Tag Archives: London

Connect : Disconnect


I am back home after a week and a half in the UK and I’m full of thoughts about the ways that people talk about Digital (especially tools) when what they mean to discuss are People.  Or, Organizations.  Or, Processes.  

I was part of the group who put on #FutureHappens in London (well it’s a trio really at this point, not grand enough to be a triumvirate though) and while we do say (or, I do say) “We don’t know what’s going to happen” at these events, we really kind of do.  We start the conversation off talking about tech of some kind, and end up talking about people and processes.  In this case we talked about teaching and learning, through the lens of social media.  Not social media in isolation, but very specifically in context, and the rules were we needed to do it constructively.

The “we” there is the other folks in the room too, of course, they are the main content of these events (which I’d like to stop calling Hacks, because of the gendered nature of that language, and I’m working on convincing my partners in crime on this).  And the people in the room were encouraged to get all of their anxieties and fears and also hopes out of the way (as it were) before getting into the core of the day, where we worked through the setups (you can see them on the website).  These I found fascinating, and so while others have written about the day as a whole, I want to focus on the Burnt (that’s what we called this preliminary part) in particular.

And I want to especially focus on the discussion I saw, in post-its and in the room, around connection and social media.  During the event, while people were discussing and working, I took the things that they had written on their respective “Burnt” post-its and clustered them into themes  It seemed to me that when people had hopes for social media, it circles around connection.  This is characteristic of people who work in teaching and learning who have experienced the ways that social media (across various places and platforms) can connect students to each other, to faculty members, to their interests in their course of study, and to the wider world.

Some of these connections were positive.  Some of these connections were negative.   So, when people have fears around social media, they also circle around connection.  To whom were student being connected?  To supportive community members?  To bullies?  To places and people they did not understand?  To places and people they could see themselves as a part of?  

Likewise there was a (to me) unexpected discussion of disconnection (I know, I should have expected it).  There was a thread that worried that social media use and presence would facilitate disconnection of students, from the same list of people and places–from each other, from their teachers, from their communities.  And from themselves–a sense that engaging with social media can be inherently alienating from one’s self, that one can be lost, that the authentic self (whatever that means) can become subsumed in the surfaces of social media performance.

I think that where we can get into trouble is when we assume that one will crowd out the other.  That you are either connected, totally, or disconnected, totally.  When the fact is, as with the V and R continuum, (any continuum!!) there are many in-between points, and many places where we are both, just in different contexts.

So, a student in class on social media might be disconnected in one sense from the room, but connected in another sense to peers outside of the room, or even practitioners relevant to the discussion in the room..  Or, students can be disconnected from one group online even as they engage intensely with another.  Or, students can connect with one aspect of themselves while de-emphasizing another.  These are not monolithic states.  They are modes that shift, with priorities and practices.

So, do social media practices connect or disconnect?  



When people are connected to one group, does it come at the expense of connection to another?   Is connection a zero-sum game?

What is the utility of disconnection, of being aware of practices and places elsewhere, but leaving them alone?  

I don’t, as usual, have answers.  But I think this dyad, connect: disconnect, has something to it.  It’s not just about engagement, it encapsulates fears and hopes that people have for digital places in higher and further education.  From whom are we disconnected?  To whom are we connected?  Who is missing?  Who can help?  Who can hurt?

Social media is another place full of people.  The perils of humanity don’t disappear in digital places, and are frequently amplified.

So, what will we make of this?  What can we create with digital, rather than take as given?


These are the questions I continue to have.


Spring Tour 2017

My front yard this Spring.

It’s that time of year again, the time of year that I have been lucky enough to enjoy in a very particular way for the past 3 years.  I like Spring for a number of reasons, but these last few years I’ve been so pleased (and lucky) to be able to combine this season with chances to travel, to talk to people, to learn new things, and to think about new projects.  And also, have fun.  Because otherwise I’m not entirely sure what the point is.  Especially now that the world is on fire.

