Feb 172011

Today I’m live-blogging (and as such all the usual rules – I may make updates and add links etc. later on) the talk by Professor Richard Edwards, The School of Education at Stirling for DiCE entitled:

Mobilities and moorings in cyber education

Richard’s previous work has been on topics like postmodernism, post-humanism, post-globalism etc.  Richard is head of the School of Education at Stirling.

Richard will outline his thinking on spatial theory and spatial theory applied to education. And also on a particular project called Ensemble on the semantic web, spatial theory, technology and education.

Richard started as an undergraduate in geography, then moved into philosophy but geography has gotten more interesting recently and I’ve migrated back into that. There’s a lot of discussion on spaces and learning spaces in education but the notion of space is not theorized. So I try to look at the way in which spatial theory developing and what that means for educational technology, if it means anything at all. I’ll be presenting some of my current thinking but it’s a work in progress as any good research should be.

We’re all aware of new possibilities that have and continue to emerge in technologies and education. Then thinking about the different ways we can take that up and the ways in which we can look at relationships and connections etc.

Dodge et al 2009 – quote on spaces.

I refer to the “Spatial Turn” in learning theory. (See Derek Gregory 1994 comments about the role of space and the ways that geography is no longer a sole domain – there are parallels with other areas here as well.

Spatial turn sees space as a container in which action takes place, or a backcloth against which things take place. So a classroom is an obvious space. But we shouldn’t see space as purely static. This leads to notions of space as relational and performative. So not a backcloth for an action takes place but also how a space makes things possible, constrains things, makes a particular action possible etc. As educators there are interesting elements there for thinking of education as a spatial practice. Exploring that in a much greater breadth and detail with a spatial hat on.

Thinking of space as relational you think of new forms of mobility made possible by technologies in educational and wider spaces. The ways in which they change types of relationships to be made possible. We use mobile phones to relate to each other, to relate to wider groups in many ways. (Quote here about integrating the internet in pedagogic practices from lecturer on Ensemble project).

When you think about space it’s important not to forget time. History and time are now replaced by geography and space as prime ways of understanding action and interaction. In geography you must not forget time, so in education you must think about space and time. To take a simple but fundamental example the timetable is exactly about that.

Quote here from Doreen Massey 1993 that space is not static.

We think of space and time not as nouns but verbs, forms of spacing and timing in education. Less used in education than in some of the other domains though.

I said that one of my concerns about educational uptake of space is that it doesn’t engage with spatial theory as much as it could do.This is my take on spatial theories – there are four broad strands of theorising thinking about space over last 20-25 yrs but these are not entirely distinct forms and overlap significantly.

– Political economy – very much associated with Marxist theory and largely associated with LeFeve and David Harvey. This is very much concerned with analysing through geography: how space is ordered according to economic interest. Industrialisation, urbanisation, globalisation. David Harvey in particular has been very influential in thinking about new forms of ordering of space around capitalism, de-industrialistion in western countries and industrialisation in once poorer countries. Also in terms of Marxism that industrialisation enabling opression but also resistance.

– Feminist – this line of theory I tend to associate with Massey but it’s unfair to focus just on her. This strand leads out of Marxist theory – but a feminist version concerned with spatial orderings in terms of economics but also the divide between public and private and the different relatonships that exist and how these change over time. Massey did a really interesting study on computer workings in Cambridge looking not only at how they went to work and came back to domestic space but also how domestic space was reinscribed as a work space as well. The public and private and how they are reframed by work practices and technologies.

– Post Structuralist – notions of space and poststructuralist/postmodern notions of space are concerned with questions of discourse, subjectivity, positioning. The way in which spatial orderings enable and contrain. Some people who would see David Harvey as a Marxist geographer but others would see him as a postmodern geographer – the same is true of Edward Sojourn.

– Materialist – this last strand, which I’ll focus on today, is seen as too much of a discursive term by poststructuralism. There is a need to start thinking about/rethinking about the material in relation to social action. The particular theorising I have become interested in is the work of John Murray? at. He refers to a manifesto on the study of not objects but space and mobility. It’s not solely about thinking that everyone and everything is mobile – thus title of this talk and the reference to moorings – while looking at the state of flux, they recognise that there are moorings, there are immobilities but not taken for granted but brought into being in some way. So mobilities in terms of flux and moorings. And what ways we are able to be mobile and what ways we are able to be bound. I hope the example I’ll give you a little later will help there a little more. For me although I am interested in the other three strands I think the mobilities work is particular suggestive and could be applied to any educational

One problem we have with sapce is that we have some quite ingrained understandings and feelings, assumptions we take for granted, arranged around a range of binaries or distinctions. One of these is the focus of place and the importance of place. Place and Space – location, immobility, place, bounded, authentic, face to face, parochial. So community may be a place but we must get away from place as inherently a good thing. I’m not denying that the sense of place can be important but we also have to problematise that as well so that we understand the constraints as well as the mobilities place makes possible.

