On Friday we twalked again – that is we walked, talked and tweeted (#twalk). Unlike our hot, sunny walk in May, it rained a lot! As mentioned in the previous post, Friday’s twalk was part of ALT’s Learning Spaces Special Interest Group meeting which was co-hosted in The Diamond by the University of Sheffield and in Sheffield Hallam University’s Institutes of Art renovated ‘General Post Office’, the Sheffield Institute of Education’s Charles Street Building, and our STEM annex.
The theme of the twalk was Crossing Boundaries – a very flexible, and I think, pertinent topic.
In this post, I want to reflect on the relationships of walking, thinking, topic and place.
Walking is an interesting thing to do when your research is learning spaces because,
- You see and pass through a range of spaces;
- You experience spaces, not as immovable objects, but as situations. This is the experience that students and teachers tend to have. Learning spaces are scheduled or unscheduled stopping points in their day, each affording a different type of experience and serving a range of purposes;
- Walking is not sitting. It is a lively and stimulating act that better reflects the human condition and it demonstrates how one of the main purposes of the conceived campus is to control people by enclosing them in rooms that can be managed (that is not to suggest that management and control are bad things; indeed, they are a necessary dimension of the teacher’s role which I will explore later).
Creating space for thinking (and learning how to create thinking space for yourself) is essential for learning. Thinking space is sometimes provided (designed into teaching with care), but is often a highly personal matter. I have run many workshops where I ask participants “where do you learn?” and the responses are diverse and personal. Anything from “the train” to “the bath”, and occasionally places on campus that just work.
Walking is a very interesting thinking space. It is,
- natural and familiar;
- physically and psychologically stimulating;
- ideal for groups of two or three;
- defined in time by the length of the journey;
- promotes reflection through conversation;
- inspired by the surroundings.
The role of learning topic is interesting for me and we develop this in a minute. However, it begs the question, to what extent should the physical environment relate to the subject of study?
I define place here as the situation created by the participants. Place, on a walk, is viable and contrasts with space as something that is passed through. The place is psychosocial, physical and digital, being unique in time reflecting a co-constructed situation and the ecologies of the participants.
As I put the walk together for last week, the topic suggested itself as well as answering the problem of how to get people from one university to the other. A direct walk from one university to the other would normally take me about half an hour, but the topic of crossing boundaries suggested we take longer to explore the civic connection in relation to the student experience. The theme further developed. It allowed us to consider,
- how our buildings interface with the city;
- how the university relates to the students union
- how the university relates to the train station on our door step and the experience of the commuter student;
- the learning identities and connectivities of different disciplines and how these are described by floors in some buildings; and
- engaging with publics through exhibitions and open access spaces.
Previously my walks have also had a learning space theme and the connection is easy to make. But to what extent do learning walks have the potential to situate other disciplinary topics? Here are some initials thoughts expressed as a framework:
- realistic – the space relates directly to the topic, e.g. an induction tour of a lab in which the use of apparatus is the focus of discussion;
- authentic – the learner encounters ‘the world’ and their publics, e.g. the field trip in which the learner experiences their discipline and its practices;
- metaphoric – landmarks are identified as metaphorical symbols to focus discussion, e.g. gateways, corridors, locks, stairs, different types of seating, all have metaphorical potential useful to frame many discussions;
- co-constructed – the spatial meaning comes from the moment. The learning group addresses a problem as they walk and the physical nature of the space is not as important as what it makes (from memory through to specific plan).
Multiple spaces, singular places
One of the outcomes of the #twalk concept is the digital connectivity that makes clear that the value of the learning and the walking is the talking. The incorporation of the tweetchat makes clear that this idea of co-constructed psychosocial place is most important.
Areas that require further exploration in relation to this topic include nomadicism and the guiding role of the teacher. The teacher’s role to control and manage the learner and the learning environment warrants further exploration in relation to learning walks.
The Peripatetic School was a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece dating from around 335 BC when Aristotle began teaching in the Lyceum. (see Wikipedia article). Peripatetic means ‘of walking’ and alludes to Aristotle’s habit of lecturing and walking through the colonnades of the Lyceum.