Travelling back to Edinburgh from Dublin (taxi-ferry-trains-bus), where I yesterday delivered a keynote presentation as part of the conference, Sustainable Hybrid Education: Building a Community of Practice to Rise to the Needs of the Future. It was part of the Erasmus+ Hybrid-e project, which is funded jointly by the University of Amsterdam, Aristotle University Thessaloniki, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and the Teaching and Learning Unit at University College Dublin. The conference was organised David Jennings and Eoin McEvoy, who put together an event that really successfully brought together colleagues from a range of institutions and disciplines, and working in different roles.
The title of my presentation was ‘Choreography and improvisation in hybrid higher education’, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and am currently writing-up with Tim Fawns, Joe Noteboom, and Jen Ross, based upon our experiences of teaching fusion courses within the MSc in Education Futures.
Here's a recording of my presentation on YouTube.
And these are my slides and references:
My talk was collected around the following propositions, which draw on my teaching and research around hybrid education:
On this final idea, I proposed that the design of successful hybrid (or ‘fusion’ as we prefer to describe our approach within the Edinburgh Futures Institute) education benefits from a particular mindset, which can be described as follows:
What I also argued in my keynote was that all of the above is helped by seeking out the expertise and expectations of different stakeholders within teaching in learning. When hybrid education (and all education really), is never a straight exchange between student-and-teacher, and certainly never just about the tech, there is value in bringing together learning designers, technologists, AV specialists, academics, learners and other groups besides.
In this chapter I explore the conceptual compatibility of sociomateriality and postdigital thinking, explored through higher education learning spaces research. I make three arguments in the chapter, as follows.
To begin, sociomateriality and postdigital thinking have a good deal of conceptual common ground.
However, while sociomateriality provides a very helpful openness to all the different human and non-human bodies that shape educational practices and spaces, postdigital thinking more forcefully pushes us to recognise and reckon with the presence and influence of digital technologies and practices in particular.
In fact, postdigital thinking, I suggest, works as a kind of research sensibility, as it shapes how we see and understand our educational surroundings.
My chapter is part of this collection concerned with Constructing Postdigital Research, edited by Petar Jandrić. Alison MacKenzie and Jeremy Knox.
Lamb, J. (2023). Sociomateriality, Postdigital Thinking, and Learning Spaces Research. In: Jandrić, P., MacKenzie, A., Knox, J. (eds) Constructing Postdigital Research . Postdigital Science and Education . Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-35411-3_6
Along with my colleagues, Sian Bayne and Emma McAllister, and former colleague Martin Hawksey, I guested on the Teaching Here and There podcast. The podcast series is organised and hosted by Dominic Pates and colleagues at City University, with many of the conversations taking a particular interest in the relationship between digital technologies and education. The subject of this episode was the development of fusion education within our Edinburgh Futures Institute. Listen below or here.
Since 2015, I’ve been doing work around the ways that digital technologies shape how we document, experience and understand the city. This has included staging events with my colleagues Michael Gallagher and Jeremy Knox, which includes excursions and seminars in Amsterdam, Bremen and London. Last week I travelled to Braunschweig in northern Germany, where I presented a paper, ‘The Augmented reality of the postdigital city’. This was part of Participation and the Postdigital: Contemporary technologies and practices in education and urban life.
One of the points I made during my presentation was that, in the earlier excursions in Amsterdam, Bremen and London, there was something novel about the way that Michael, Jeremy and I had used digital technologies (variously including mobile phones, the Telegram messaging app and other resources) as a way of documenting or helping to navigate the city. However, in the reasonably short time since our earliest activities, these and other digital technologies have become so commonplace in our everyday surroundings and actions to no longer be remarkable. Or to put it another way, we occupy a postdigital city.
As I discussed in my paper, when we nowadays cut a path through the city, we readily and seamlessly augment our aural, visual and wider sensorial and emotional relationship with the city through digital materials and practices. Within the postdigital urban condition we use QR codes to access information. Streamed playlists and podcasts provide an alternative soundtrack to our surroundings. We purchase goods through contact-less connections. And at the same these interactions enable the tracking of our movements and the documenting of our habits and preferences.
The idea that most seemed to resonate with the conference audience, though, was the suggestion that digital technologies enable us to rehearse the city even before we step out into the street. Using Google Streetview, we can select a hotel in what seems to be a picturesque and safe setting. The same platform enables us to pre-walk a route from the station to the hotel (as I had done in the case of Braunschweig). When purchasing tickets for major sporting or cultural events, we can first look at the view from a specific seat before deciding whether to purchase. We can also check the availability of in-store items when choosing where to shop. What this can mean is that when we finally arrive in the city, there can be a feeling of the uncanny. Even when we have never previously visited that physical location, our surroundings are familiar, albeit not quite the same as when we experienced them online.
One of the questions I asked during my presentation is whether this represents a kind of trade-off. As we rehearse the city in an effort to structure in a safe and satisfying experience, do we potentially lose some of serendipity and surprise that can enliven our urban experiences when we arrive there anew? But on the other hand, when the city is performed through a multitude of different actors (people, traffic, weather, disruption…) perhaps it will inevitably retain its unpredictability in spite of what we might have seen and planned in advance?
Last week I travelled to Braunschweig to deliver two conference papers at Participation and the Postdigital: Contemporary technologies and practices in education and urban life. These were on the subject of ‘The augmented reality of the postdigital city’ and ‘A short experiment exploring the train carriage as a postdigital learning space (Edinburgh Waverley to Braunschweig Hbf)’.
