Tag Archives: space

What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’?

It is so nice to come across like-minded researchers with whom I share with out knowing it my own ideas about education and learning.
Article: What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’? Exploring the Borders of Formal and Informal Learning with Undergraduate Students of Education in the Age of Mobile Technologies
Source: What’s Happening in ‘Their Space’? Exploring the Borders of Formal and Informal Learning with Undergraduate Students of Education in the Age of Mobile Technologies

The University as a third space?

The University as a third space?
I am after an idea that will allow me to define and characterise the space students are going to design and hopefully live in for a longer period of time to make it sustainable for them. It seems to me there is something to take from Ray Oldemburg‘s work on ‘third places’.
Complementing to it is the metaphor of liquidity used by Bauman in his characterisation of modernity.  Bauman, a key theorist in pot-modernity thinks that social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long–term life plans, so individuals have to find other ways to organise their lives. They have to splice together an unending series of short–term projects and episodes that don’t add up to the kind of sequence to which concepts like ‘career’ and ‘progress’ could meaningfully be applied. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable (agile in my words) – to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice, to abandon commitments and loyalties without regret and to pursue opportunities according to their current availability. In liquid modernity the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting (or failing to act) under conditions of endemic uncertainty. In line with this description of society is the work of Carlo Giovanella who argues for liquid spaces in an organic era. I aim to come to my own version soon!

Personal learning environment and the learning of mathematics. Possibility or reality?

E-DynamicSpace with no frame
I have participated in a conference organised in Belgrade by Singidunum University. They are oriented towards business and the conference mainly approached themes about the impact of the Internet on business activities in Serbia. They  have plans to broaden their offer and include educational studies. So for this conference they invited speakers and papers that relate education and the Internet, which is my case. My interest lies in between these two areas.  I am looking at how can the affordances of digital technologies be explored and exploited by teacher-students (prospective teachers)  in the learning of mathematics. Is a personal learning environment an effective and powerful tool to stage-manage the learning/teaching experience of teacher-students and build experience in the field? If the hypothetical answer is yes, why is it so and how should this space be conceived? What are some features such a space should have?
In the time I have been working in this -for now only theoretically prototype idea-  I have changed the RME for just an E.  It is now EDynamicSpace (E stands for empty, as this space starts as an empty workbench for teacher-students which will be filled with their work, ideas, knowledge artefacts, tools and all what for them is needed to process and learn mathematics through its history and the ignitors for the work are teacher-student questions.
So it starts as an empty place and it will end as the imagination and curiosity of each user will take them.
More details of my idea in this paper which is online in the conference site:

Tools and how we think and communicate

Relationships with tools, the media and, the way we communicate and interact with the world, are changing at a pace that is almost unreachable. The same is happening with the plethora of “intellectual technologies”(Bell, 1974) available to create a variety of artefacts weather to learn, to teach or maybe just to express ourselves. According to Carr (2010) “it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relations with others. (p.45)”
Although these technologies are part of young peoples’ daily lives it is not the case that they are an integral part of education (Peer 21). There are not embedded in the teachers’ daily strategies, as is the case of the blackboard or smart-boards, notebook, textbooks and lectures among others. There has always been an important gap between what the technological world has to offer in connections with new ways of processing information and transforming it in knowledge and what schools and teachers decide to use and integrate into their strategies. The affordances technological tools offer to education. Bureaucracy consumes much of their time!
It is indeed difficult to keep up with technology innovations and their affordances. Not only a new scale is introduced, as McLuhan said, but also a new approach to express us. Multimodality is a new construct introduced by Jewit (2008). It refers to communication using more than one mode (image, action, sound, writing, music and a bricolage [1] of all). Consequently, new forms to relate with knowledge come to the fore and with it, new forms of learning and teaching. Jewit (Op cit.) argues that the way knowledge is represented is a crucial aspect of knowledge construction, making the form of representation integral to meaning.
Adding to the latter, Carr (2010) made a noteworthy comment in his book: “At fist I’d figure that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rod. But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it –and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became […] I wanted to be connected” (p.16)
[Here an interesting article related to this idea]This personal feeling expressed by the author is supported with empirical data from neuroscience throughout the book, making it clear, that indeed our way of thinking and feeding our mind has had change with the ubiquity of ICT –‘Intellectual tools’ in our lives. Much more is the case for the digital natives (Prensky, 2011) or also called millenials (Oblinger, 2003) that where born under this new way of perceiving the world.
How knowledge is understood, defined, conceived, produced and, shared has changed throughout time. Moreover, knowledge is shaped by the agents of its time; i.e. “The technology of the map advanced the evolution of abstract thinking throughout society. […] It gave to man a new and more comprehending mind, better able to understand the unseen forces that shape his surroundings and his existence” (Carr, 2010. p. 41).
The invention of writing is another example; it had important effects on mental processes, being Plato’s philosophically analytical thought a materialization of one of those new mental processes (Ong, cited by Carr, 2010).
Knowledge has and is always evolving. Understanding it in a particular realm of time is critical to align our spaces and structures with the nature of it. Space, in a broader sense, is a social production (Lefebvre, 1991). From natural spaces, considered as absolute to more complex spaces whose significance is socially produced. Lefebvre argues that 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. Therefore I advocate for a creative imaginary that belongs to an open and networked society.
It is in this endeavour of creative imaginary and the search of new utopias for education where I want to explore and research. This idea of complex spaces socially produced, where teaching and learning can take place in an innovative way is fascinating. I see a powerful means for the teaching and learning in general and for the learning of mathematics in particular, for young generation of students that feel disengaged and disaffected with their education process.
There are several questions that I ask to myself: How to construct this space? Who will: the teacher, the students, or both? Is it open, free, interoperable? Will it need guidance and scaffolding, and if, who’s guidance? What would be the role of the student in the process of designing this learning space; designers of such a learning space? Will students guide the teacher in the process of building the space? Or maybe there can be pre-constructed scaffolding used by every one? How is teaching and learning taking place in such a space?
My particular vision of this space responds to the conception of education as complex phenomena; a complex system. Complex systems are based on nonlinear relationships and are self-organised. Where emergence and self organisation are fundamental properties to look at, how and what emerges from the space, how they can self-organise? It is a network where components are interconnected and it is in constant evolution.
[1]French term meaning the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process.

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
[2] http://www.cosmosportal.org/articles/view/137607/