At this point in the year I’ve usually already been traveling, but I’ve been at home in Charlotte from January through now (with a hiatus in February to help my parents move), and have been getting to do productive work on how our attempts to remove barriers for students who are also parents (in the form of our Family Friendly Room) have been going, and what the implications are for future work we might do.  That (just completed!) internal report is going to form the core of a book chapter, so I’m glad I’ll get to share that with a wider audience than just my library.

I’ve also run some exploratory focus groups asking students to talk about places where they like to be on campus (versus places they *have* to be), and beginning to gather information about what goes into feelings of “belonging” for students.  I get to draw on the photo diary evidence we’ve been collecting since 2011 for context, as students have always taken pictures of favorite places, places where they feel lost, and now we are going to get to do a deeper dive into what makes something a favorite, and what are the things that contribute to being “lost.”  I don’t know what the results of our belonging project are going to look like, or just how far we’re going to take it, but I want to point out that Krista Harper has been working on similar issues with her team of student researchers at UMass Amherst and I hope at some point to connect our results with hers.

This Spring, so, has already been different, but there are things about it that will also be the same.  In things different:  the first place I get to go is Canada! This month I have the great pleasure of being invited by my colleagues Margy McMillan and Leeanne Morrow to run workshops in Calgary, for teams at Mt Royal, and at the University of Calgary.  I’ve never been to that part of Canada, and while it will be a short trip, I am going to make the most of my time there.  And possibly also shop for some shoes.  Boots?  Possibly boots.

In May, I get to be on the team delivering the latest iteration of the Jisc Digital Leaders Course, and I get to go back to Manchester.  I’ll be working for the first time running a workshop with Zoe Gardiner, and get to work again with Lawrie Phipps, James Clay,  and Chris Thomson, and I expect to be exhilarated and exhausted at the end of it all.  Before that, I will be experimenting again with a FutureHappens Hack in London, this one on social media, and a part of the schemes of Peter Bryant and Dave White (which I do not entirely understand, but am happy to be along for the ride, and for the beers and gin we will drink afterwards.  And possibly beforehand).

In June, I get to be a part of the team hosting the third UXLibs, and I get to hang out with (among others) the marvelous Meredith Evans in Glasgow (I miss getting to do so in Charlotte).  I HAVE NEVER YET BEEN TO SCOTLAND Y’ALL and I am going to dash over to have a gander at Edinburgh and will also wish I had more time to drive around (or, more likely, be driven around) and see All The Things because I’ve heard the Scottish landscapes are like Irish ones on steroids and I wanna see that.  No matter how much it rains.

And also in June, I’ve been invited by David Webster to participate in University of Gloucestershire’s Festival of Learning.  I’m talking a lot about teaching and learning this Spring, and happy to be able to draw on the work I’ve been doing with our Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte, and our active learning initiatives on campus.

And then I will need to go back home, and apply for the visas I and my family need for us to spend the 2017-18 academic year in Kingston, UK.  I am excited and worried about all that we don’t know and can’t control, but am truly hoping this year will give all of us space to find new possibilities.

As I have gotten to each Spring, since 2014.  Thank you for the invitations.  I will see some of you very soon.

networkED: The London University

I had the great pleasure of kicking off this year’s networkED talks at the London School of Economics thanks to the generous invitations of Jane Secker and Peter Bryant.  I was asked to address the theme this year:  what will learning and teaching look like at the LSE in 2020?

A recording of the event has now been posted here.

I am somewhat allergic to future-speak, but do think that there are some useful ways of approaching the “what are we going to do next” question, and I tried to model myself after those approaches.  In particular, I wished my remarks to be grounded in current practice.  Too often, I think, futurism is a feint so that one does not have to deal with the complicated present.  The future can be shiny and seamless and therefore much more easy to discuss.  Also, it hasn’t happened yet.  Anyone can be a futurist.



I started with two stories.

The first was the story of 4 students.  I saw them walking up to the library gates at a UK University, where I was waiting to be admitted as I did not have a card to get me in.  3 of the students walked through the gates with cards, and the remaining student, as their friends waited just beyond the gates, walked up to the desk and said, “I’m sorry, I left my card inside the library, and can’t get in.  I am a student here, please can you check against my name, and let me in?”

The student was let in.

