22 SES 01 A, Learning and Instruction: Practices and design
Recently, higher education institutions have turned their attention to innovate physical spatial conditions for learning. According to learning theory experts, the continuous flow of learning theories and the demanding results expected from students have made obsolete most traditional learning spaces (see Ellis & Goodyear, 2016). More specifically, a series of theoretical claims among student-centred learning approaches and theories of learning design (Rook, Choi, & McDonald, 2015) have questioned the adequacy of learning spaces in universities (Boys, 2011, p. 15) and going a step further requesting the design of new kind of learning environments. Given that, an important number of universities in Europe have undergo a continual and accumulative change where the focus has tended to be in the design of spaces and things in terms of learning.
Furthermore, this paper examines in the first part what does implies to design physical environments from a learning-based approach. As attention to these matters gained interest in educational studies, this presentation is specifically concerned with the effect of learning representations on learning/studying pedagogical models and also on those spaces that are designed for its practice. Using the notion of ‘built environment’ (Ingold, 2011), the aim is to illustrate that in those designs resides an emphasis on form and content, that is to say, how the design should be and what kind of elements must constitute it. A main implication of these kind of designs is the unwavering view that human activity can be pre-determined. Accordingly, effecting the control and coordination of student’s actions and resources are assumed to get the results expected in the process. However, as it will argued, studying is not simply a matter of learning outcomes and performances, but also one of acting in world where activities and the materiality involved it is constantly changing and remains indeterminate.
Furthermore, based on empirical illustration of ‘scenes of studying’ in the AGORA Learning Centre of KU Leuven (Belgium), a second part aims to look at the unfolding activity of studying. Following Theodore Schatzki’s notion of ‘activity timespace’ (2010) it is proposed that studying is an indeterminate activity. As Schatzki proposes, activity is a temporalspatial event because time and space - or as defined by him: timespace (as non-objective and unified feature of activity) - “exists only when and in so far as, activity happens”, and also, because “timespace makes activity what it is, activity, as opposed to mere occurrence”(2012, p. 18). What this entails is that studying activity is indeterminate in the sense that it is not constructed or assembled, instead it evolves in each encounter. Consequently, regardless of the prefiguration of the space, student’s actions are not limited by distinctive intentions formulated by designers. Thus, even if studying activity is circumscribed by different phenomena, such as designed trajectories of learning, space, rules, understandings, past experiences and futures expectations, what a student does is not fixed, settled or determinate until he or she acts. Such perspective suggests thinking about educational spaces, such as learning centres, based not on their functionality but in what might happen there. Drawing on Ingold (2011) and Flusser (1999), is proposed that instead of thinking about environments as a final product that is built shaping passive materials, we might consider that materials and forces are in continual transformation, that are continually occurring.
Inspired by Schatzki’s practice theory, this paper will approach the studying activity in the AGORA Learning Centre of KU Leuven (Belgium). Following Schatzki’s notion of ‘activity timespace’ (2010), participant observation was conducted during two months in AGORA. As a result, meeting study activities through participant observation provided a more concrete idea of today studying practices. Rather than elaborating on the specific character of studying activities, this text will approach the way in which practices and material arrangements coexist and are linked together. The purpose, thus, is primarily directed at describing what happens when designed spaces and activities of learning and study meet with the material dynamics and bodily performances in studying practices, as observed in AGORA. It is important to note, nonetheless, that Schatzki acknowledges that nonhumans do things as much as humans do. However, his theory is concerned mainly with agential humanism. For him, human agency is understood as something contained in practices, as a bodily performance of doings and sayings that constitute practices. Meanwhile, nonhuman agency is related with orders (arrangements). However, activities and objects cannot be equated in this relation. For Schatzki, practices have more responsibility in the character of social existence than orders. In this sense, even if practices and orders have an effect on each other, for Schatzki, the enabling and constraining effects of objects and arrangements on activities depend of the teleological/affective character of human activity. Observations were conducted focusing on students’ activity in specific locations in AGORA. Social study areas, specifically, Time-Out and Flexispace Zones were designated to explore studying practices and material arrangements. More specifically, material arrangements were observed in relation with studying activities, in particular, paying attention to how they channel, facilitate and are essential to studying practices. As such, observations paid attention to four kinds of relations between practices and material arrangements: causal relations, prefiguration, constitution and intelligibility. Acknowledging the importance of the event of studying activity, fieldwork focused on observing and describing a narrative of ‘scenes’ of studying. Paying attention to students from the moment they enter to the room until they leave it, allow the researcher to move away from the standpoint of observer and ‘walk along’ with the students during their studying activities. As such, when observing those sessions the primary concern was to present what students do while studying in AGORA.
Representations of learning and study are mapped out in educational activities, implicating a system of form and contents that aims to produce pre-determined results. In this regard, two provisional conclusions can be drawn. First, students’ experiences are defined by a set of designs that provide not only ready-made spaces of study, but also a determined trajectory that aims to organize its activities. What happens, then, in those spatial locations is determined by those representations that are intentionally set up in study activity and the relations imposed among the components of material arrangements. The paramount problem with those representations is that they define what kind of actions are to be performed and which entities can be useful in this regard. A second conclusion is most directly associated with the idea of a ‘proper’ form and content for studying/learning spaces. The designation of those spaces as ‘learning centres” highlights a certain representation about the functionality of the space. As noted, one problem was that these spaces presuppose that learning is what it should be done there. However, those presuppositions too often veil a wide variety of events that might happen there. Designers, in this regard, are much more likely to emphasize that those spaces provide enough flexibility for students “can learn the way the want to”. Even when, moreover, the problem of pre-determination can be overcome, the difficulty of specifying that is learning and not studying what is supposed to happen on those spaces remains. However, what observations in AGORA shown, is that activities and the materiality involved it is constantly changing and remains indeterminate. The reason, as will be elaborated in the presentation, is that the distinctive quality of studying activity is its possibility to experiment, both with their actual activities and with the subject matter of its study.
Boys, J. (2011). Toward creative learning spaces: Re-thinking the architecture of post-compulsory education. London: Routledge. Ellis, R. A., & Goodyear, P. (2016). Models of learning space: integrating research on space, place and learning in higher education. Review of education, 4(2), 149-191. Flusser, V. (1999). The shape of things: A philosophy of design. London: Reaktion books. Ingold, T. (2011). Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. Abingdon: Routledge. Rook, M. M., Choi, K., & McDonald, S. P. (2015). Learning theory expertise in the design of learning spaces: Who needs a seat at the table? Journal of learning spaces, 4(1), 1-29. Schatzki, T. R. (2010). The timespace of human activity: On performance, society, and history as indeterminate teleological events. Lanham: Lexington Books. Schatzki, T. R. (2012). A primer on practices: Theory and research. In J. Higgs, R. Barnett, S. Billett, M. Hutchings, & F. Trede (Eds.), Practice-based education:Perspectives and strategies (Vol. 6, pp. 13-26). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
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