Loud Quiet Loud #SHU_LT

I am having a quiet moment. My train just got cancelled and it’s an hour until the next one.

My initial commuter frustration has subsided. It’s been a long adrenalin-fueled day at our Learning & Teaching Conference (#SHU_LT), following a long day yesterday where I was presenting at Nottingham Trent’s TILT conference, and now I’m looking ahead to Tuesday where I am running a workshop at Greenwich #uogapt entitled “Visions of the revolution: how studio pedagogy reinvents the higher education learning space” which is exciting me. Later next week I am presenting at the University of Sheffield. All of these workshops are different and therefore each one presents a challenge I have given myself intentionally in order to explore ideas and hypothese I have about active learning and belonging in studio-based learning environments. The workshop format, interestingly, has become the only way I can reconcile my commitment to active learning and co-production in a conference context.

The knowledge outcomes in such settings are mostly self-knowledge. I always theoretically underpin my workshops, but I regard my job to be catalytic, creating a space for individuals and participants to generate knowledge and ideas that will hopefully haunt and inspire.

So, in my unexpected quiet moment, I am reflecting on the loud, loud day I have had chairing a large multi-participant forum and then my workshop on Active Learning Classrooms (featuring a long cast of co-presenters, but especially my colleague Ian Glover). We’ve been playing with whiteboards, talking about stand up learning, navigating concept maps, making lists and sorting lists, and ensuring everyone is talking, writing and drawing at the same time. Well I had fun (and perhaps the focus on revolutionary space for APT is begining to make sense)!

In the noise today, as we collected our thoughts in a final whiteboard activity, one of the workshoppers proposed that making quiet space is part of a good learning environment. Yes, there is something in that. For the loud, active and excited space to work we need to know that there is a quiet space that goes with it.

I will take that into next week’s revolution!

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Placemaking and digital kith #digciz

Who are your kith?

The idea of agency is implicit in the idea of kith: “a group of people living in the same area and forming a culture with a common language, customs, economy, etc., usually endogamous’ (dictionary.com). ‘Living’ and ‘forming’ clarify the roles we have as friends when being part of an association, whether a defined circle or community, or a set of connected and far-reaching nodes in a network. Endogamy indicates the closeness of the relationship, as in tribal affiliation, marriage and loyalty. And the digital seems to contradict this type of closeness due to the tenuous or momentary nature of the spaces it tends to create.

The idea of kith warrants some attention while thinking about students, communities, networks and place, especially in the context of the digital. This is, in part, the topic for the #digciz discussion happening this week. It also coincides with my thinking on digital placemaking and my involvement in presenting at the Civic Curriculum colloquium at the University of Leeds last Friday. I will touch on all of these in this post.

The value of discomfort in learning places

In educational development we tread a fine line between scholarship and sales, always searching for the benefits of an idea on academic practice and student learning while keeping our over-enthusiasm in check with reference to evaluations and research in the domain of pedagogic research. I notice in last week’s #LTHEchat a comment from @chrissinerantzi that ‘feeling uncomfortable is part of learning’ and this chimes with something I often say, ‘learning happens in the discomfort zone’. Other key ideas about learning of this less positive ilk are that ‘learning comes from failure’, and true learning is often hidden from sight. All such ideas remind us that learning is real and complex, being part of the learner’s placemaking story. They show learning to be a gritty endeavour requiring tenacity and enacted in the rich tapestry of life! Learning comes from dealing with challenging situations and this points to the need for us to consider friendship, networks, place and kith; phenomena that create a hardly visible environment supporting the richest learning experiences.

Community and network differentiation

I have commented somewhere this week that it is helpful to differentiate between communities and networks. I suggested one way of doing this is to understand community as a more bounded shared identity with common purpose, while networks are ecological and dynamic, and more closely related to student-centred thinking involving the individual as central node within a multi-dimensional context with short and long reach, and no bounds. The former is associated in particular with common purpose and collaboration, while the latter is more attuned to co-operation and the resilience and richness of weak ties. So while I believe my personal inclination, for example, is to be collaborative and at home in anything that calls itself a community, I think a co-operative and networked philosophy represents the way I see the world operating effectively.

The civic role of universities as places of learning

This brings me to citizenship and explains why, now that we can, we should explore the reach we have beyond the university to connect with others. In this ‘real’ (as opposed to artificial, abstracted, pure and academic) space we can, as learners, teachers and researchers, engage those who matter and who can bring our curriculum to life.