As you look at eductaion you see these ideas thrown together in some way.

So, to take the other binary against place we see movement and space – dislocation, mobility, nomadism, relational, superficial, mediated, cosmopolitanism. There is a sense in postmodernism that movement is sexy and place is negative but it’s important to note that there may be importance to associations you do not always view movement as good or bad. Some of the sense of movement can be priviledged in the theory. Social mobility is often important in education. How terms are understood can have impact can have issues for what is deemed to be appropriate for the educational space. An important educational debate there around place and movement for instance.

Indeed I was involved in a book a few years back on rhetoric and educational discourse looked at spatial metaphors of teaching and learning and the importance of that.

Spatial binaries in cyber education – the sense that the virtual is not real seems like an out of date idea. And indeed that the virtual is not material – there is a physicality and materialism to online space.

– virtual-real spaces

– immaterial-material spaces

– cyber-physical spaces

If we take education and we take simulations – like pilot simulations – if you think only of that as unreal you miss all of the materiality made possible in that simulation. It is not virtual space distinct from real space but both aspects are involved.

Time for an example.

Quote from Hannam et al 2006.

The importance of mobilities discourse is that it doesn’t priveledge the human. It tries to suspend the assumption of the role of the human but looks at the materials, objects and technologies that come into play. There is a tendency in education to think of relationships always in terms of human-human relationships, rather than thinking about the ways that humans and materials and technologies relate. About reshaping the object of analysis and reshaping the object of research. About the relationships between the human and the non-human.

My space of play for this is the Ensemble project (http://www.ensemble.ac.uk/) is looking at the use of case based learning and the potentialities for technologies and the semantic web for case based learning. Case based learning is much more about an active than a transmissive pedagoguey. We’re working across 3 universities (1 new, 1 “modern” and 1 prestigious university) and 8 subject areas. One of the interesting aspects is that case based learning – the multiplicities of understanding across subjects and universities is immense.

In terms of my understanding of this project is how do you theorise the introduction of these technologies in terms of pedagogies. We’re still thinking about that to some extent. And we’re doing that through the study of biology in our oldest university in the project and the development of a new module within the university which was explicitly aimed at taking a case based learning approach and the students taking ownership, and of finding and applying knowledge to the case. Very clear pedagogic aim to use case based learning. And to encourage mobility. To take students out of their comfort zones. Taking students used to face to face and conventional learning environments to an online space where they would do things for themselves.Cases as bounded or expanding universes.

One aspect of this was development of a wiki for the students and for the course. Which raises interesting spatial questions. What is it? You can think of it as a container in which things happen, or as a way of relating. No-one neccassarily has authority in this space – a peer process involved. Not the only technology in use here though.

What this led to is concern by the lecturers when we did this for the first time. They found that the students weren’t doing things that “biologists should do”. They were finding stuff that wasn’t about biology. It was about enhancing their skills but the students were finding other materials. The case was to do with biofuels and they were bringing in economic and environmental work. So the case based learning brought in materials the lecturers weren’t comfortable or experiences with. Lecturers started to complain about superficiality. The technological possibilities gave greater mobility to students than lecturers either wanted or required. And then there was the question of how they would moor this and how would they bring students back to discussing biology.

I think it’s interesting to think of this in a spatial point of view – what connections have you enabled through introduction of that technology. We often think of spaces as journeys etc. but actually we often think about quite bounded and moored journeys in education. At one level I can have a laugh about the fact that students did unexpected things but the lecturers have a legitimate question about what they are trying to achieve with these students. And what mobility, boundaries or moorings do or should take place.

Moving more into posthuman mode. Part of this is not just about thinking about the students and the technology or the tool but also thinking of the students as a group together. It is not just focused on the human subject, but also forms of assemblage between humans and technologies (broadly that technology could be a book or a tool). Thinking of learning as a human-technology as assemblage. Although I’m not sure where I’m going with that yet…

Thinking about spaces and containers and spaces of learning. Trying to think of context as network – context not as a community but a set of relationships. Notions of material, or mobilities, or social etc. See slide (to come) of chart. The question for educators become what are the boundaries going to set, or the moorings. What do we or others set, what are legitimate to set. Particularly at this time where the notions of learning and authority are under question.