I asked the room:  what happened here?  The room answered:  One of the students was not enrolled at that university, and they did the ID card “dance” to get them into the building, so they could study together.

The moral of that story:  Institutional boundaries are more porous to students than they are to Institutions.


The second story I told was about a student at UCL, in the Institute of Archaeology, who when asked about where he did his academic work, started waxing rhapsodical about the Wellcome Library.    He loved that there were huge tables with comfortable chairs, powerpoints all around, “a quiet space that was actually quiet rather than trying to be quiet” and also minus people “waiting for your seat [especially during exam times]”   He loved all of the light in the Wellcome.  It was his “home” library, not his institutionally-affiliate space.

He had a lot in common with a faculty member, also in the Institute of Archaeology, who used the Wellcome Library cafe as his space in which to work, and also to meet with his post-graduate students.  That archaeologist’s map of academic work spaces revealed the affection he has for the Wellcome, with lines of significance radiating from his sketch of it in his network of spaces.



Showing the love for the Wellcome Library and Bookshop cafe.


The moral of that story:  people’s favorite spaces to work in do not have to be the ones associated with their “home” institutions.  Particularly not in a city like London, where such alternate locations are just down the road, across the street, or next door.


What I want to do is ground our sense of what might happen in the Future of Higher Education in the practices of students and staff there right now.  This brings me to a conversation about
“experience” and “lived experience, started by my colleague Nick Seaver on Twitter.


Nick got a marvelous response from his colleague Keith Murphy (kmtam), which reads in part:

” for us today to say “lived experience,” aside from its trendiness, is actually signalling something very important regarding a truly ethnographic orientation to the world, one that cares not just about the fact that “something happened to someone,” but that the particular ways in which it happened — how it was understood, felt, and made meaningful”

I’d like us to think about, with all of this talk about “student experience” (which I already have a problem with), what happens if we shift not-so-slightly to a conversation about the lived student experience.  What would a consideration of that mean, if we think about the day-to-day experience of being at University in London, and studying for a degree.

In part, my research into learning spaces reveals that the lived experience of students and staff in Higher Education (and elsewhere)  isn’t tightly bound by institutional location at all.

These cognitive maps show how widespread, scattered, fragmented across the landscapes of London and Charlotte these student and faculty learning networks are.

This UNC Charlotte student goes all over town, to her home, the home of friends, to a 24 hour cafe with amazing pastries, and also to the University.



This UCL Student counts as learning spaces her home in outer London, the bus, the Archaeology Library, her “home” Library of SSEES, and Bloomsbury cafe.


Student and other scholars’ lived experience is a networked one–they have personal networks, they are starting to build their academic networks, and they are not neatly bounded.  They experience these networks in physical and digital places–these places are also not very neatly bounded, although institutions try to make them so.  In practice, institutions are full of people who are Not Of that Institution.


This got me thinking of the work that I do in the Visitors and Residents project, and in particular how we’ve come to refine the mapping process that allows people to visualize their practices.  And in visualizing them, they can recognize their practices in important ways, come to grips with how they might like to change things, think about how to continue doing what serves them well.  It’s the visualizing that can be the hard part.

Because it’s all well and good to want to talk about how people can do more, engage differently, but you can’t change things if you don’t know the shape of the situation to begin with.  

So.  If we start from what we know about student (and faculty) practices around learning spaces:  they treat them as a network.  They do not pay as much attention as institutions do to boundedness (although they do get possessive of spaces).  

What happens, then, when we make these networks, created by lived experience, visible?

Contrast the isolated sense of the any institution represented on a map by itself, with the sea of dots that comes up when you Google “Universities in London”:

What can institutions do to make these networks visible, and therefore accessible to more? What could they do to build those networks further, support them with their own resources, go beyond recognizing current practices to facilitating even more?  What would that mean for how we think about education, place, and belonging in London Universities?

The whole city of London is treated in many ways like a university.  What would it mean to be mindful of that, to move towards that purposefully?  