UCL’s Connected Learning Framework

I presented with my colleague Charmaine Myers on the work of our connected curriculum initiative the Venture Matrix in Leeds this week. Charmaine has led this initiative for nearly ten years and it was fascinating to see how well it exemplified the Dilly Fung’s Connected Learning framework from UCL (now written up here in this free to download book). Pretty much an exact fit. However, Charmaine and I presented on the challenge that our own success had created and found a reference point in the CL framework that will help us to articulate how we can grow the VM. The VM is about forming strong connections with organisations outside of the university (schools, business and third sector) and forming client-student relationships in the curriculum. Being a central unit, our challenge is how to take the essential methods, values and limited resources to extend the reach of the VM to the benefit all of our students at all levels. We are beginning to move from the power of will to devise more sustainable strategic measures, but this is an exciting challenge.

Civic nomadicism and multiple lives

A quick reference to Sheila McNeil’s post on #digciz titled Kith and nomads: a small thought on digital citizenship #digciz. She mentions having multiple presences online and even though she is referring to how she manages multiple identities, there is something about concurrency in the digital space that means not only can we inhabit multiple places, but we usually do these days. I use the words ‘place’ and ‘inhabit’ intentionally as they help to articulate the challenge we face/accept of having multiple belongings and becomings i.e. these identities reflect our multi-dimensional digital dynamism. No longer are we multi-tasking, we are multi-living with each existence having its integrity diverging and converging in ways that, by and large, don’t seem to discombobulate us.

Personally, I don’t see this as nomadicism unless we are expressly moving on to find new pastures for our lifewide grazing. It seems more as though we want to graze in, or inhabit, multi places and spaces concurrently while being free to find and lose places at will. Sheila also highlights the data her nomadic self leaves behind and mulls over the significance of these traces to herself and others.

This all makes me think about digital kith, presence and closeness. Perhaps digital kithness is more about valuing and immersing oneself in the moment, valuing it for what it is?

Digital kith

In the last few weeks my interests in connectivity, co-production and co-operation have directed my thinking about digital placemaking to the idea of learner agency. That is not to say learners must be autonomous and take responsibility for their own learning, but rather that students, by developing their sense of agency, can come to see their place as influential members of learning communities and legitimate agents within their networks. The community membership points to the need to set students authentic challenges from which they can exercise their social competence, developing social capital through defined collaborative activities. The latter idea of network agent suggests that the student must be given, find or create opportunities to be a co-operative member of society towards becoming agile at working alongside others through a networked mindset.

Neither of these philosophies is explicitly or generally featured in the design of curricula, by and large. However, I argue learner agency and community membership fit well with our interests in retention and student engagement. Exploring the idea of kith and ‘soft’ interdependencies as a dimension of learning place is an agenda that needs more attention in higher education.

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#Twalk as a learning space

thanks to @DrDianaPowell

Poster from the University of Liverpool to promote the Twalk

I have had several expressions of interest for organising further Twalks following the successful #Twalk on the 31st May (see also previous posts and links from the MELSIG event programme for 1pm). I thought it would be useful to describe and reflect on the model, its strengths, weaknesses and possibilities.

What is a Twalk?

A Twalk connects the two ideas of learning walks and tweetchats towards establishing a blended learning method in which structured tweeting by participants augments discursive or problem-based learning relating to a walking topic. The integration of social media into the walk means that the same walk structure can be followed by individuals and groups in different locations if it is synchronised. This allows discussions to be carried out simultaneously in and between multiple locations through the connectivity of social media. Having said that,  one participant in Australia demonstrated how it can also work asynchronously if the schedule and topics are posted in advance, and pedagogically there are follow-on reflective activities associated with this method which are introduced later.

The walk

Poster to promote the Twalk at City University, London

thanks to @santanuvasant

A learning walk involves inviting individuals to form a walking group to consider related thematic ideas and problem topics. The invitation asks participants to suggest questions or ideas for discussion in relation to the overall theme and to suggest places on a walking schedule or map to discuss their topic. For example, on a sight-seeing tour or student induction walk, the proposed topics will be highly representational. In other situations, the relationship between the topic and place may be more tenous and metaphorical. Alternatively, the walk can be designed entirely by the Twalk leader allowing for a topic to be explored more systematically. The walk co-ordinator will structure the walk so the walking group moves from ‘pause point’ to ‘pause point’ at regular intervals or to an agreed schedule. In May our walk was structured around new topics every ten minutes over an hour (five pause points), but other schedules will work, e.g. two hours with ten pause points, or a day, or even a week. However, attention needs to be paid to coherence, focus, momentum, the physical distance to be covered, the required pace, and the ability of walkers to access and manage this.

