My conception of space -DynamicSpace-

In an era where technology is taking over the majority of things, i.e. our desktop, our mail, our communication it is not strange to think that technology also has taken over some of our spaces. In that sense technology is a tool that can enables us to create a space. Seeing space in this way confronts us with the difficulty of imagining a space without a space. Indeed Giovanella et al.(2010) in a very interesting article: Educational Complexity: Centrality of Design and Monitoring the Experience talks about the idea of liquid places and organic era. Spaces that have no boundaries or at least not more than the one you can create yourself while inhabiting those spaces. An idea that relates with the organic view of the actual era called by some the era of interaction or -what would be the same- of connectedness. Where there are no boundaries or constraints to connect more than the one which inhabits in ourselves (of course thinking that the default mode is a connected one and what that implies regarding the access to technology)

The idea of developing personal learning environments brings me immediately to connect environment and space. An environment is a space, it is a space that can be infinite, or at least with no visible boundaries, such as a natural environment lets say a forest, where the sky could extend into infinite. Lefebvre (1991), argues that space is a social production. From natural spaces, considered as absolute spaces to more complex spaces whose significance is socially produced. The production of space throughout time is a three-part dialectic between everyday life and perception (and that is shaped by actual social values), the representation or theory of space, and the spatial imaginary of the time (Lefebvre, 1991). I advocate for a creative imaginary that belongs in words of Castoriadis (1975), to an open society. That needs an awakening of imagination and creativity.

Seven decades ago, John Dewey stated that space has an impact on learning, and so did Vygotsky back in 1978, who conceived learning as a transaction between the person and his social environment. Therefore educational settings are better served by specificity than by serendipity. Few design questions have been raised about the learning behaviors that the space aims to encourage. Skepticism about design of spaces and the effect they have in students’ behaviours speaks for a deterministic view of the connection between design and behaviour (Bennett, 2006).

The space is so relevant to learning that the evolution and development of the school building was the logical architectural response to changing educational theories. Other forces such as cost-generated construction techniques, health and environmental aspects were merely tools to reach the goals already established by educators and, by themselves had little or no impact on the layout and organisation of the learning spaces (Mohamed Ageli Hammad, 1984).

Dewey argued that education is a social process, and consequently it requires a prior definition of the kind of society within which learning occurs. Tuned with his idea, and thinking that our actual educational system (blackboard knowledge and the imposing teacher) represent the quintessential learning space for the industrial era (taking into account some exceptions) we suggest to move towards an upcoming innovative culture and a learning intensive society (Miller et al., 2008), and think about what spaces and conditions students need to construct their knowledge while meaning-making, moving from a teacher centred approach to a student centred one.

In the past, speaking of “learning space” was not common. The usual word used was “learning place” suggesting the image of a unique physical space called classroom, with its chairs and tables, notebooks and pencil. Although the classroom is still the core place to learn, there are several changes occurring and new opportunities flourishing. Adding new possibilities allowing us to use a broader term such as “learning space” (Brown and Lippincott, 2003, Trouche et al., 2012). As traditional classes are feed with technology they acquire new functionality, fostering new activities and new ways to learn, and to work. New formats are available, and new dimensions opens up: a vast array of tools available at no cost are at a distance of a click!

To conceptualise a new “learning space”, we shall start with a definition of space, and look for the word-through the magnifying glass of a dictionary:

  1. The unlimited or incalculably great three-dimensional realm or expanse in which all material objects are located and all events occur.
  2. The designed and structured surface of a picture 3. Mathematicians like to deal with abstract space, which contains no physical substance, can have an unlimited number of dimensions, and whose properties are determined by various postulates.

Adding to these definitions, there are researchers who already worked with the idea of ‘learning space’ . Nonaka and Konno’s (1998), theory of knowledge creation include the idea of space, called as “ba”. It is meant as a

“context that harbors knowledge”

as a shared space to build knowledge. Knowledge following this theory is acquired through individual experience, and on reflecting on the experience of others. In that sense, it has to be a safe place, where care, trust and, commitment are embraced. The process of transforming tacit knowledge, embedded in the space into explicit one occurs through sharing thoughts, experience, and, feelings.