What would happen if we thought of space as a service, the provision and configuration of learning spaces as a thing that institutions can actually do way more effectively than can any individual or private corporation.  Starbucks/McDonalds/Caffe Nero/Pret don’t care if their establishments are good for studying–even if they frequently are because of free wifi, comfy chairs, and access to snacks.  

Fundamentally, this is a Common Good argument.

Because our students encounter barriers all the time.  In a context where they need more space, not less.  And in a context where universities themselves are acutely aware that they cannot provide all that their students need.   What about leveraging the network of London spaces to be a connected set of spaces, powerful in their mutual awareness, profound in their potential to connect students to other resources, other places, other people.  This is the work of education:  preparing our students for the diversity of experiences that will come their way.  It is more than our work, it is our responsibility.



What problem are we trying to address when we throttle access?  Is it people we don’t want in our spaces?  Is it discomfort of people who “belong?”  Is it limited resources that we want to conserve for “our community?”

People who work in libraries are used to thinking about who gets to be in and out of the space.  Public libraries in particular struggle with access: who is in the building? who uses services? how can the library serve them?  I think here about about homeless people in public libraries in the US, and policies such as limiting the size of bags people can bring into libraries, which target these populations of people who often have nowhere else to go. Why are the homeless a problem in the library?  The problem of homeless people in the library is about so many other things.  They are matter out of place.  It’s about discomfort, housekeeping, mental health, access.  These problems are not solved by banning people.  Savvy libraries such as the San Francisco public library, and also the public libraries in DC, have moved to hire social workers, have job seeking centers as part of their library services.  They are taking the broader view of what their responsibility is to the people in their spaces.

Likewise London universities concerned about resources for their own community won’t garner the resources they need by banning certain categories of people from their locations.  I would argue rather that they decrease the access of their community members to the value of London.  Let’s remind ourselves again that chopping London into silos goes against the very thing that can make big cities so marvelous.

If Institutions have a reason for being in London, then why would they protect their students from the London experience?

The point was made in the room, quite rightly, that of course many London students are in London because they are from that city, not because they have “Come for the London experience.”  And it’s also very true that not all students experience diversity and difference as something positive to explore, but as members of communities who are victimized and marginalized by perceptions of difference.   In those cases, many students choose to go to university to be with people among whom they do not have to explain themselves, to experience being with others who are “just like them.”  And who might not thank totalizing agendas that valorize “diversity” as something that people should go out and find for personal growth.

I think there is still an argument to be made for networked universities to connect because it provides spaces for students to encounter each other (and all of their similarities as well as differences).  And in being networked with each other, universities can continue to provide places for students to come back to, institutional homes where they gain comfort, and can eventually contemplate ways of feeling safe even as they confront discomforting situations.

Learning places are not monolithic, not in physical space, nor should they be in digital places.  But digital tools can be used to connect physical spaces, to link them and thereby create something even better.

Academic libraries, for example, are starting to think about themselves not as The Learning Place on campus but as a part of a network of learning places, and this is informed by work like mine that shows the lived experience of university students.  Cambridge University is working to build digital tools to make the network of spaces visible, in particular with their SpaceFinder app, which makes it possible to visualize (and so, consider accessing) a wide range of spaces in and around Cambridge University, not just institutional ones.

I ended my talk with a question, What would this look like for all of London?

There are already digital things that network universities in the UK–Eduroam was brought up by the room, and I think it’s a great example.

I did surprise myself rather far along in the discussion with the realization that I am in fact making an open-access argument about the physical resources of universities in London.  I stand by that.  I think it’s worth exploring.

I was also surprised by the lack of discussion in the room around security issues (perhaps that is my bias coming from the US, home of Security Theater).  I was pleased at that lack, it left time for talk about curriculum and education, and class differences that affect how various HE and FE institutions have (or don’t have) resources.


The discussion in the room was wide-ranging,And people paused really thoughtfully before digging into a conversation that was shot through with practical and ideological concerns.  I was so pleased to witness and participate.






September Tour

2012-11-13 12.34.07

It doesn’t look like this in Charlotte yet, but it’s time for my Fall Tour anyway.

Well it’s been a while since I’ve traveled (NO IT HASN’T I JUST GOT HOME WHAT IT’S SEPTEMBER?).  This month I’ve got some fun stuff lined up, and I’m excited to get to do so many things.

