There's a fascinating relationship between sound and those spaces learning happens. Sound helps to expose and enact power dynamics within the classroom. It can help to reveal pedagogical and epistemological assumptions within particular courses. It can be used to positively nurture the conditions that are conducive to learning, but can equally disrupt concentration and be a cause of distraction and procrastination.
Sonic methods were a key part of my PhD as I explored the sociomateriality of the architecture studio and history classroom (Lamb 2021). Before that, along with my colleagues Sian Bayne and Michael Gallagher, we used sound as a way of exploring how online postgraduate students conceptualised their university (Bayne, Gallagher & Lamb 2013), and also how they used sound to negotiate space for learning away from the campus (Gallagher, Lamb & Bayne 2016). Meanwhile, I am currently writing an article where I argue that music playlists exist as ethnographic artefacts which can help us to explore the learning spaces and practices of students. Related to this, I also oversee this Elektronisches Lernen Muzik project where, to date, 25 teachers, researchers and students have shared playlists of music (with accompanying 'liner notes' and 'cover artwork') that accompany or inspire their educational activity.
I discussed these and other pieces of work in a recent workshop for the Learning Environments group of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE). The session was hosted by Lucila Carvalho and Jenny Green (Massey University) whom I worked with on this Special Issue exploring the postdigital learning spaces of higher education.
You can watch a recording of the workshop here.
My overall aim for the session was to make the case that sonic methods and material provide us with ways of critically tuning into our educational surroundings. To do this I discussed the following approaches:
Fields records and sound maps
Journaling and sonic elicitation
Music playlists as ethnographic artefacts
There are many others approaches to critically exploring learning spaces - interviews, journaling, observation, visual methods, to name a few - however sound, as I argue in the workshop and elsewhere, does offer something different as we try and makes sense of our educational surroundings.
This time last year, Martin Hawksey and I were putting together an online workshop that would explore fusion teaching (elsewhere called 'hybrid and 'hyflex') in the context of the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Among other things, fusion represents a way of thinking about pedagogy which avoids necessarily privileging either being on campus or online, but rather aspires to these modes of engagement as co-existing and working in complement. I think it's fair to say that, for the most part, these pedagogical approaches have emerged in response to the imposed conditions of Covid-19 and the uncertainty of accessing the physical spaces of the campus. The situation within EFI is different because, while our thinking has certainly been shaped by experiences over the last two years, it was always the case that our programmes would be simultaneously delivered on site and online. Going back several years, we have been building an entirely new portfolio of postgraduate programmes, rather than converting existing teaching into hybrid provision. At the same time, we have had the opportunity to inform the design of our teaching spaces, achieved through dialogue with architects and others responsible for reimagining a former Victorian hospital into our fusion home.
We have therefore been fortunate in having a high degree of influence over how our teaching spaces and practices might look, informed for instance by ideas that emerged from our workshop where we speculatively considered the configuration of space, technology and pedagogy. As a group of educational developers, learning technologists, lecturers, online students and researchers, we explored how fusion might work in four different learning contexts: an ideation studio, a flexible teaching space, a lecture space, and a social area such as a cafe. The ideas that emerged from our conversations were distilled into a series of philosophical propositions that provide ways of thinking about fusion pedagogy, alongside practical suggestions for how some of these ideas might be realised.
In setting the tone for the workshop, we worked hard to encourage participants to be creative in their suggestions, rather than feeling constrained by cost, class sizes and other issues. Much better, we decided, to come up with brilliant ideas that might need to be adapted or put on ice, than cautiously deferring to what we already do or know. This is reflected in the report that followed our workshop, which was written with the aim of informing thinking and suggesting possibilities around fusion spaces and pedagogies, rather than being a 'How to...' practical guide, or a set of 'Best practice...' pointers. After all, fusion - and probably any - teaching is contingent on the particular context, including the subject being studied, the intended audience, and other conditions besides.
Since sharing the report, I've had the opportunity to test out some of the propositions and practical ideas as I taught a course, The Future of Learning Organisations, in fusion mode earlier this semester. I'm slowly writing up some reflections on the experience, however here meanwhile is the report that emerged from the workshop that Martin Hawksey and I put together. Perhaps it might inform your thinking around how we can develop pedagogies to equally support, and combine, on site and online engagement?
Announcing the publication of our Special Issue, which explores the Postdigital Learning Spaces of Higher Education. The ‘our’ is myself, Lucila Carvalho, Michel Gallagher and Jeremy Knox. We’ve been working on this since summer 2020 therefore it’s nice to see the editorial and articles now available. We’ve been supported by Peter Jandrić who, as Editor-in-Chief for Postdigital Science and Education, has done a great job in keeping us on track, as well as smoothing the way for articles to be published soon after they’ve been completed.
