Being on the edge of things

In an archive edition of Monitor (1964) Philip Larkin talks about Hull being ‘a little on the edge of things’ and how he ‘quite liked being on the edge‘.  Hull is my home. I know about being on the edge and when it comes to my PhD it’s the same story. I need to  find a research community and when it comes to my subject, Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), I don’t know where that is.

So who am I and what am I doing? it’s back to the TEL People. In previous posts I’ve written about their tribes and territories in terms of identity and language.  Today I’m reflecting on TEL research. Who’s doing it and where do TEL People go research support?

a plant surviving behind barbed wire

It was no surprise I was the only one at the University of Northampton’s postgraduate induction week to be researching online education or how out of 6 of us within the School of Education, I’m the only one researching outside of the compulsory sector. I call my research educational but the educational research discipline has never felt like home.  For years I’ve been writing about the loneliness of the long distance learner and already at Northampton I feel like I’m on the edge of things again.

For the PhD this week I’ve been reading the disciplines and discipline of educational research by David Bridges. As assessor for the REF, Bridges looked at the diversity of disciplinary approaches to educational research (ER). He asks if ER should be seen as a single subject or are there more benefits to adopting a multi-disciplinary identity. Applying either to my own research assumes it already sits within a discipline but I don’t know where to find it.

image of a maze

The word discipline carries the idea of unique qualities. This is where Becher’s first work on academic tribes and territories began. Based on research carried out in the 1980s, it was a time when you were defined by your subject. You were a sociologist, psychologist, archaeologist. If you didn’t have an …ology you were a chemist, physicist, geographer or historian. Your ideological home then shaped the ways in which you conducted research inquiries. The second edition (2001) looked beyond the traditional hold disciplines had over research epistemologies. It brought in influences from learning and teaching alongside the shift to more practice-based as well as interdisciplinary programmes. This reflected the changing HE landscape and by the 3rd edition (2012) Trowler was suggesting epistemological essentialism no longer suited the complexity of HE.

So the idea of a single disciplinary community is dead. Or is it? Bridges concludes by asking if the disciplines themselves contained intrinsic research validity which is weakened by adopting a multidisciplinary approach. The debate continues but where does TEL fit in?

finding-a-home-pixabay

Finding a home for my PhD has always been a problem. In spite of it dealing with sector-wide issues around blended learning, no one has wanted it. It’s a touch ironic how a 3 year study of the attitudes of academic staff towards digital pedagogy and practice is so unloved. Maybe if TEL was recognised as a discipline in its own right it might gain more respect. As it is, TEL People tend to be classified as techies (when we’re not) and our outputs seen as less valuable than the related disciplines like education and computing science where we’re most often shoehorned in to fit.

It’s clear there’s more to read and reflect on with regard to disciplinary difference and the location of TEL. Trowler (2014) writes about strong and moderate essentialist approaches while Neuman, Parry, and Becher (2002) allocate disciplines into Pure, Applied, Hard and Soft; binaries which inevitably contain implications of preference. In this taxonomy, Technology is Hard Applied while Education is Soft Applied an TEL crosses both boundaries so straight away there’s an epistemological clash.

house on the edge of a jetty

I’m sure that where ever I find my TEL home, it’s still going to be on the edge of things.


Bridges, D. (2006) The disciplines and discipline of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40 (2) pp 259–272

Neuman, R., Parry, S., & Becher, T. (2002). Teaching and learning in their disciplinary contexts: A conceptual analysis. Studies in Higher Education, 27(4), 405–417.

Trowler, P. (2014) Depicting and researching disciplines, strong and moderate essentialist approaches. Studies in Higher Education. 39:10. 1720-1731


All images from pixabay


Where there’s emotion there’s poetry

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The media has been promoting poetry. On both sides of the water. In the US a piece called Still, Poetry Will Rise in The Atlantic claims Americans are seeking solace and wisdom in verse. The most popular poem last week was He Tells Her by Wendy Cope. A coincidence because this was already chosen for PoetryFeedHE. You can read it here. In the UK Words for Solace and Strength in the The Guardian suggested a page full of poems for people in times of stress. None of these appear in this weeks PoetryFeedHE. To have the coincidence twice over would be too much of an… er…well… coincidence.

