DIGITAL EDUCATION, MULTIMODALITY, LEARNING SPACES
Edinburgh University’s Festival of Creative Learning sets out to explore innovative, imaginative and collaborative approaches to teaching. The focus of the Festival is a concerted and creative week of experimental learning activities between 19 and 23 February 2018, supported by pop-up events across the year. My contribution to the Festival, alongside my colleague Michael Gallagher, will comprise a series of provocations delivered via mobile messaging on what the future of distributed (and digital) education will be for the University.
We sketched out the idea for this event in September as we orchestrated a digitally-affected excursion through Bremen. Working in groups, conference delegates navigated their way through the city - and through a series of critical and physical prompts - mediated via their smartphones. Looking forward to the Festival of Creative Learning in February, we are re-thinking distance and location as we look to broaden our activity from a single city-centre to instead encompass participation across different continents. Alongside students and staff from Easter Bush, King’s Buildings and the Central Campus of the University, our event will aim to attract participants from much further afield.
One of the arguments that Michael and I will make through our distributed activity is that within an increasingly networked world, mobile technologies can dissolve classroom walls and campus boundaries, as students and tutors in different locations are able to simultaneously and affectively participate in learning events. For the duration of an hour, students and staff in Edinburgh and elsewhere will simultaneously engage in conversation and activities, via their mobile devices, that encourage reflection on the future of education within increasingly digital environments.
If my use of ‘Edinburgh and elsewhere’ would seem to de-privilege those students who engage with the university at a distance, this is simply because Michael and I have yet to spread the word about our event and therefore do not know where participants will be contributing from. One of most important features of our activity will be to challenge the distinction between ‘campus students’ and ‘distance students’ and the corresponding ‘othering’ of education that takes place beyond the bricks and mortar of the university campus, something that Michael and I explored with our colleague Sian Bayne in our work around the social topologies of distance students.
To be clear, we are not arguing that a university’s real estate is insignificant either to students who regularly cross the campus threshold or those who view or imagine it from afar. With this in mind, we are currently sketching out whether our event in February can make use of a public space in the University where the ambience can be affected by the contributions of distributed participants and the qualities of their learning environments during the exercise. What this means in practice (or in our imagination at the moment) is a series of prompts that encourage participants to share reflections on their situation through text, images and sounds. These contributions would then be projected and played within our chosen space in the University. What we hope to achieve is a merging of the sights, sounds and typed sentences of participants distributed across campuses and continents, with those around our chosen location. This will depend on securing a space and permission, however to take the example of the area adjacent to the cafe in the basement of the University's 50 George Square, it could look something like this:
click on image to enlarge
The picture here is intended to show one of the booths where students come to study, socialise and snack. As they do this on the day of our event, we hope that their attention will be drawn to the unfolding conversation from our activity which will be projected on the wall of the booth. At the same time a feed of recorded sounds submitted by participants will be played over the speakers, creating a soundscape that blends together different learning spaces from across the university and wider world. This will be an aural performance of the University that confronts the distinction between those who are ‘on’ and ‘off’ campus. It is intriguing to think about how the learning space in 50 George, and therefore the meaning-making of nearby students, might be affected by the sounds coming from the far corners of the distributed, mobile university? If I was able to draw people, the picture would show Michael and I seated either side of the booth, live mixing the sounds and explaining to passing students and staff we we’re up to.
We have scheduled our event for Friday 23 February 2018 at 13.00 (Edinburgh time). If you are interested in participating or learning more about what we have in mind, please get in touch with Michael who will be glad to hear from you.
Bayne, S., Gallagher, M. and Lamb, J. (2013) Being ‘at’ University: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-013-9662-4
Bremen: Multimodality and Mobile Learning
The Sonic Spaces of Online Students
Away from the University
I am an ESRC-funded Doctoral student in the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.