Learning Spaces (#ourplace)

#OurPlace2020 was a project that fostered belonging and connection in the Business School community while Covid-19 was changing our world. In April 2020, the Business Co-Design team asked students to connect with others in lockdown by sharing their study spaces. We invited students to share tips for staying motivated via multiple social media channels  with the  #OurPlace2020 tag.

You Are Not Alone

Not surprisingly, some students felt socially isolated. Their worlds had shrunk; their bedrooms had become study spaces and the boundaries between their personal, social and educational lives, had blurred. It was hard to live in lockdown and study remotely.

Screenshot from a student video from #OurPlace2020 with face blurred for privacy.

We found these students’ visual stories so compelling that we analysed them for a publication in a special issue on learning spaces for the Postdigital Science and Education journal. See #OurPlace2020: Blurring Boundaries of Learning Spaces (Wardak, Vallis & Bryant, 2022). In this journal article (and this blog), we explore how students used their physical spaces in remote learning. And how this radical change might inform learning design choices.

Changing Spaces

Traditionally, learning spaces are considered to be university spaces. Yet we are mindful that student learning is complex and happens through a diverse networks of tools, artefacts, practices, places, relationships, and ways of knowing (Goodyear & Carvalho, 2019).  Likewise, the stories students shared under #ourplace told us the pandemic had disrupted the heterotopian idea of higher education as a separate space where students safely transition to the workforce. 

This blog post nicely summarises the theoretical underpinning of our research and its importance for the 2030 higher education landscape

It starts out with the argument that higher education is seen as a classic “heterotopic space”, a term defined by Foucault. According to this, heterotopias simultaneously represent, contest and invert real space, and in the process create transitional spaces. This, in other words, is the idea that higher education provides a “safe” and separate space, where transition into the “real world” can be prepared…

digi-musings on education

As educational technology researchers, we also wanted to learn from the contingent alternative learning spaces students created in response to the unexpected shift to remote learning, and how this related to digital technologies. We critically examined the learning spaces of students with a postdigital lens

Postdigital Learning (What???)

Picture of a white tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) with a heavy encoding glitch that is being used in place of a logo for the Daala video coding format by the project team; Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA-3.0

What do we mean by postdigital? It has been described as “a term that sucks but is useful” (Cramer & Jandrić, 2021). It describes the messy state of media, arts, and education today, where digital permeates and shapes every aspect of our lives. It glitches and unsettles us. As Negroponte famously predicted, now we only notice digital “by its absence, not presence” (Being Digital, 1995). Postdigital is also useful for questioning and critiquing the social and political agendas around digital technologies.  

One student showed a DIY approach to their online ’classroom’ with digital equipment resting on a bright plastic stool (Cramer, 2015). The large eye suggests technology has almost become human. That eye feels uncomfortable. The whole setting is make-shift and uncertain, much like the circumstances students experienced in lockdown. In another study space, a student carefully labelled everything but the laptop and mouse. Digital doesn’t need explaining, unlike natural light and pinboards!

Students’ study spaces #ourplace2020

Looking at how students represented their spaces though a postdigital lens was revealing. Learning is far more complicated than our imagined university heterotopia. Student spaces and practices mix analogue and digital. The boundaries of students’ physical spaces, digital technologies, and study practices cannot be separated – they are “complex entanglements” (Jandrić et. al, 2018, 896). 

In students’ stories, we saw that higher educators should broaden their ideas about learning spaces and consider students’ real-world spaces as part of their university experience (Wardak et al., 2021).

Post-pandemic?

2020 was tough. 2021 was just as rough sometimes. It would be tempting to snap back to old teaching and learning practices. Instead, we should be making the most of the spaces we have. More than ever, we need to get creative about designing education that supports learning in a postdigital world. Because the boundaries between universities and ‘real worlds’ are blurred.

As educators we all learned a lot through lockdown. At the Business School, we aim to keep learning as we teach, wherever our students are.

P.S. You can join an online conversation about postdigital learning spaces of higher education on 24th February 2022, 9-10am (GMT). Register here.

Feature image calculators & pink bunny: student post contributed to #ourplace2020

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