I have a PhD student actually using criteria we are looking at to analyze the project itself and to think of the research space and the knowledge production associated with research.


Q) I like the idea but don’t see the difference between technology and other theories around artefacts, actor-network theory etc.

A) No, not specific to online environments but they happen to be the particular thing I’m working on. But I don’t see it as inherantly associated with online spaces or new technologies. It’s about the particularity of the relationship between flow (or as John Urry says flux) and moorings.

Comment) Thomas Geary on boundary objects?

A) I have trouble with the idea of boundary objects. A boundary is both a joining and a separation and there is a sense that some of the ways in which boundary objects can be utilized, is that in a sense of joining, a 2 dimensional “other” space rather than a link or relation across space. Part of what I like but part of the difficulty is how do we represent to ourselves and each other a boundary object. Often we come across 2 dimensional senses of boundary. I think one of the senses of space I like is the notion of folding space. A boundary isn’t necessarily at the edge but could be at any place in a space.

Q) What’s the mission statement for the Ensemble project?

A) The mission statement is the use of semantic technologies opens up possibilities that weren’t there before. But this is where I tread into notions I don’t understand. One of the ideas of the semantic web is that data becomes machine readable so the computer can do things we usually do ourselves, and can transform data into another format. For Ensemble these technologies provide possibilities to enhance case based learning. I should say I”m not convinced but that’s what the project is there to explore. Lots of kit and tech has been developed but what they enable and opportunities they afford is perhaps marginal so far. So like anything it’s how much we are driven by technological rather than pedagogical imperatives.

Q) Some of the technologies are really essential for some subjects – assemblages and knowledge generated by particular research like environmental science for instance. So thinking about that assemblage perhaps the knowledge is generated in a space that humans think of as the other. And is that what we see with students today – that they can google anything and don’t need to understand it – a human-nonhuman assemblage. That knowledge generation happens “out there” rather than by humans.

A) An interesting aspect where working with computer scientists becomes potentially interesting looking at algorithms and coding that goes into search engines and softwares in terms of subjectivity that goes into these. These feeds into another project I’m looking at. OK we have the semantic technology but what are the assumptions behind that. Data has to be read in certain ways so what happens in that process of turning it into a single format for data, knowledge. There’s the debate about questions of authority and search engines say but actually looking at the deeply embedded code space is really potentially interesting. I’m not aware of any work that does that but really interesting implications not just for education but for social science generally. Of course what happens when all the electricity goes off!

Comment) to pick up on the comment about remote sensors – we didn’t pick up on hole in ozone layer because the monitoring software was filtering out that data. You are trying to find a space about the technology and the measurement.

Comment) and it’s crucial to explain to students that the human element is still so crucial and it’s not the machines creating stuff. And the human element is never not present.

Q) Thinking about education as mobilities and immobilities. I got to thinking that in global and societal terms some people are mobile, some are not. You may be mobile through high status, you may be mobile by force (say a migrant worker), you may be immobile by force etc. So does that give us an idea of constructing equalities around the mobilities agenda. Gender inequalities, social inequalities.

A) shouldn’t think of movement and place as either or. Some forms of mobility enable people to be kept in their place. Relationships in online space that distributes production around the globe – there is a very interesting study on manufacture of car parts across the globe, orchestrated by shared database on the internet. So a form of mobility of data but absolutely keeping in place the people working in the production of those parts. Some mobilities enable certain placemaking. I joked about when the power goes off but mobile phones rely on phone masts – there are forms of mooring associated with mobility there.

Comment) Does the data collection enable you to look at different types of learner in that biology learning space.

A) not really to the extent I’d like. But they stopped using the technology the next time they ran the course

COmment) thinking about the Curriculum for Excellence and some of the challenges there. Some classes you see group work, you see online work. There is tension between the focus on what we want to teach but also enriching the learning process. But that’s interesting that they stopped using the technology at the end of the day.

A) I think it’s bizarre too but it’s a fundamental question of what do we teach, what do we do, how do we reconceptualise that and the changing practice in which we engage – community based learning or work place based learning and what is legitimate learning and knowledge. It’s a fundamental question.

 February 17, 2011  Posted by at 2:01 pm LiveBlogs  Add comments

  One Response to “DiCE Event: Mobilities and moorings in cyber education – Professor Richard Edwards”

  1. […] DiCE Event: Mobilities and moorings in cyber education – Professor … Today I've added a guest post to the blog for the Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) 2011 (#iwmw11) at which I will be presenting / facilitating a parallel session on social media monitoring, metrics and impact … Source: nicolaosborne.blogs.edina.ac.uk […]

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