The ‘experiment’ in the latter paper took place as I travelled by train to the conference last Wednesday, setting off from Edinburgh Waverley, followed by connections in London, Brussels and Frankfurt, before arriving into Braunschweig around 17 hours later. I was interested to see whether and how digital technologies supported the train journey as a productive learning and working space.
At the same time, there was an environmental motivation behind the mode of transit. As universities and educators reckon with their responsibilities around climate crisis, there has emerged a need to re-evaluate whether it’s OK to travel by air to attend conferences, meetings and other events. We can make a case for doing so when an event doesn’t support online attendance, or the occasion is of sufficient importance that it demands being in the same physical setting as other delegates or colleagues (and it isn’t feasible to get there without travelling by air). I was interested to see whether the train offered a viable alternative to air travel.
Inevitably, this kind of journey isn’t feasible for everyone or suited to every occasion. My chosen mode of transit was made possible by university conference funding, not least as it was more expensive to travel by rail than by air. I am also fortunate to enjoy physical health and mobility that made a 17-hour hour journey a reasonable proposition. Tiring, but not out-of-the-question.
There’s also the issue of time. Considered alongside air travel, train was the slow route to Braunschweig. Even after factoring in the 2-hour international flight check-in time, and then connecting train journeys that would have taken me from Berlin airport to Braunschweig, it would have been twice as fast to go by plane. But then again, I would suggest that a series of three- and four-hour train journeys is more conducive to working than the stop-start experience of air travel.
I made these and other points when I reported on my experiment at the conference. I also explained that a range of digital technologies (laptop, software, streaming services, wifi...) contributed towards the train carriage being a productive writing and working space. However, these digital resources were always woven together with other human and material actors: that is, the train carriage existed as a postdigital space.
During my visit to UniDistance Suisse last week, I was interviewed by Dr Henrietta Carbonel, where I shared some of my thinking around the relationship between learning spaces and digital technologies. It was a good conversation within beautiful surroundings (see 05:20).
Last week I visited UniDistance Suisse, as I took up an invitation from Henrietta Carbonel and Jean-Michel Jullien to share some of my work around digital learning spaces. Across two days I delivered a conference presentation, led a workshop, attended meetings and took part in an interview where I talked about learning spaces and the future of education more generally.
Within my conference presentation I discussed three teaching approaches where I have configured space, time and technology in response to specific design changes. The activities are an online exhibition, an asynchronous tutorial, and a conference poster session. Each of these approaches rethinks a conventional educational activity in ways that tap into the potentialities of the digital learning environment. They also all take place within the collaborative whiteboard space of Miro. As the slides below explain, I have been using these approaches within my Education and Digital Culture, Future of Learning Organisations and Learning Spaces and Digital Technologies postgraduate courses. Drawing on examples from my own practice meant that I was able to discuss the possibilities, but also the constraints and challenges, associated with each teaching activity.
My workshop took place within the physical classroom but also simultaneously in Miro. We took a crowd-sourcing approach to knowledge construction as we explored questions around multimodal assessment, classroom power dynamics, and fusion spaces and pedagogies. The structure for this session involved my introducing each theme, before making a provocation to stimulate conversation. Groups then responded through discussion, while at the same collecting their ideas within a shared Miro board. Asking groups to share their ideas in Miro allowed more time for discussion, compared to the typical workshop experience of cutting conversation short early in order to prepare and then deliver spoken presentations.
I was glad that each of these sessions seemed to strike a chord with colleagues, who were drawn together from a range of Swiss and French universities. It was interesting to see how the many of the same questions and experiences resonate across international borders and different universities. I am hopeful there might be more collaborations like this in the future.
This morning I'll present my second paper at Carnet 2022 Conference. Yesterday afternoon I discussed the conceptual compatibility of sociomateriality and postdigital thinking. Today I'll discuss how I draw on a number of key postdigital propositions to inform my research around learning spaces. The 'reimagining' within my paper title refers to my argument that, when thinking about postdigital learning spaces, we need to consider questions of accessibility and equality in order to create convivial and sustainable learning spaces. Slides below.
Over the last few days I've been participating in the Carnet 2022 Conference in Šibenika, Croatia (and online in my case). This afternoon I contributed a presentation that will feed into a book chapter I'm writing, about the conceptual and methodological relationship between sociomateriality and postdigital thinking. The overarching question of the book and paper is whether, in light of some key common conceptual ground, postdigital does anything beyond the work already performed by theories of sociomateriality. I think perhaps, from a research perspective, postdigital thinking brings something distinct by being more resolute in recognising that digital technologies are woven into the fabric of our everyday educational surroundings and practices. More in the slides below.
For the Introduction to Social Research Methods course (part of the MSc in Digital Education) I was asked to write about a method that I use in my own research. I chose to describe some of the ways that sound has helped me to ask questions about educational spaces and practices. And rather than writing a piece, I decided it would be record myself talking on the subject.
The piece begins with me inviting students to participate in a version of the 'ear cleaning' activity developed by R Murray Schafer, who was part of the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University. From there I go on to propose a definition of 'sonic method' (02:15 minutes in), how sound has gradually become more popular within social and education research (05:12), three examples of how sound has featured in my own digital education research (09:35), and the scope and subjectivities of working with sound as a method (16:30).
One of the messages I convey in the recording is that while sound offers something distinct as an approach to inquiry, this will most likely happen in concert with more traditional methods, especially those concerned with what we see. And I don't expect that the piece will suddenly lead to a whole series of student dissertations that depend on sonic methods. Nevertheless, I'm convinced that sonic materials and methods provide powerful ways of enabling us to critically tune into our educational surroundings.
I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.