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.
The Manifesto for Teaching Online, created by the digital education team here at Edinburgh University, takes a position and provokes debate around what we believe to be the vital trends in the relationship between contemporary education and technology. In this new article within Digital Culture & Education, Jen Ross, Sian Bayne and I talk about the evolution of the manifesto (it was first created in 2011 and then reimagined in 2016), including the reaction is has generated among the academic community. As our abstract describes:
By comparing the statements that made up each version of the manifesto, our article helps to surface how the critical questions around digital education have evolved in a relatively short period of time. At the same time, the article demonstrates how the non-traditional form of the manifesto - in each instance it has been punchily presented via postcard, video and website rather than conventional academic discourse - can in itself help to expose some of issues that we believe are central to the changing nature of digital education.
Ross, J., Bayne, S., Lamb, J (2019). Critical approaches to valuing digital education: learning with and from the Manifesto for Teaching Online. Digital Culture & Education, 11(1), 22-35 URL: https://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/volume-11/
This semester I am teaching on the An Introduction to Digital Environment for Learning course, part of the MSc in Digital Education at Edinburgh University. One of the objectives of our course is to provide students with an opportunity to experience a range of digital settings where teaching and learning take place. Going further, one of the blocks in our course is devoted to investigating the relationship between education, technology and space. Among other activities, students spend time exploring and building in Minecraft, while at the same time reflecting upon its potential to support learning.
To coincide with these activities, I spent time speaking with Tom Flint, Lecturer in Digital Media and Interaction Design at Edinburgh Napier University. The subject of our conversation was Tom's co-authored work around the creation in Minecraft of a facsimile of the Jupiter Artland scultpure park (Flint et al. 2018).
This shortened version of our conversation, juxtaposed with some of my own photographs and field recordings from Jupiter Artland and elsewhere, is one of the resources we are using in the An Introduction to Digital Environment for Learning course as we help students to think about the complex relationship between education, technology and space.
Perhaps the most interesting theme to emerge from my conversation with Tom was that we need to think of physical and networked environments as co-constituting, or what Nordquist & Laing (2015) and others have referred to as 'hybrid learning spaces'. When digital technologies have become so much a part of our everyday surroundings, perhaps there is a case for drawing on post-digital thinking (see Jandrić et al. for an introduction) to recognise the way that digital and physical environments are woven together into what we might call 'post-digital learning spaces'. Instead of thinking about either 'physical' or 'online' learning environments, perhaps we should instead recognise that many educational settings are shaped by spatial dimensions and the configuration of furniture, but also simultaneously by the flow of data and access to screen-mediated content.
I have been a little slow to share this article, published in Qualitative Research at the end of 2018, that I wrote with my colleagues Michael Gallagher and Jeremy Knox. It reports on a methodological exercise we took in London where we brought together ethnography, multimodality and urban walking. This involved making an unscripted walk through central London that we attempted to document through photographs and field recordings. This video goes some way to capturing what we did.
In the moments after drawing our excursion to a close, Michael, Jeremy and I began working through the data, generating some ideas that we presented at a conference the next morning (and we discuss in our article). This includes the potentialities of combining urban walking and ethnography, but also the limitations in our attempt to generate data as a way of reflecting on our relationship with the city.
Since undertaking that first exercise in London, Michael and I have subsequently adapted the approach as an alternative form of conference paper where we orchestrated a digitally-mediated excursion through the centre of Bremen. We have also more conventionally presented on this and similar methods, all of which combine digital technologies with urban exploration.
Exit the classroom! mobile learning and teaching
Bremen: multimodality and mobile learning
I’m in Odense today (8 Oct 2018) and am glad to be visiting the University of Southern Denmark as a guest of Nina Nørgaard and her colleagues in the Centre for Multimodal Communication. I have been talking about the relationship between multimodal assessment and feedback. These are my slides and references:
Using multimodal artefacts created by students on the MSc in Digital Education, alongside my own experiences as a tutor, I argued that we should pay greater attention to the potential of multimodal feedback around assessment, for instance as a way of demonstrating the representational possibilities and academic validity of assignments crafted in multimodal form. Some of the ideas I talked about featured in my recent article in Multimodal Technologies and Interaction where I argued that multimodally-rich dialogue between teacher and learner can embolden students to be simultaneously adventurous, creative and scholarly in the assessment setting.
Considering the co-constituting nature of assessment and feedback it is surprising that there has been little critical interest in the relationship between multimodality and feedback, although work by Hung (2016) highlighted the potentialities of video feedback amongst students, while Campbell & Feldman (2017) are among those who have suggested that digital multimodal feedback might be an efficient way of engaging with large cohorts of learners.
On previous occasions when I have had the opportunity to present my ideas to colleagues researching multimodality at University College London and University of Leeds I have come away with new ideas and ways of thinking about the subject. Today was no different. In the discussion that followed my presentation we talked about the way that multimodality often becomes confused with multimediality, and also what is potentially lost around what I'm going to call 'knowledge apprenticeship', when digital technologies are seen as a short cut to the acquisition of information and the production of multimodal artefacts.
Today sees the first Learning and Teaching Conference here at Edinburgh University, which takes as its theme, 'inspiring learning'. For my part, I will be presenting a poster, Exit the classroom! Mobile Learning & Teaching, alongside my colleague from the Centre for Research in Digital Education, Michael Gallagher.
The poster follows a path across six different excursions or exercises where, along with our colleague Jeremy Knox, we have explored the possibilities of mobile learning and methodology. Beginning with a two-day workshop that Michael delivered in Helsinki in 2013, through events in London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Bremen, our poster makes the case for taking teaching and learning beyond the boundaries of classroom and campus. The final and most recent activity in this series was a fully online event delivered earlier this year within the University’s Festival of Creative Learning, where our group brought together students, teachers, researchers and learning technologists from across three continents and a range of academic disciplines. In each case our excursion (or that undertaken by participants) was digitally-mediated as we drew on the capabilities of smartphones, instant messaging services and other networked content or applications.
Having previously spoken and written about these exercises (including an article for Qualitative Research that should be available any time now), on this occasion I wanted to share our work in visual form.
If you happen to be at the Learning and Teaching Conference and are interested in the work described here, Michael and I be standing next to the poster between 12.50 and 13.40. We're conveniently close to the refreshments so grab a coffee and Danish and come and say hello. Or you can view and download a pdf copy of the poster here:
I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.