Kolb and Kolb (2005), created a definition of learning space supporting it with their experiential learning theory. They use the term “microsystem” to describe immediate settings, environments such as the classroom or an online course environment, and “mesosystem” referring to concurrent settings in the personal life of the student (e.g. the dorm, other courses, or the family), the exosystem to describe the formal and informal social structures that influences the person (e.g: school culture), and the macrosystem overarching values of the wider culture. According to these authors the learning space should be a space with place for action.

The RME-DynamicSpace

Dewey noted

“nothing takes root in mind when there is no balance between doing and receiving”

There should be active expression and testing continuously involved in the learning process.

Robert Kegan’s idea

“people grow best where they continuously experience an ingenious blend of challenge and support”

is very relevant for this project, as a core idea underlying the design of the space.

Malcon Brown (2005), in his chapter of Learning Spaces, defines the learning space as a space that encompass the full range of places where learning occurs, from classroom to chat rooms, from real to virtual; but in all cases a new space that do not need to have only one format. Tourche et al. (in press), debate about “learning space” and “teaching space”. Making the difference between the space where the students learn, and the “teaching space” where teachers arrange and orchestrate their learning. They are tuned with Brown’s (2005) idea that ICT enlarges the scope of the learning space, adding new dimensions to it. They combine the idea of mental space and the unlimited learning spaces generated by new technology.

I add to this idea of teachers orchestrating their learning, that my proposal of a Rich Multimedia Empty DynamicSpace is an approach to learning where students can orchestrate their learning allowing them to organise, collect, curate, produce and, share what they need in order to learn.

In a more abstract view, Lankshear and knobel (2006), talk about a phenomenon they called

“fracturing of space”

which is accompanied by the emergence of a new kind of mindset, which will be described in another posts. This idea refers to the advent of a new space, which they call “cyberspace”, that interacts with physical space. No one exclude the other and it is obvious that physical space cannot dismiss cyberspace. This cyberspace is an integral part of the spatiality of the Net Generation and both spaces co-exist.

Moving to a futuristic view of the learning spaces in Europe, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) published in 2008 a report about the future of schools. They conceived the learning space as a way to embrace a different view of learning, attending to new needs in the knowledge society. Predictions of future learning spaces are widely spread all over Europe. However, as Douglas Adams once said

The best way to predict the future is to build it

Therefore I start with a description of the learning space I intend to create for my study. The “learning space” will be a virtual personalised space –cyberspace- conceived as a dynamic rich multimedia environment, empty of content knowledge and full with multimedia tools. Aiming at working dynamically in the learning process, building the knowledge needed to understand the core ideas behind the subject. A process that occurs not only in the classroom but anywhere they choose to. Being a portable and ubiquitous space that they carry with them when/wherever they need to.

An empty canvas, a designed and structured surface, where they can organise their space in highly personalised complex forms. Forms that allow them to: experiment; perform; probe; model; collaborate; show and share; create; and communicate. A place where they are also the “owners” of the knowledge they create and share. In brief, a personal dynamic virtual environment to design and create (in multimodal formats) mathematical knowledge, in the pursuit of understanding mathematical core ideas and deciding their learning pathway while they are producing their own ideas. Using the history of mathematics as a cultural context. Placing the students in the center of the space as signs makers, as designers of meaning, and of the meaning making process they are engaged with, conceiving pedagogy as a process of design (Jewitt, 2008).

The task of the learners is solving problems through creating new artefacts (texts, designs, models, products or services among others), designing their learning trajectory, choosing among different modes of expression, and finding the one that fits with their way of understanding the world and consequently mathematics.

There is an important idea suggested by Jewitt (2008), in her multimodality approach to learning. The success at multimodal learning -working with varied formats (video, audio, image, action, music, writing)- as technology allow to

can be coupled with the ability to be autonomous, and self-directed designers of learning experiences, to possess problem solving skills with multiple strategies for tackling a task, and to have a flexible solution orientation to knowledge

In the report from JISC (2006), there is an unmistakably need stated:

A small-scale highly equipped space can act as a catalyst for wider change and become a test-bed for new pedagogic approaches

The next step is to generate a concept or maybe better, create categories that functions as descriptors of the RME-DynamicSpace. I took inspiration from a document that I came across in 2013 (mentioned above): School’s over: Learning Spaces in Europe in 2020: An imagining exercise on the future of learning (JRC and IPTS). I shared some of their vision and added some of my own to come with an initial set of 7 duplets -as I call them- that describe the learning approach I am aiming to create.
More in my next post