Why do we turn to poetry in the first place?

sunset-pixabay

Wherever there’s emotion there will be poetry. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is recited at weddings. Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s Death is nothing at all at funerals. Poetry honours birth as in Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song and remembrance in Seamus Heaney’s Digging. Then there’s the fantastical Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, the alliterative Night Mail by W.H. Auden and bleakness like no other in Remembrance by Emily Bronte. Writing from the University of Hull, I have to include Philip Larkin so here is Aubade and An Arundel Tomb. All that is left of us is love.

lc

This week Leonard Cohen died. Many will have paused to recall thin tatty volumes of poems read by candle light and scratched LPs with achingly familiar covers. The voice, oh that voice, dragged across broken glass, late at night, thick blue smoke of french cigarettes and thin spirals rising from patchouli incense, the ashes falling dangerously onto the floor cushions. Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967. Songs of Love and Hate 1971. Music blurring the lines between poetry and song.

leonard-cohem-poems        leonard-cohen-songs

The news reminds us there will always be winners and losers. The world is built upon binary opposites; dark and light, sweet and sour, sickness and health. Sometimes we need one to appreciate the other.

Poetry mirrors life. Poems seek us out and present universal truths. They are hands to hold onto. Always there in hard copy of digital text, torn out, printed out, framed, slipped between the pages of albums and books. Then forgotten. We move on but the words remain. As the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem says The world goes on being round.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen Suzanne lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Images from pixabay and amazon

Panopto Power and the American Dream

As a team we’re askedimg_1845 to feed back on conferences and other excursions. This week was my first Panopto Conference and I headed off to London. It was dark, cold and raining and the car park ticket machine was broken. The message said try another machine but at Hull Station there isn’t one. I leave a note in my car saying I have photographic evidence of being unable to pay and splash through puddles towards the station. It can only get better.

Registration is 9.00 for a 10.00 start. At 10.00 I’m at Liverpool Street trying to get to Tower Hill. I’ve already confused the Central and Circle line and nearly ended up in Berking. How can this be? I used to live here – I should know my way around better than this! img_1848

One disadvantage of being late is the limited view from the back but a crowded room is a good sign. Key messages throughout the day were on the theme of ‘video enhances learning‘ and supports making teaching memorable through emotional, entertaining or traumatic approaches.

Video can make possible what can’t be done in real time. During our digital storytelling workshops Chris Tompson played a video which included the death of a child. You don’t get much more emotional than that. I remember it to this day.

Entertaining is self-explanatory. We all like to laugh.

Learning through trauma is potentially risky but also powerful. In my previous institution a nurse educator would faint on a simulation ward round. The clue was in the word simulation but it was so well done as the co-lecturer called on the students for help and they were plunged from theory to sudden practice.

Video can show what you wouldn’t want to see in real life, for example disaster scenarios, or where the best laid plans can go wrong. We all prefer ‘health and safety’ messages when they’re presented in dramatic form on film. It makes it so much more real than talk or text. This is the power of Panopto. It supports a range of teaching resources which make it a useful tool for exploring the use of video and audio within learning design.

The event was held in the basement of the America Square Conference Centre in central London. This is where the streets are tiny and have names like Crutched Friars, Savage Gardens and Seething Lane. Refreshments and lunch were in a room containing a stretch of original City of London wall. Either London has risen significantly or the wall foundations were amazingly deep.

Everyone I spoke to from other institutions had cameras installed in their teaching rooms and an opt-in policy. Many had been using Panopto for some time. At Hull we’re at the start of the journey. The plan is to introduce it from the perspective of learning design and digital story telling but there’s still the question of technical confidence. Digital capabilities are never far away.  The challenge is to find the balance between the how, the why and the where and to keep the pedagogical reasons why Panopto might support learning and teaching near the surface of all our conversations.

