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Session: Designing Learning Spaces in Physical and Virtual Settings

Session at the ETUG Fall 2009 Workshop

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Sylvia Currie
9 October 2009

What does it mean to design “spaces” for learning? How do our design choices reflect our aims and perspectives and how do they create different affordances and constraints for learning? How does learning space design differ in physical and virtual settings and how can they inform each other? In this session, Alyssa Wise and Justin Marples will tackle these and other big questions from a learning space design perspective. They will touch on principles of student learning, illustrate how these principles have been applied, in both virtual and physical learning environments, and invite you to explore how spaces might be designed otherwise in order to support student learning.

Extra content

Dr. Alyssa Wise is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the design and use of online environments for learning. Coming from a constructivist perspective on learning, she is currently investigating the tensions (and overlap) between “consumer” and “community” models for online learning.

Sylvia Currie
19:30 on 9 October 2009

Justin Marples is the Director, Classroom Services, University of British Columbia. Justin has been involved in university administration facilities development, human resources, and financial management. He has spent the past 10 years ensuring that UBC’s formal spaces (classrooms and teaching laboratories) and informal learning spaces support the university’s strategic goals. The process involves classroom services teams working closely with academic and service unit stakeholders to ensure their needs are incorporated into learning space design and operations.

Sylvia Currie
20:03 on 9 October 2009

Alyssa Wise and Justin Marples

Alyssa and Justin

Sylvia Currie
18:12 on 25 October 2009

Embedded Content

Presentation on slideshare

Presentation on slideshare

added by Gráinne Conole


Gráinne Conole
7:49pm 9 October 2009

Hiya this is such a great and topical issue. Reminds me of a really interesting project hapening in Australia at the moment - Spaces for Knowledge Generation. Have added a link.

Sylvia Currie
7:57pm 9 October 2009

Interesting project! And I love the title of your workshop :) "Sunburnt wifi: what makes a really great outdoor learning space?"

Gráinne Conole
6:31pm 21 October 2009

Interested to hear in this presentation about virtual/physcial spaces and in particular Alyssa's comment:

Space metaphor doesn’t always work… the notion of internet as space doesn’t always work…"

I think this is very true and elsewhere I have argued that traditional time-space based metaphors used to describe technologies and users interactions with these technologies is no longer adequate to describe the rich, multi-faceted ways in which practices are now being shaped by technologies and the complex, distributed nature of the associated temporal-spatiality:

There is a need for new approaches to help navigate through the digital environment and also to help make sense of it and the impact it is having on our lives. Simplistic descriptions of the digital environment replicating physical spaces are no longer appropriate, it is necessary to take a more holistic view and describe technologies and users together emphasising the connections between them.

I argue that spatial descriptions of digital spaces quickly evolved in the early stages of the Internet – the concept of ‘virtual universities’ was born with associated virtual cafes, libraries and lecture halls trying to mimic real-life educational spaces. However of course as we have co-evolved with these tools, use has become more complex, and more temporal/spatial fragmented:

"However the way in which we now use computers is radically different, information no longer needs to be ‘filed’ in one place it can have multiple locations, multiple connections; searching makes hierarchical filing redundant (Weinberger, 2007). Therefore as the patterns of use of the internet have developed and as tools have emerged with new functionalities resulting in changes of use and practice, simple spatial descriptions have become inadequate as a means of describing what is happening (Conole, 2008)."

Therefore I suggest we need four foci to describing digital spaces and I argue that consideration of these in combination can provide a richer, more accurate description of use of tools.

  • Spatial: Made up of objects which are connected in a typology of hyperlinks
  • Temporal: Evolving over time, with events happening over different timeframes
  • Functional: Represented as the different functions of the tools; tools acting on ‘data’ in the system leading to transformation in some way
  • Connected: A connected network of different types of objects (tools, resources, people) interacting

Sylvia Currie
6:36pm 21 October 2009

Live blogging notes Alyssa Wise and Justin Marples' session


This idea of combining physical space with virtual space in a session good for thinking about the comparisons.

Interesting to think about virtual place - we don't need to work with the constraints of physical space yet we are doing it online. Why?

Showed as an example of a campus metaphor. How much power are we getting with the notion of having conversations and interactions taking place on different floors in this interface? Can constrain topics that might be common to both "places"

Justin - Physical Space

Showed an image of an old lecture room. Reflects pedagogy of another day. There are rows of seets, upright, solid wood, with writing spaces, front forward delivery of knowledge coming from teh front of the room.

Then showed images of different classroom spaces that are more dynamic, more activity, significan interaction, despite many horizontal and vertical barriers in that environment.

Technology-enhance learning spaces.

Mobility and collaboration - designing around these 2 factors consider chairs on wheels, PC monitors that move and rotate, round tables.

Alyssa - Virtual Space

How can we design for INTERACTION. How does it set up what happens in the classroom.

You can communicate what is going to happen. Gave an example of a sign that says push, yet there is a handle on the door that looks like it should be pulled. Confusing, and can be easy to make these mistakes online

Example of Britannica Online from wayback machine. They decide what is important on main page, how things should be categorized.

Example of EDUC 894 wiki. Students created pages that THEY thought were interesting. There was no discussion - not useful for that purpose and it turned into more of a repository.

Example: Wikipedia - folksonomy - users tag and popularity evident


Sylvia Currie
7:15pm 21 October 2009

Live blogging notes Alyssa Wise and Justin Marples' session

Did an activity looking at images of different spaces -- online and f2f and groups reported out.

One thing that is really important is how to communicate learning design so that the spaces can be used appropriately.


Needs to be an opportunity for interaction and to negotiate understanding.

Showed example of physical space in rows (accommodates large number of students) and alternate rows chairs swivel so can turn and talk to others.

Virtual - think about notion of playground and sandbox. Showed example of Knowledge Forum. You can articulate relationships between ideas. Organize ideas in different ways. Goes beyond typical discussion forum. Another example is Timeline - there's a big question, and students match events with those questions. Another example: students gather around an object to focus on (developed at SFU Interactive Arts -- need URL)

incite engagement and ownership in learners.

Example of space that organizes students into 2 different sides facing the middle, ideal for opposing views, debates.

Virtual example - LTTS. Faced with initial problem scene and go off on a journey to solve problems. Learners personalize the problem.

contextualize learning in real comunities that use knowledge

Online example: Goal based scenarios.Metaphor of a window - students look outside of the classroom to see what is happening in a real situation.

Physical space - split screen shows images of participants located in 3 separate geographical areas and the 2nd screen shows the content.

Provide opportunities for active participation with respect to the communities

Example - example. Even people who haven't taken on the identity of teacher, they are still able to participate in an authentic way.

Example - Andromida Galaxy - a portal

Physcial example - experts conneting from anywhere around the globe, showing participants elsewhere as well as in physicial space brings both tother.

Allow for evolution of knowledge, learners, and the learning process

Physical - need to allow for creative and spontaneous opportunities. Small group learning - tables on wheels, chairs on wheels, partitions that can be rolled to separate groups. Open up to expand on knowledge shared in the smaller groups.

Virtual - fewer constraints. Showed SCoPE as an example where you can rearrange objects. Decided to change from organizing by weeks to by topics.


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