Blog Post

UW-Madison Mobile Learning Incubator Reading Group: Place-Based Learning


MLI is starting a reading group!

We are starting a reading group at the UW Mobile Learning Incubator (MLI) to dig into the theoretical basis for all things mobile. Our basic format for this group is:

  • Invite a new facilitator each week who will:
    • Select 3-4 articles/chapters for the group to read
    • Seed us with questions the day before our meeting
    • Facilitate the discussion
  • Spend at least 2 weeks on a given topic
  • Write up a blog after each meeting to:
    • Leverage online communities to continue the conversation with those outside MLI
    • Deepen our understanding and help develop our ideas around a given topic

MLI’s first reading group

October 24, 2012
FacilitatorJim Mathews
Topic: Place-Based Learning
Reading outline:

  • Selected chapters from: Smith, G. A., & Sobel, D. (2010). Place-and community-based education in schools.
  • Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal40(3), 619–654.
  • Selected chapters from Gruenewald, D. A., & Smith, G. A. (2008). Place-based education in the global age. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher32(4), 3–12.

Optional addition:

  • Kitchens, J. (2009). Situated pedagogy and the Situationist International: Countering a pedagogy of placelessness. Educational Studies45(3), 240–261. doi:10.1080/00131940902910958

And so it begins…

This past Wednesday was our first MLI Reading Group meeting and it went really well! Jim began the discussion with a brief history of place and space. Specifically, that these topics were first discussed in fields like geography and art, before they formally entered into the world of education. We spent nearly two hours discussing different ideas, particularly about Place-Based Learning (PBL), and (I think) we all left with more questions to explore. So, here we want to pull out some key topics that came up and we’re planning to explore deeper.

What is the difference between place-conscious and place-based education? What does it mean to be critical about place?

“Place” has a wide set of meanings in these readings.

On one end of a continuum we see place as a gateway to experiential/embodied learning about all subjects. The creek at the local pond teaches about biology and the neighborhood baseball field demonstrates physics. This view of place gives Dewey’s laboratory school it’s edge, and leads to all forms of situated learning practice.

In the middle of the continuum, we start to understand Smith and Sobel’s take on the role of place in a community; place is shared. With this perspective of place, it is impossible to separate a location from a community. To really be part of a place, not only means to learn from it (e.g. its history, values, vocabulary, art), but also to begin to take part in its creation. One of Smith and Sobel’s core convictions seems to be that young people should be taught how to become contributors to their communities.

On the far end, Gruenewald introduces unapologetic locative social criticism. He begs us to ponder questions such as: Who holds the most power over the use of a place? Who benefits from a place being understood a certain way? What systems are influencing the design of a place? In this view, not only does the place hold meaning and student’s become agents, but the systems of power are explicitly examined. Gruenewald also asks us to analyze the elements of the community that need to be preserved, transformed, restored and created.

What is local?

The most common idea of local that comes to mind is a geography-based one. So, my backyard is local, then my neighborhood, then perhaps my town or city, etc. This perspective is based more on man-made divisions of place.

Ecologicalist offer another view of locality: Bioregional. Basically, the idea of local here is defined by the watershed (where the water goes). So, for example, my ‘local’ space might be determined by where the water out of my faucet comes from; it is based more on naturalistic divisions of place.

Another important tension that comes up when thinking about what it means for place to be local is residing in versus inhabiting a specific place. Here, we are thinking that residing in means you live there, whereasinhabiting means that you’ve built a meaningful and intentional relationship with the place in which you live. Educators implementing PBL often strive for learners to actively inhabit the place in which they live, but how can this type of relationship with place be cultivated? From a more critical perspective, this becomes a bit messy when you look at what this might mean for learners who move around often compared to learners who have lived in the same place their whole life.

How might ARIS-based experiences be used to support and/or spark critical place-based inquiries?

The ARIS platform has a complex relationship to place -- one that we are just beginning to explore and have yet to understand. When engaging in PBL using ARIS it is important to consider that critical is an attribute of the process. Creating on-ramps to critical thinking and discussion about a place is a key characteristic of Grunewald’s take on PBL. Whether this is embedded in the design itself or the experience as a whole, we are beginning to see critical as an invaluable attribute of PBL.

Caution: Recreating a narrative

For instance, one of the potential dangers we have in implementing learner design activities that use primary sources and create place-based media is that the sources themselves typically only offer one perspective. History is often told by the group that holds the power to tell it. Rather than abandon these activities altogether, perhaps we can encourage learners to become more critical of the documented narrative to avoid unquestionably recreating and reinforcing the narrative in power.

Encouragement: Create happenings

ARIS has great potential for creating situations with the intent of changing the way people interact. Whether learners engage with a multitude of perspectives in the design of the game/activity or are encouraged to be critical about the very construction of the game itself as part of the overall experience, there are many opportunities to include hooks to think about values and power structures around place. Creating happenings that prompt students to see a place or space with a different lens is a step in the right direction.

Lingering questions:

How have other disciplines theorized about and engaged with place?

What can we learn about place from past experiences, both our own and others'?

Coming up next... Place-based Inquiry with John Martin.


Until next time,

Mobile Learning Incubator

Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison


1 comment

This is great!  I am familiar with Kurt Squire's work and ARIS, which is a fantastic user friendly constructivist learning model.  At Michigan State University, I have been working with our team at the Creativity Exploratory to help build and implement a mobile system that is similiar to ARIS, only it is web-based instead of native.  We are currently teaming up with our campus museum to see how a mobile walking tour vs. a traditional gallery space changes the participants relationship to the place and if it affects their learning and retention of the material.  All the work with ARIS offers great insight on how mobile devices can change learning!  I hope to continue research on mobile constructivist learning models.  I see this as being a large factor in future informal learning environments, like museums.