The conference included a student panel answering questions on the value of video as a teaching tool. Students spoke of a range of ways they were introduced to video before, during and after face-to-face sessions. Students also recorded themselves for observation and feedback on performance.

video_icon2

Like all technology it seems Panopto is often used on a surface level with less people engaging with features like the synchronous and asynchronous notes or the search feature. One student said I just go in there and do what I need, I don’t look around. This reinforced the risk of making assumptions about how learning technologies are used. Also, similar to complaints about VLE, students didn’t like inconsistency of use across modules because it created an uneven learning experience. Direct recording lectures was the least mentioned activity. With regard to these affecting attendance, students were unanimous in agreeing it made no difference. Fee paying students were even more likely to go to lectures and students who stayed in bed would miss them anyway – regardless of whether or not they were recorded.

bed-in_for_peace_amsterdam_1969_-_john_lennon__yoko_ono_17

This is what the research literature suggests but it’s always reassuring to hear it directly as it’s the most commonly repeated comment from academic staff.

The  TEF gets in everywhere these days, in this instance the question being ‘will the TEF drive more use of technology enhanced learning?‘ something all TEL-Teams should be asking. How can TEL support undergraduate students in having an excellent experience?  We might argue about what teaching excellence is and how to measure it, but TEF is an opportunity to revisit how teachers teach and learners learn. There is little doubt the internet is changing how content is produced and consumed and one suggestion was to take note of how students use Facebook and You Tube to gather and share content, then build this into our learning designs. Back to digital capabilities. You need to be digitally active in order to understand learning design in the 21st century.

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Panopto’s CEO flew in from Seattle to present a road-map including a host of new features:

  • More accurate recording of system audio
  • Highlight mouse cursor
  • The ‘middle-way’ – using phone or tablet app, log in with SSO  and recording goes to your own folder
  • Rewind and pause on the webcast using HLS technology so users can pause, walk away, resume etc
  • Discussion tab enabling live chat on webcast
  • Access controls on subfolders
  • All users have their own folder/sandbox
  • Curated home page on cloud based Panopto with grid layout to look more like You Tube
  • Moved away from silverlight on editing, now HTML 5 and going to eliminate all Flash in the future
  • Subeditior now more precise for cutting
  • Undo button with sequence of changes
  • Can rename video streams
  • Changes to how captions are displayed colours etc to improve access and going to offer choice to user
  • Can designate sign-in rather give users a choice

Overall it was a useful event although I’d have liked more opportunity for Q&A sessions. It’s not often academics and learning technologists are in the same room aquestions-pixabaynd it’s the sharing of practice and asking ‘How did you do that? which is so valuable.

Coming home from London on Virgin Trains East Coast is always the opposite to arriving on First Hull Trains. The wi fi was poor. I didn’t get the home page for my free 15 minutes until Doncaster and the plug socket gave up after 7%. Standing room only meant no coffee. I like the quiet coach but was sat next to someone who liked it even more, to the extent he pointed out to everyone how the sign on the window saying quiet was the opposite of what they were doing.  An argument ensued as to whether quiet mean mobile devices or any conversation. When the catering trolley finally got through – after Grantham – my fellow traveller, who had told everyone he didn’t want to listen to their conversations, chose crisps. Hardly a quiet option but hey ho – this is life.virgin-trains-east-coast

After Newark Northgate the Hull effect kicked in and the train started to empty. By Selby I’m the only one left in my compartment and can make as much noise as I like. It’s cold. I guess they’ve turned the heating off, and I feel for Bob the Driver whose flat northern tones announce every stop and end with ‘thank you for choosing to travel with Virgin trains’. I’m not sure how the only through train between 3.40 and 7.10 constitutes a choice but I get back safely which is all that matters and I don’t have a parking ticket. Just an iced up windscreen and no de-icer. Hey ho. I listened to the radio while the ice melts and conclude President Donald Trump is the epitome of the American Dream. just as it was outlined in their Declaration of Independence. Be careful what you wish for. It might come true.

I get home 15 hours after setting off and pour a large medicinal brandy – it’s chilly out there and I don’t want to catch cold.

TEL-People, language and poetry

social media icons pixabay

With regard to TEL-Tribes I’ve gone a bit anthropological. Not as in going back through the centuries because TEL-People are relatively new but other defining features of an anthropological study include physical characteristics, environmental and social relations, and above all, culture.

Two previous posts The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL-People and Why don’t I speak French explored what it means to be afflicted blessed with the acronym TEL. The story continues and today’s post is about communication.

TEL people speak a number of languages.

