha Bali and Suzan Koseoglu underline in their presentation The Self as an Open Education Resource. You may wonder if this is worth saying, but imagine if we were discussing a similar but novel corporeal form of interaction. Would we not be fascinated by the idea that all of the participants were situated in spaces that they had decided upon for themselves; that each person had first committed to their participation and then given some consideration to how to accommodate this activity in a way that suited their context, however they chose to define it? Now consider these multiple real world people and in particular note that the physical places they are using range from offices, to classrooms, to sofas in centrally heated homes surrounded by personal or familial artefacts that hold meaning for them; or family members or pets.

Or they might be travelling; standing up, sitting down or reclining. What does the learner’s situation mean to their state of mind? Does it make any difference that they are on their own, sitting with family, co-learners, colleagues, or strangers? Does it matter that what they have just done, or what they are about to do, or what they are doing concurrently? Does it not matter that their situation is not what we would normally expect from a formal learning context?

These are the sort of questions that drive me to challenge assumptions about learning space. Why is our conceptualisation of learning space formed as it is? How much of this conceptualisation is necessary or useful in this digital age of pervasive technology? And if the answer is ‘not much’ or ‘I don’t know’, then we have to experiment beyond the obvious to explore possibilities towards a rich learning space.

I began writing this post on the train back from Brighton to Sheffield. I am now continuing at home in the peace and quiet save for the murmur of a blazing fire. One situation full of life, noise and pressure; the otherslm and reflective. In the first I was keen to get the thoughts down in any state, and in the latter I am calmly reviewing and developing those thoughts. So if we compare the two worlds of the tweetchat and the concurrent workshop, we are not talking about two spaces, but several environments, each carrying different meaning for our participants. Monahan (2000) proposed the idea of built pedagogy, but I don’t think we have really begun to understand ‘situation’ in the built-digital context of the multi-dimensional learning environment.

My second main point contesting the idea of tweetchat as being online concerns behaviour and attitude, and ultimately the learning culture and opening up of pedagogies to enrich any kind of learning experience. The thinking behind Connectivism is exemplified by the tweetchat, yet its principles can be understood in the physical space too. Let’s take a look:

George Siemen’s Connectivist Principles say,

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Learning is more critical than knowing.
  • Maintaining and nurturing connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Perceiving connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

[Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1, Jan 2005]
There is nothing here that suggests Connectivism is about online learning, only that digital connectivity underpins connectivist behaviour. I am keen that we explore connectivist thinking and how it shifts our appreciation of behaviour in the physical space. Our successful experiment has, I think, contributed to that.

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About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
This entry was posted in Academic innovation, learning space, open learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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