Guest editing a Special Issue has been a new and positive experience for me. I’ve previously contributed to these publications from the author’s perspective, however it has been interesting to instead be involved in conceiving the ambition, writing the call for papers, reviewing manuscripts, liaising with authors, and then finally penning the editorial. I’ve been particularly helped in this by Lucila Carvalho, with our 7am Edinburgh/7pm Auckland meetings being a valuable source of guidance and sense-checking.
Alongside Lucila, and as the editorial notes, Peter Goodyear, Lesley Gourlay and Jos Boys have done a great deal to establish higher education learning space as a site of critical research, therefore it has been nice to work with these researchers as colleagues, rather than simply referencing their work as before. In addition, Kati Fargo Ahern and Stephanie Wilson have contributed pieces that align with my interest in sound, while Magda Pischetola, and Dewa Wardak, Carmen Vallis and Peter Bryant have explored the sociomateriality of learning spaces. And I’ve been newly introduced to Jenny Green and Annelies Raes whose work has given me a wider and richer perspective on the relationship between digital technologies and learning spaces.
Across the nine articles collected together within our Special Issue, the authors offer a range of philosophical and empirical takes on contemporary learning spaces and practices at a point when digital technologies have become woven through the fabric of higher education and society. And of course, as this Special Issue has taken shape, the relationship between technology and space and teaching has particularly come to the fore amid the imposed conditions of lockdown and the inaccessibility of many conventional classrooms. In our editorial we argue that, for all the challenges and disruption that Covid-19 has brought, it has also provoked a moment of reckoning where we have been able stop and think about the kind of university we desire. The different articles in this Special Issue suggest what this might be, and suggest how we might begin to realise it through the configuration of space, pedagogy and technology.
At a time of considerable social, technological and ecological change, there is a need to anticipate and critically examine the future make-up of educational places, practices and people. This is the purpose of The Future of Learning Organisations, a 10-credit, level 11 postgraduate course, within the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Across 5 weeks, and working on campus or online, we speculatively consider the future function of the educator. We ask whether climate crisis and the threat of further global pandemics calls for different understandings of the classroom and campus. We examine how algorithmic culture and the design of code affect authorship and assessment. Or at least, that is what the course will do after I have put the final pieces in place over the coming weeks, before teaching it as a pilot for the first time early in 2022.
The course is part of the MSc in Education Futures that I have been developing with my colleague Jen Ross over the last 2 years. Jen has written separately about the programme in this blog post, and fuller detail (including how to apply) can be found here. Beyond the critical questions we will be asking on the course, the Future of Learning Organisations is also interesting for the modes of engagement it supports. In common with the approach across the Edinburgh Futures Institute, students can register to take the course ‘on site’ or ‘online’. In practice, most of this course will involve asynchronous, online study, however there will be a 2-day conference that will happen in the physical setting of the University, but also simultaneously online. From a learning design perspective, this raises fascinating challenges around ensuring equity of experience irrespective of how students choose to engage. This does not mean attempting to replicate online what happens in the classroom, or to constrain and dilute the overall learning experience in search of uniformity. Instead, it involves considering how we can configure space, technology and pedagogy in the pursuit of imaginative and meaningful learning experiences.
And therefore, over these last months, I have been wrestling with the question of how to simultaneously achieve eye contact with an audience that is present on screen but will also be in close physical proximity. I have been reflecting on what it means for a student to be visible, and for their voice to be heard, irrespective of their location. I have been playing with ways of nurturing community and collaboration across different time zones and corners of the world. In a practical sense this has involved, among other things, spending time with colleagues including Tim Fawns (who is similarly developing a Postdigital Society course) in a ‘fusion teaching studio’ where layout, intelligent mics, cameras, screens and other resources have been designed to specifically support the Edinburgh Futures Institute teaching model.
Sharing images of this space on Twitter provoked an interesting conversation about what makes ‘fusion’ distinct from ‘hybrid’ and some of the other delivery modes and descriptions that are being used to account for teaching that takes place both online and within the physical setting of the university. An important distinction for me is that ‘hybrid’ has come to be associated with approaches that have been developed and deployed as educators and universities have sought to respond to some of the imposed challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is different from our approach within the EFI where, from the outset, we have wanted to design courses and programmes that explore and exploit the potential of different modes of engagement. Therefore, whereas hybrid has become a kind of proxy for ‘reaction’ to lockdown, we use fusion instead to recognise a purposeful configuration of pedagogy, space and technology within teaching and learning design.
