How does spatial practice respond to cutting-edge technologies? How does pedagogy respond to new tools? How does the changing nature of spatial practice affect societies?

These questions were part of the theme for the first Nature of Spatial Practices Graduate Student Conference ( this past February. Spatial practice can be defined as the way a built environment is produced. The conference focused on pushing the field of architecture forward through conversations about the changing nature of spatial practice. The keynote speaker at the conference, Dr. Robert Fishman, professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan, challenged architects to conduct future research that is: 1) interdisciplinary; 2) global; and 3) visual.

My interest in attending and participating in the Nature of Spatial Practices conference was to bring learning spaces and learning theory into the conversation. I was interested in thinking about the future of learning spaces and what better place to think about the future than a conference with architects. In the months since the conference, it is clear to me that the three questions posed above need to be reframed to be relevant for learning spaces: How are the designs of learning spaces impacted by cutting-edge technologies? How do we support teachers in using learning spaces? How does the changing nature of learning spaces affect higher education?

The first thing to consider when answering the (reframed) questions is to consider the foundation upon which learning spaces are built. We need to have a conversation about built pedagogy (as described in a previous post). Torin Monahan coined the term built pedagogy in a 2002 paper on flexible space. Built pedagogy is the intersection of spatial practice and learning theories. Monahan (2002) explains that “A classroom with neat rows and desks embodies pedagogies or ‘tacit curricula’ of discipline and conformity, whereas spaces personifying flexible properties… can be said to embody pedagogies of freedom and self-discovery.” Examples of flexible properties include movable furniture and walls such as Steelcase’s huddleboard concept.

Although Monahan is correct in thinking about how a space embodies pedagogies, built pedogagy should focus first and foremost on guiding learning theories. For example, in the Industrial Age (1750-1990), there was an emphasis on an assembly-line approach to learning to help students meet the demands of the workforce (i.e. factories) and keep the status quo intact (i.e. social classes). Based on behaviorist learning theories, classrooms were designed to elicit the correct responses to stimuli. In today’s (what some consider) Knowledge Age (1990-), there is an emphasis on social learning, problem-solving and critical-thinking to help today’s students meet the demands of the workforce (i.e. information jobs). Classrooms should be based on theories of social learning that encourage risk-taking and problem-solving (e.g. Sociocultural Theory of learning, Situated Learning, Cognitive Apprenticeships, Distributed Cognition). In the following paragraphs, I provide a brief answer for each of the three (reframed) questions based on the notion of built pedagogy.

How are learning spaces impacted by cutting-edge technologies?
Our goal at the Krause Innovation Studio is to make sure we are not using technology for technology’s sake. If a new tool is developed and engineered, it is not appropriate to integrate it into a classroom and see how it works. The integration has to be thought out and planned (i.e. meaningful), so that the cart is not put before the horse. Learning theories that contribute to the built pedagogy should be discussed before a new tool is implemented. That said, the changes in cutting-edge technologies are enabling us to rethink and transform the types of spaces we design to support learning. For example, wireless technology has paved the way for the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) movement, where people can take their own personal work environments with them wherever they go. The BYOD concept draws from the theory of Distributed Cognition, where it is understood that tools can be thought of as an extension of people’s cognition. The Krause Innovation Studio is built upon the theory of Distributed Cognition, providing BYOD spaces that enable you to connect your own device to a larger display and share your work with a group.

The Central Pod has seating for four people. The middle of the table flips open to reveal VGA cables that enable the students to connect a device to the display. At the Krause Innovation Studio, we enable people to use their own devices – technologies that are most familiar to them – and that are an extension of themselves. As technologies change and learning theories emerge, future learning spaces will be transformed and it is important to make sure they are transformed for the right reasons.

How do we support teachers in using learning spaces?
In a previous post on the notion of the hyper-public space, I explained that current learning spaces may include…

1) telepresence – the ability to communicate across the world;
2) mixing in higher education buildings – living spaces, learning spaces, and faculty offices are all under the same roof;
3) multi-purpose ceilings – sound can be manipulated to meet the demands of an event;
4) social media – we are no longer bound to physical space and location.
The hyper-public learning space is a mash-up of all of these features. But, will our faculty change their paradigms and use these spaces in their practice?

Supporting teachers in using learning spaces is an important and difficult process. The Krause Innovation Studio’s Learn Lab and small private rooms provide teachers with many different affordances for social learning. But for various reasons, teachers may be unwilling to change their teaching styles to make full use of the affordances of the studio. Without a change in teaching paradigm, it will be hard to sell the teachers on the best use of the affordances. This is an important job for our studio staff over the next few months and one that cannot be fully answered in a few paragraphs. As we continue to support teachers in the College of Education in using our studio spaces, I will begin to document our efforts on this blog. Check back in a few months for a more complete answer to this question.

How does the changing nature of learning spaces affect higher education?
Back in June 2011, I suggested that “the push in education is to move towards openness and the hyper-public life.” In July 2013, I think that this is even more prevalent. The Krause Innovation Studio, a learning space that is as hyper-public and open as our construction allowed, is pushing the boundaries on what we think of when we think of the best resident learning spaces. But, how long will that last? Will the Krause Innovation Studio become a snapshot in time as the 2012 version of the higher education classroom? It is our job at the studio to make sure that does not happen so the studio evolves with time. And, with the flexible nature of the Krause Innovation Studio, transforming the learning space to meet the demands of cutting-edge technologies and emerging learning theories will be an attainable task.

This posting is cross-listed on the Krause Innovation Studio site.

The Intersection of Spatial Practices and Learning Theories

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