There are layers of technology language starting with code and ending with Help-desk-speak. TEL-People might be positioned anywhere on this continuum. Then there are the languages of teaching and of how students learn from multiple perspectives i.e. staff who teach and support learning, everyone else and students themselves. TEL-People need to be multi-lingual and segue from one to another in chameleon fashion. The problem is how the language of technology tends to align to a positivist view of the world while everyone else tends towards more interpretative approaches.

Compare these.

  • Illegal object
  • Address violation
  • Bad Command
  • Abort – Retry – Fail

with

  • Well, it all depends what you mean by
    • technology enhanced learning
    • student engagement
    • pedagogic innovation
    • excellence in teaching

aw-snap

Where language complicates issues the TEL-People can get caught up in the misunderstandings of others.  In a sector where words matter, there is a tendency for some to seek out a more obscure vocabulary in order to demonstrate their academic significance. At a time when more people than ever are being offered the opportunity to experience a higher education, should we not be seeking to simplify communication. rather than complexify  it.

There’s an art and a skill to clear writing. Not dumbing down but looking for ways to transmit messages unambiguously which don’t have the reader reaching for a dictionary or simply giving up. TEL-People tread a fine line between the binary approach of technology, black or white, yes or no, and the endless shades and permutations of educational research.

creativehesimonlancaster
Image by Simon Rae 

Academia is an environment which is always looking for new ways to say old things. On the CreativeHE Community this week  the topic is Exploring Creative Pedagogies and Learning Ecologies. One question asked was the difference between ‘pedagogies‘ and ‘ecologies‘ compared to ‘creative teaching methods‘ and ‘learning environments‘. As a TEL-Person I thought they were different ways of saying the same things. Crossing disciplines in my work I see this often. Maybe by re-framing what we already have in new sets of clothes we can encourage people to review and rethink what has gone before. Or maybe it just alienates. This is the problem with language. Meaning and interpretation are not always the same and when it comes to learning and teaching the TEL-People have to be at home within the full range of potential possibilities.

It’s not too far a leap from the elitism of words to poetry. Yes, TEL-People can be poets too…

School nearly killed verse for me.  Alexander Pope did not translate well to an inner city comprehensive.  The curriculum today is more contemporary but for too many people school was the beginning and the end of poetry for pleasure and fun.

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Sam Illingworth and I aim to change this. Every Friday lunch time we will be bringing you a poem to have with your sandwiches or chips. Subscribe to our site https://poetryfeedhe.wordpress.com or find us on Twitter #poetryfeedHE for opportunities to read, reflect and share your thoughts. Yes, PoetryfeedHE begins today.

‘You could do much worse than have lunch with a verse.’

We hope you’re hungry!

Why don’t I speak French?

page of french text

Why don’t I speak French? I learned it at school and went to French night class – twice. For 10 years I car-shared with a colleague who was fluent in French. What can I show for it today other than  un, deux, trois, and Je m’appelle Sue.

There’s a connection with speaking French and my PhD.  I’m at the University of Northampton’s Postgraduate Induction week. UoN are moving to a new Waterside Campus and changing their learning and teaching. Leaving behind the traditional f2f lecture, they’re adopting a blended approach via greater use of digital tools. Sounds exciting but it would do wouldn’t it – I’m a VLE advocate and at risk of extinction. There aren’t many of us left.

I’ve met my PhD supervisors; Ale Armellini and Ming Nie. Ale is the Director of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in HE and both Ale and Ming worked at Leicester with Gilly Salmon in the days of the Media Zoo. They have digital provenance and talking to Ale is like sharing a language – in a good way. He gets what I’m doing and this doesn’t happen often.  Ale suggests learning online involves a move from literacy to competency to fluency and we should aim to be bilingual, seamlessly transferring from one environment to another. Online. Offline. Online. Bourdieu comes to mind. A habitus binary. Digital fluency as a form of cultural capital. Digital capital.

Parlez-vous francais? written in chalk on a blackboard

So why don’t I speak French? I don’t have to. I don’t want to. If I were lost in France it would be different but I’m not so I don’t.

My PhD is about technology enhanced learning (TEL). It explores how staff transfer their f2f practice to online environments. Based on my TELEDA courses, it shows how resistance to VLE can be reduced by adopting immersive approaches to TEL support.