Something that I have become aware of while designing the Future of Learning Organisations is a symmetry between the questions and challenges described above, and the themes we will be confronting in the course itself. Especially over the last two years, we have seen the emergence of new spatial, technological and pedagogical arrangements and practices. The persistent menace of Covid-19, to say nothing of the profound threat of climate crisis, surely means as educators we need to accept that there can be no winding back the clock to the pre-pandemic time, or hopefully imagining reverting ‘to normal’. Instead, we need to work speculatively, as we anticipate and seek to shape the future of our learning organisations.
Applications are now open for the MSc in Education Futures, which includes the Future of Learning Organisations and Postdigital Society courses. If you would like to know more about the programme contact Jen Ross or myself, or chat to us as the forthcoming virtual open day on 11 November 2021.
It has never been more important to try and understand the complex and changing nature of educational spaces. At least in the UK context, the conditions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic have had a profound effect on how we understand those settings where educational activity takes place. As campuses entered lockdown, learners, teachers and institutions have rapidly turned towards digital technologies and pedagogies that have helped to make it possible to attend classes from the couch, record lectures from the living room, and attend meetings anywhere we can find a moment of quiet amid the distractions of our ostensibly domestic home-settings. Our inability to easily spend time in the environs of the library, lab and lecture theatre has pushed us to more readily reflect upon those physical and networked settings where we teach, research, write and perform other parts of the university’s work.
With this in mind, I am glad to be working with Lucila Carvalho (Massey University), Michael Gallagher and Jeremy Knox (both University of Edinburgh like myself) on a Special Issue that explores this subject, for the Postdigital Science and Education journal. We are interested in collecting theoretical and empirically-driven papers that address, but are not limited to, the following themes:
If you have something to say around any of these or related themes, we will be very glad to receive a 700-word abstract by 22 January 2021. As the point of contact for this Special Issue I will be happy to talk through possible submissions. In the short time since announcing the call for abstracts we have heard from researchers with some really interesting takes on the different themes, and it already feels like this Special Issue will make an important contribution to our understanding of the complex and changing nature of higher education learning spaces. Read the call for abstracts here.
As part of the seminar series organised by the Centre for Research in Digital Education, I recently (26 November 2020) delivered a session which explored how digital technologies are affecting the learning spaces of higher education. I made three central arguments, as follows:
To make these arguments I mostly drew on work from my ESRC-funded PhD, as well as other research and activities I have contributed to, around the learning spaces of online students, how students configure space through sound, and the mobile campus. With the help of my colleague Dr Claire Sowton who deftly coordinates the entire seminar series, my session is now available to view here.
Through the conditions imposed by lockdown, this autumn's seminar series has been delivered entirely online. Therefore rather than assembling in a classroom somewhere on the Edinburgh University campus, the sessions have instead been taking place in Zoom. As a result we have welcomed a much larger, more dispersed, and more varied audience than has been the case for equivalent sessions in the past. By the date of my own seminar, more than 150 people had signed up to attend and, as conversation during the event showed, our community came to the session with a variety of interests and from a wide range of locations and institutions. Frankly, I would have been glad to have 15 people present if the session had taken place on campus. I was really glad to see teachers, learning technologists, researchers, students and others getting involved in the session, and the event was surely that bit richer thanks to the range of perspectives, experiences and questions that emerged.
Thinking about the relationship between digital technologies and learning spaces, it is interesting to consider how different constraints (the inability to access the campus due to Covid-19 restrictions) and opportunities (the potential for live streaming) helped to configure the environment and experience of the seminar. As I discussed during the session itself, learning spaces are influenced by the interests and actions of the student and teacher, but are also contingent on technology, strategy, commerce and a host of other resources and concenrs.
In the coming weeks I will be contributing, alongside colleagues from the MSc in Digital Education, towards the launch of our new book about the Manifesto for Teaching Online. The book is published by MIT Press and is available in a range of formats from the beginning of September. Three seminar events will take place where we will discuss different statements from the Manifesto:
Recoding - 16th September
We are the campus - 7th October
Text has been troubled - 15th October
Further details of these events (which will take place in Zoom), including how to sign up, can be found here. Each of the sessions will involve three lightning talks by members of our team, with an overview provided by a key voice within the field of digital education. There will also be an opportunity for synchronous commenting and discussion around the different ideas we present.
Earlier today I contributed to an online seminar organised by Mathian Decuypere, Karmijn Van De Oudeweetering (KU Leuven) and Sigrid Hartong (Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg). The event brought together a range of researchers who are using theories of social topology to explore the nature of space and time within educational contexts. For my part, I talked about a piece of research I have been working on with Jen Ross where we investigated how lecture capture technologies affect the spatial and temporal arrangements of higher education (full title on the image below).