First up, I’ll be presenting in two different sessions at the Association for Learning Technology Conference,  in Manchester.   One will be a debate, co-led by Lawrie Phipps, continuing our discussion started in March around the value of (and values embedded in) ed-tech.    The other will be a conversation co-led by Dave White, where we frame approaches to ed-tech via discussions of failures, as well as our by now well-known opposition to the assumptions that underlie the notion of “Digital Natives.”  I’ve never been to ALT before and am going to finally get to see in person large chunks of my Twitter feed, which makes me smile.

Next I will be spending the week in London, first stop visiting my colleagues at Kingston University again, talking more about libraries and learning spaces.  This time around some of the discussion will be very much informed by the work I’ve been doing in collaboration with the Active Learning Academy in UNC Charlotte’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

And then I am pleased to have been invited to give the first talk this year in the NetworkED seminar series at the London School of Economics.

And finally I will be working for the first time ever in the Wellcome Library, running workshops very similar to the ones I got to do for Imperial and Kingston in March of this year.  I’ve been hearing about the Wellcome since I started doing library ethnography work in London in 2011, and am appalled it’s taken me this long to get there, but pleased it’s finally happening.

So, if you see me flying by in Manchester or London, please give a shout and wave.


A March of Workshops

Well I am back in Charlotte, after nearly a month away from home, and am realizing that I can divide my time in March chronologically, spatially, or in terms of genre. I think I’ll try the last one, as it occurs to me that I really did to several different kinds of things in my travels this past month.

So I’ll post briefly (or, uh, not so briefly) here about the workshops I got to facilitate, not in the least because I want to have a centralized place to collect the links to all of the blogposts other people have written considering the content of those workshops.  If I’ve missed any, please let me know!  I will edit.

Visitors and Residents

In Galway, thanks to the generous invitation of Catherine Cronin (and the sponsorship of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland), Dave White and I got to pilot a version of the Visitors and Residents workshop we’ve been working on for a while. We blogged about it beforehand here.  And Catherine interviewed us about the V&R workshop process the day before we did the pilot.  

Catherine blogged about it afterwards here .  And Sharon Flynn Storifyed it here.

What I’d like to emphasize here is how pleased I am with the steps Dave and I took to make sure that the people attending the workshop (who were so enthusiastic!  Thank you!) came away with something concrete  (we call it the “So What” part, see the entire workshop template in the .pdf here).  We not only discussed the V&R concept, but consistently connected it with practice.  People were encouraged to reflect on their own practices, recognize the differences in the practices of their colleagues, and last but not least, think about (and articulate) ways they wanted to move their own practices going forward.  They did this by first mapping what they did on the V&R pole chart.

Then they “toured” the maps of their colleagues, and eventually annotated their own maps with the meaning/content of what they originally mapped, as well as their aspirations for the new or different.

2015-03-13 Galway V&R

Map from one of our participants. Arrows show direction in which they want to move their practices–FB more Resident, for example.

Some people wanted to engage in new digital platforms.  Some wanted to stop engaging in some places so as to have more room to develop elsewhere.  Some people saw how much their practices reflected their work, but not their personal lives, and resolved to think more carefully about the time they were spending online in all aspects of their lives.

The power in workshops like these is in providing moments people would not otherwise have to really see, and think about, what they are doing.  Too often we engage with digital tools or platforms because they are there, or recommended, or because people are there, but don’t have the space to think about why.  When people put a presence into a platform but then never really use it, why should they have that presence at all?  Being deliberate about motivations to engage can provide people with important chances to make careful choices about the limited time they have for f2f and digital interactions.

I think one of the best things we did in this workshop was make sure there was someone in the room (in this case it was Sharon Flynn) who could make concrete suggestions to people in the room about where they could go for institutional help in learning more about the things they wanted to change and develop.  Too often when we do this workshop at conferences we are reduced to hand-waving and “I hope you can find someone to help you!”  Being able to hand participants off to specific next steps was indeed Marvelous.

