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.