Where much of the research around lecture capture has explored its impact upon attendance or assessment, we instead used it to cast a light on the relationship between technology and space, and time. To help us do this we turned to conversation talking place on the Twitter social networking platform. Across a 3-month period between mid-February and mid-May earlier this year we collected more than 550 tweets that discussed lecture capture in the context of higher education. Although conversation was dominated by academic staff and students, lecture capture was also a topic of interest among learning technologists, educational developers, ed tech providers, consultants, accessibility advisers, professional bodies, representative unions and other groups and individuals. We identified 29 different lines of conversation which conceptualised or considered lecture capture in terms of pedagogy, politics, profit, the Covid-19 Pandemic and beyond.
Jen and I hope that our work will be published later this year therefore I won't go into detail for now. What I will say, however, is that lecture capture, in relation to a range of other interests, pressures, resources and constraints, was shown to both shape, and be shaped by, the spaces and times of higher education. Lecture capture, we argue, contributed towards the formation of new educational environments: the kitchen and couch became central teaching spaces, as the lectern and lecture theatre sat in lockdown-darkness. At the same time, as staff pre-recorded content which was then made available by video, the synchronicity and timetabling that have for so long shaped the nature and rhythm of teaching and learning was disrupted. Instead, the lecture became dispersed over a greater period of time, while students also negotiated different temporalities to support their particular learning needs or preferences.
More to follow later this year.
Earlier this year I completed my ESRC-funded PhD research which investigated the relationship between technology and the learning spaces of higher education. Prompted by a recent conversation among colleagues here at Edinburgh University about the potential of the digital dissertation, in this post I explain how my own thesis was presented in multimodal and digital form.
By ‘digital dissertation’, I am referring to the presentation of scholarship in overtly digital and multimodal form in those contexts where work is normally conveyed in a more essayistic and language-privileging format. At least in the arts, humanities and social sciences, it remains difficult to move beyond traditional print-based conventions within the high-stakes assessment setting. In the case of my own thesis, I sought to balance my desire to produce a richly multimodal and digital artefact, with University regulations and tacit disciplinary expectations around the exposition of knowledge.
My wish to produce a digital dissertation came partly from my interest in multimodal assessment, as I have discussed in this journal article, this conference key note and other workshops with academic teachers. More important, though, was finding a representational format that would foreground the sonic and visual data around which much of my PhD was built. As I argue in the thesis itself, sound has tended to exist on the periphery of qualitative research (as discussed by Dicks et al. 2011) while the critical value of audio data has been undermined by a lack of consideration when reproducing sonic material alongside more conventional published researched (see in particular Feld & Brenneis 2004).
The challenge I faced was to present audio and visual content in juxtaposition with written argumentation, while at the same time satisfying University regulations around the preparation of a traditional word-processed thesis. My response was to insert QR codes that linked to different types of digital artefacts. As I explained to the reader in the opening pages of my thesis, the intention here was that they could use a smartphone to access digital material alongside the printed content. True to one of the key ideas of multimodality, argumentation was made through the simultaneous juxtaposition of semiotic material, for instance words, images and sounds.
Therefore where my research involved the use of playlists as ethnographic artefacts, the reader was able to sample the nominated songs alongside my discussion of insights they had provoked into the way that learners used music to negotiate different types of learning spaces. These playlists – one for each of the American History and Architectural Design courses that provided the setting for my research - were hosted on the music-sharing platform Mixcloud. Here is the playlist I created with Architecture students:
Meanwhile in order to convey the sonic character of different teaching spaces, I created interactive sounds maps in Thinglink that situated ambient audio recordings and photographs against corresponding locations within diagrammatic floor plans. Here is the sound map for the area of the design studio where much of my field work took place:
Across more than a year of ethnographic field work I generated several hundred audio recording and thousands of photographs, some of which formed the basis of 15 short videos. Each video combined audio recordings, photographs and excerpts drawn either from my written field notes or from interviews. The following video captures the sights and sound of the architecture studio:
The creation of these different digital artefacts, combined with the way that they could be access via QR code, goes some way to showing how even within the constraints of producing a printed dissertation, it is possible to craft an artefact in digital, multimodal form. An important influence on my approach here was Kress’ work around aptness of mode (2005), the premise of which is that the digital form allows us to consider how we might shape the representational form of a digital artefact in a way that helps to best present the knowledge that is to be communicated. This meant producing a digital, multimodal thesis not for the purpose of experimentation, but rather because it was the most suitable way of executing arguments around the relationship between sound and physical space.
There are sure to be other and more imaginative examples of what a digital thesis can look and sound like, particularly when they emerge from the creative disciplines or within interdisciplinary contexts. And while my use of QR codes (rather than embedded content) may have been a neat concession to University regulations, it does feel like a compromise rather than a true use of the digital form. Nevertheless, I hope that my approach helps to stimulate more conversation about what is possible when it comes to producing richly digital and multimodal scholarship in an assessment setting, perhaps even contributing to conditions that are more conducive to this kind of work.
I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.