Blog Post

[MLIRG] What's place got to do with it?


MLI Reading Group take 2

Missed our first take? Check it out here

So, we've already gotten a little behind on blogging, but this week we'll be posting up two blogs to make up for it! Don't forget, we want to hear your thoughts and perspective. We're just starting to develop our thinking around these topics, so please feel free to jump in by commenting below!

November 7, 2012
Facilitator: Dr. John Martin
Topic: Place

Reading outline

  • Chapter 1 from Ellsworth, E. A. (2005). Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • John Martin's prelim questions on space and place in learning and designing games for place from his doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Art, experience and pedagogy in place

Our first meeting tackled place in learning, mapping out multiple meanings of place and focusing in particular on the role of place in community and on social criticism within place. This week we focused on the phenomenological experience of place and space and how it relates to learning.  We had read Chapter 1 of Liz Ellsworth's book Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy as well as our colleague John Martin's prelim questions on space and place in learning and designing games for place. Here's what we talked about:

Experience as primary

Ellsworth argues that experience comes prior to and is crucial for building understanding, and that, "the qualities of an experience of learning are crucial to what is learned." (p. 18) What are the qualities of place and space that shape experience and thus understanding? There is a lot to untangle when considering the roles of place and space in experience, but we identified one potentially important dimension: the extent to which place and space shapes an individual’s experience directly vs. how place and space serve to frame interaction among individuals.  Another insight that came about from the Ellsworth reading was that learning happens in time, and that a space can shape your experience of time; for example, architecture can provide an “experiential path” that strongly shapes one’s experience through time.

Art as pedagogy

Ellsworth further argues that art is pedagogical, and spaces themselves can be pedagogical:

"The qualities and design elements that seem to constitute their pedagogical force invite sensations of being somewhere in between thinking and feeling of being in motion through space and time between knowing and not knowing, in the space and time of learning as lived experience with an open, unforeseeable future.” (p. 17)
We spent most of our time discussing this idea of art as pedagogical, and discussed related work on the movement within the art community on creating “happenings” that bring art into everyday life as well as Maxine Greene's work on art as a way of knowing the world.

We also asked what can educators learn from artists in designing spaces for experience and learning, and dug into current differences between the art and education worlds. First, formal education tends to try to separate mind from body and learning from place in a way that the art world does not. Further, while there are typically many simultaneous learning goals for a particular classroom activity, artists tend to design a piece or a space for one experience, one big idea. They also tend to view the design differently than educators do, where they are creating agenerative experience that can later be reflected upon. In the typical classroom, on the other hand, curricular activities are broken down into self-contained units without much deep reflection on prior experiences. In our current push for deeper understanding in the classroom, through ideas like situated learning, we as educators should more find ways to look to the art world to better understand how to design rich, meaningful experiences for learners.

There are, of course, some fundamental differences between the art world and the education world that may limit teachers’ ability to design experiences in the way that artists do. For one, there are particular affordances of museum vs. classroom spaces that shape experience within the space. In museums and classrooms, individuals are already prepared for different types of experiences, and this likely proves difficult to overcome. There is a sacredness to museums and similar spaces where audience members may come to expect a profound, deep experience; classroom spaces often do not come with the same expectation. Further, artists refine their ideas to perfection, reaching levels of production quality that are out of reach of educators. Still, art as pedagogy provides a useful lens, and our group will continue to dig into the lessons from art in designing experiences.

Lingering questions: granite vs. graphics

Putting on our game designer hats for a moment, let’s consider museums and other designed physical spaces in relation to the the designed virtual spaces of video games. What is different about virtual spaces as they shape experience? What lessons from art and architecture are there for building virtual spaces that provide generative experiences and lead to deep understanding? When designing augmented reality games, what are the ways that we should consider physical spaces to take advantage of the importance of place and space in our experience?

Up next... Discussing design with Dr. Rich Halverson!

You won't have to wait a whole two weeks (or even one week) for this one, and trust us, you won't want to miss it - Rich is brilliant!


More to come in a few days,

Mobile Learning Incubator

Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison



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