The irony is this research into digital resistance has been so difficult to home. One institution changed my role, wiping off ten years of  TEL work  and ending my TELEDA courses. Another rejected my PhD along with three years of data saying they had no supervision. It’s a year since my Thesis Whisperer debut on how supervision issues have haunted me (Know Your Limits). Ale is the first supervisor in five years to have a relevant TEL background. There’s another irony in how all these blocks on the PhD journey reinforce its message; digital divides on campus continue to separate the digital and non-digital speakers.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

The motivation for my PhD was to explore staff resistance to TEL. My approach was to put them into a digital environment and use that medium for critical reflection. I believed a supported immersive experience would make a difference. A bit like taking them to France with a phrase book and a fluent French speaker to intermediate if necessary. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the TEL-People and how we are a unique tribe with our own territory. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/the-invisible-tribes-and-territories-of-the-tel-people Maybe there is something about our language which I need to consider too.

dandilion growing out of parched ground

TEL-People are fluent with TEL-Speak and TEL-Beingness. We show, tell and demonstrate from our digital positions but where do we involve?  I have an ongoing battle with the use of the word ‘training’ with regard to technology. We do not train we teach. If we don’t have knowledge about how people learn then we should do.  TELEDA was built around sharing, discussion, collaboration, synthesis and critique. It was much more time and resource heavy than providing workshops and helpsheets but made a real difference to how participants changed their own TEL practices.  TELEDA was rejected just like my research has been. The buzz phrase today is digital capabilities. The Jisc model (below)is not perfect. I’d like to see digital inclusion made explicit as as one of the elements, but it’s a good enough place to explore the multiplicity of being digital in 21st century.

jisc digital capabilities model

Twice this month I’ve stood in front of rooms of teaching staff and no one has heard of it. I would suggest TEL-People are using a language which is only spoken by a minority. Yet our role is to encourage the majority to change how they teach.  We need to ask more critical questions about what we do. We work in institutions of higher education but how well do we apply the rules of teaching and learning to our own TEL practices? Should we be looking to the teaching of languages for ideas? Meaningful adoption of change requires a cultural shift and here governance plays a part. Without it there is no impetus for change. I would learn French if I had to, just as staff at Northampton are turning to the digital because their current ways of working are changing. It’s a dramatic move and one I’ll be watching with interest.

image showing python programming language

In the meantime I’ll take back to my own TEL-People the suggestion we consider a linguistic route and approach TEL as being ‘Digital’ for speakers of other languages. Rather than see pedagogical practice as being online or offline we should see it through a bi-lingual lens as Ale suggests. After all communication is at the heart of learning and teaching wherever it takes place.

‘si au début vous ne réussissez essayer somthing diffrent’


images from https://pixabay.com

The importance of being earnest not ignorant

Poster for the play the importance of being earnest

[Lady Bracknell]  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
From The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.


Ignorance is an interesting word. Wikipedia (one of the best teaching tools for understanding the internet) offers  ‘often (incorrectly) used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts.

We can’t know what we don’t know so why is ‘ignorance’ i.e. a state of being uninformed or lack of knowledge critiqued as a negative trait? Shouldn’t it be those responsible for withholding information who are critiqued instead?

Some valuable conversations took place at work this week about digital capabilities. Four departments are now represented in our monthly DigiCaps group; the TEL-Team, Library, Careers/Employability and Staff Development. There is enthusiasm. This is an encouraging start. I have hope.

Don't give up hope image blue butterfly on black background

The majority of education technology projects fail to gain widespread adoption because like attracts like and ICT is sticky stuff. Early digital adopters tend to stick together while digital pedagogies require digital competencies to stick but the majority of those in positions of managing change fail to appreciate the width and depth of on-campus digital divides. They are well kept secrets and this is where the words of Lady Bracknell come to mind. Why is there so much ignorance about the  true lack of meaningful digital adoption?  Is this knowledge-loss accidental or deliberate?

When it comes to the users of technology I hesitate to use the word ignorant. I’ve tried reluctant and resistant to describe lack of engagement and been told these are too kind. The latest trend among digital pioneers is to say if people don’t have appropriate digital skills they are not employable which seems a little harsh. Students are told their attributes should include competence to manage in an increasingly digital society. I agree this should apply to staff as well but rather than reject staff for being not being digitally capable, institutions should put in place digital development. It isn’t happening and I wonder if this is because it would mean admitting there is a digital problem in the first place. Just who is being ignorant here and why?