How can one walk happen across multiple locations?

If the ‘pause point’ locations are determined by type, multiple walks in multiple locations can be synchronised. For example, our walk in May considered the topic of placemaking in education and therefore it was relatively easy to suggest that, whatever campus we were on,  at a specific time, we should discuss ‘the importance of campus meeting points to successful student engagement’ while being situated in ‘a campus cafe’.

Feedback and subsequent interest has made me realise that many other disciplines can find useful connections between the physical situation and epistemic topics, or with activities such as course induction and team building.

The benefits of walking and talking

Walking stimulates conversation and walkers naturally gravitate to small group conversations of twos and threes. Such conversations ebb and flow and have natural dynamics that promote inclusivity that can be had to achieve in classroom spaces. They are well-suited to team building or exploratory conversations at the outset of a project for example.

Learning walks exemplify co-production if they are properly structured and participants are clear about how they can use what they learn. The walk is the product of the group, especially if individuals have contributed to and negotiated the route. On our Twalk in May walk leaders were provided with the outline generic schedule, but within this they were free to map it to their own campus context. Conversations, ultimately, are self-directed but on other walks I have organised individual participants have determined every aspect of the walk itinerary by proposing conversations and specifying ‘pause points’. From this, a themed walk is structured around related discussions situated in significant representational or metaphoric spaces, e.g. the proposal to visit a cafe to discuss the relationship of friendship to learning, or the use of a pathway as a space for discussions on learner autonomy.

In the lead up to May’s walk I shared the following reasons to twalk via Twitter:

  1. great peer supported review method
  2. works for pairs, course teams or large mixed groups. Even across multiple locations
  3. neutral ground for co-learning
  4. a bit of exercise stimulates our thinking
  5. integrated Twitter posting demands regular structured and useful postings in sync with other walkers

On point 2, it actually worked well for networked individuals on the day too.

The tweetchat

A tweetchat is a social media phenomenon which I have used in a variety of situations and which I believe is highly adaptable and demands further investigation. The method exemplifyies emerging interest in networked learning as a new self-determined learning space. Typically a tweetchat is formed around five questions on a topic delivered over the period of an hour in which potentially large numbers of participants contribute their experience and ideas to inform the topic. The tweets find coherence around the use of a hashtag. Participants (and others) are able to create narratives around the questions and the responses, for example in the form of Storify posts (e.g. see https://storify.com/andrewmid/learning-to-twalk), blog posts, or other follow on activities for example. However, I believe that the real potential of the tweetchat is under-explored having successfully used the method as the basis of blended learning pedagogies in which the situations of dispersed participants are brought to bear on the learning topic.

Talking and walking

The Twalk model brings talking, walking and tweeting together. It is flexible, and as a form of situated tweetchat, has great potential as a learning space. I will be exploring and developing the potential and trying to understand the value of being in two or more places at once, for example, looking at what gets shared in real time and whether this impacts on disperse real world conversations.

The use of Twitter creates a far reaching augmented layer as a context for localised activities. The presence of peers in other places should motivate all walkers to report what is being discussed and to respond to points, ideas and media being shared.

Follow on activities and integration

The Twalk has a good feel about it – it is likely to be inherently social and enjoyable wherever it is used. However, consideration of how it is integrated within other activities or teaching. I intend to explore over the next few months as I consider how the approach can be used pedagogically, but here are some initial thoughts.

  • Digital narratives – the use of blogs or Storify.com to critically review and reconstruct narratives by any participant or ‘on looker’ will be familiar to tweetchatters. However, this must be more than a dumping of tweets and other artefacts and we need to think about how critical thinking can be supported.
  • Serial Twalking – I have not really begun to consider how a Twalk may become a regular activity underpinning project-based learning or being used as a seminar-type function (Twebinars dare I say!), but there is something that needs to be explored and understood about multilogues in respect to synchronous, near synchronous and asynchronous engagement.
  • Parallel Twalking – the Twalk model has parallel connectivity: multiple people in multiple places walk and talk in parallel. Is there a longer, sustained learning relationship to be explored here that relates to thinking on personal learning networks?

That will do for the moment, but comments and connections would be appreciated here of via #Twalk or @andrewmid.


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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 Paper.li 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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