If you want to see what it was like, a recording of the session is available here.


photo by Jamie Tilley, see full Flickr photostream at https://www.flickr.com/photos/132033164@N06/with/16842774026/

photo by Jamie Tilley, see full Flickr photostream at https://www.flickr.com/photos/132033164@N06/with/16842774026/

I think the most important thing I needed to get right at UXLibs was my workshop on ethnographic methods.  It was planned and conducted in conjunction with my colleagues Andrew Asher and Georgina Cronin, and the intention was to equip all of the teams (read more about the overall picture of UXLibs here , here and also here.  Ned Potter blogged specifically about the ethnography day here) with a range of instruments and approaches to use for their project in the Cambridge libraries.    My workshop was on observations, and while I gave them a basic handout about domains, etc., I really wanted them to just pay attention and note what they saw, and then mindfully write it up.  Participants worked in pairs (or teams of 3) and had to pool their observations into a coherent narrative at the end.  In Cambridge I sent them out to the Market Square, which bustled with people.  Some teams went inside to a bookshop, which bustled less, but they all had plenty to write up.  Our discussion post write-up was less about what they observed, and more about the process.  Without much prompting on my part we got to discuss the observer effect, ethical obligations for researchers working in public spaces, hazards of interpretation, and the limits of observation as a method (i.e., what else do you  have to do to get to a better understanding of what is going on?).   I was terrifically pleased–after the rush and bustle of observations, the discussion was fairly low-key, but I felt like everyone dug into the issues and came away with the things in their heads they needed for the afternoon’s fieldwork.

(I will blog more about UXLibs #obvs just not right now!)

Ethnography (with a side of V&R)

My colleague Andrew Preater invited me back to Imperial College to work with library staff members with regard to both ethnographic techniques and V&R mapping.  Eleni Zazani blogged (very kindly!) about it both parts of the day here. Most of the participants had done the V&R mapping before, but I had not had a chance to try the “So What” part with them, yet.  They really came through, annotating maps and talking with each other and with me about what they wanted to change.  It’s such a powerful moment to me, to see when people become clear about what they would like to have happen.

After a short break I had them do a mini-version of the ethnography workshop I conducted at #UXLibs.  Karine Larose had been with us in Cambridge, as had Angus Brown in the Imperial leadership team.  So Imperial is well-equipped with people to take ethnographic techniques forward into the work of the library.

This time the observations were distributed throughout the library building, and because I wanted them to be able to apply the workshop to the specific Imperial Library context, we did spend time talking about what they saw, and what they thought it might mean.  Once again 15 minutes of observations required far more than that of write-up time (let alone time for reflection, analysis, interpretation, and planning of next steps!).

I think I’d like to have a workshop full of library leadership sometime, to have the people who need to make decisions about how staff spend time and resources experience the powerful potential of ethnography, as well as subjectively experience just how much time it takes to do effectively.

Inspired by the concrete suggestions that people had taken away from the V&R workshop in Galway, and the morning at Imperial, I wanted the ethnography piece to have specific outcomes, too.  So at the end we collectively thought about the questions that participants wanted to start to try to explore via ethnographic techniques at Imperial.

And there was a definite impact, with staff members actively seeking out material to help them take ethnography further in their own work.

Ethnography at Kingston

This should have been a #shoetweet tagging @SaraBurnett

This should have been a #shoetweet tagging @SaraBurnett

Kingston University and UNC Charlotte have a formal exchange with each other, and I’m delighted to be starting to participate in conversations there around libraries and learning spaces.  Thanks again to Robert Elves for being my liaison and scheduler. The final workshop I conducted was here, and I was once again fortunate to have 2 alums from the UXLibs conference, Sara Burnett and Simon Collins.   We didn’t have time to do observations in the library sites this day, but spent good productive time having Sara and Simon go over some of the methods they learned at UXLibs.  They also described some of the issues that they observed in the Cambridge libraries, and that led into a great discussion of what they were interested in exploring at Kingston.  The outcome of this workshop was a document with a list of questions to start asking, with each question accompanied by the instruments/methods that might provide a good start in finding things out.