The second UCISA Digital Capabilities Survey has just been launched.

The findings of the first survey in 2014 highlighted lack of time and resources for staff to develop digital ways of working. The UCISA TEL Surveys have been saying this for years. There’e no shortage of evidence; just ignorance about what to do next. Contrary to the rhetorical promise, we’re in a digital dystopia and part of the problem is no one understands the baseline of what digital incapability looks like.

baseline

To highlight the issues our digi caps group are collecting anonymised examples of how low a digital baseline needs to go to ensure everyone starts from the same place. If you work in areas like education or learning development, learning technology or ICT support, and have examples of the divide between the promise and the reality of virtual learning, please do feel free to share them using the form below. This will help us to attach more importance to digital incapability and challenge ignorance about baseline support. It’s a sensitive issue but ignoring it won’t make it go away.  Lady Bracknell tells us the ‘whole theory of modern education today is unsound’ and this could easily be a reference to the world of digital education, resting as it does on assumptions of staff confidence and competence which simply don’t tally up.

image showing multiple students involved in creating a puzzele to demonstrate active learning

21st century higher education has been aptly summarised by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006:2) as follows: ‘Instead of characterising [student learning in HE] as a simple acquisition process based on teacher transmission, learning is now more commonly conceptualised as a process whereby students actively construct their own knowledge and skills. Students interact with subject content transforming and discussing it with others in order to internalise meaning and make connections with what is already known.’

The internet is a fabulous learning tool on so many different levels with multiple means to help students actively construct their own knowledge and skills but there remains an huge ignorance about the true state of adoption and use. I believe appropriate support can make a difference. I believe institutions have to accept technology on its own is not enough and investment needs to be in the people who use it as well

(Not sure why my details appear  in the form below but just delete and add your own or anonymous ones. I couldn’t find how to make the fields non-compulsory. Digital capabilities irony!) 


Share examples of how digital capabilities can best be developed and supported 


*Nicol, D. J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education (2006), Vol 31(2) 199-21

Images

simultaneous existence

planets in outer space

I have a colleague who is researching space. Not the outer space of stars or the inner space of quarks. Not the digital space of VLE or social media. This is real space. The space we exist in. The space we breath in and out, in and out…

Which raises the question – what is space? I’m not sure I’ve asked myself that before.

Space. We pass through it. Things pass through it. It’s the container in which we live and I can understand the air being of interest to a chemist or sports scientist. After all it keeps us alive but other than that it’s just the physical distance between objects – isn’t it?

diagram of distances between the sides of a triangle

How can you research space of the day-to-day kind?

It seems space has interested researchers for some time. There is Lebrevre’s Spacial Triad, Soja’s Thirdspace and Foucault’s Heterotopia. My Marx is a little rusty but I recall the notion of capital blurring measures of space where technologies enable the crossing of traditional boundaries of time and place – thereby compressing them. As in McLuhan’s global village and the virtual spaces of the internet. I think. Then there’s the liminal space of thresholds, the space between concepts and worlds and one of my favourites – the transient space of hotels and airports which we pass through on our way to and from different locations.

It seems space can be both physical and conceptual.

diagram of theoretical quarks

How often do we stop to think about the characteristics of the spaces within and between the places we inhabit?  Have you ever thought of space as socially constructed with inherent meanings which we replicate and reinforce, absorbing them without even being conscious of it. For social scientists interested in the origins of attitudes and behaviors, researching space may hold intriguing clues.

So what is the difference between the space I inhabit at work and the space I operate in online. Digital space. For me, the connected internet is a place/space I go into. If the internet is down I’m shut out. When I’m online with colleagues we are connected much the same as if we were in the same room. Now I’m thinking about how I exist in both of them at the same time. Walk across campus and every other person (or more) is also existing simultaneously in both the real and the digital world.

open laptop with the word learning on the screen

In education development we’ve treated the virtual as something external to us and different. Applied different rules and said it requires different pedagogical approaches. But how different is it to generations born into a social media society, who are accustomed to the simultaneous existence enabled by their mobile devices?

Maybe we see the virtual as different because we have analogue roots.

Maybe, instead of highlighting the differences between the two types of space ,we should be looking at the similarities instead.