Real Outcomes for Real People

Overall, it was just so much fun to not just talk ideas with people, but to take the ideas towards something that everyone agreed would be worthwhile to try.  I was never in the position of telling people what they needed to do, but rather helped provide space for the conversation to happen, for people to connect with each other and with new concepts and to make new connections with things they had already heard before.  It was satisfying work in a completely different way from report- or article-writing, or presentation-making.

Thanks to all the institutions (NUI Galway, Cambridge, Imperial, Kingston) and people within them who provided me the chance for such work.  it was practical in the best sense, and I hope I get to do more of that going forward.

#LostMarch: Donna Lanclos on Tour in the UK with a stop in PDX at the end

The Cam

Punting on the Cam, which I will apparently get to do this visit to the UK.

Well, it’s not going to be lost, but it’s definitely going to be a blur.  I thought I’d put all of the things I’ll be up to the rest of this month here, in part to make it feel containable to me, and in part to inform people about where I’m going and why.

I’m delighted to be taking part, at Lawrie Phipps’ invitation, in a debate on education technology at Jisc’s second Digifest in Birmingham on March 9th.  Dave White will be arguing for the question, “Are Learning Technologies Fit for Purpose” and I will be arguing against.

Digifest LEGO

Image by Lawrie Phipps, not to scale

Then I will be off to the west of Ireland, to chat with Catherine Cronin and colleagues about things library, ethnography, and education technology, as well as to co-run a Visitors and Residents workshop at NUIG on March 13th.

And THEN I will be very excitedly keynoting at UXLib in Cambridge, as well as running one of the ethnography workshops on the first day, and participating in the rest of the 3 day conference (March 17-19) as mentor and judge.  Andy Priestner and team have been working tremendously hard on this event, and I am grateful to have been invited to participate in it all.

AND THEN I will be back in London for several days of conversations and workshops with my colleagues at the LSE, Kingston University, and Imperial College.  I am disappointed I won’t have time to revisit my colleagues at UCL.  That will have to wait for another trip.

Finally, I’ll be presenting at ACRL 2015, with Andrew Asher, Maura Smale, Mariana Regalado, and Lesley Gourlay, a workshop based on on our collective work around cognitive mapping of learning landscapes.  Our “Topography of Learning” workshop is on Friday March 27th, from 11AM to 12PM in the Portland Ballroom 253 of the Oregon Convention Center.   if you will be in PDX for the meetings, do please come and participate!

ACRL speaker

Post-Digital Learning Landscapes

So I’ve just started to look at what I collected in London last month, but I’ve actually been thinking about and playing with cognitive maps for the past year or so, and I’ve got some preliminary analysis already.

Primarily, what I see in the maps that I collect from undergraduates, post-graduates, and faculty/academic staff are learning landscapes.  There is much talk of learning “spaces,” but I think the problem there with that terminology is that they can be thought of too easily in isolation.  “Landscape” implies a network of spaces, with a relationship to each other.  Some landscapes are extensive, some are relatively local and limited, but they are all networks, and involve buildings, people, technology, modes of transportation, institutional spaces, commercial spaces, domestic places, and so on.  The reasons that people locate themselves in particular places tend to have less to do with the absolute qualities of a particular place, and more to do with a complex calculus of motives, including not just what they want to do in that place, but where they need to be beforehand, and after, with whom they will be (or want to be, or cannot be with).

The map above was generated by a 3rd year student in Project Management for Construction.  He has drawn UCL on the left, and then broken UCL down into the various institutional spaces he visits for his academic work (the Library, lecture halls, tutors’ offices).  These institutional spaces are embedded in a larger network of cafes, domestic spaces, and even (weather permitting) parks.

This MA student in Russian literature has spaces all over London in her map.  Her home has sub-areas she has identified for particular sorts of work, her commute on the bus is earmarked for certain sorts of reading or listening work, and the UCL part of her map includes not just the SSEES library (ostensibly, her academic “home”), but also the Institute of Archaeology library, the Post-graduate common room, the Main library, and various cafe spaces.  She has called out her laptop in the UCL spaces as a crucial part of her landscape.

This faculty member in the Institute of Archaeology has separated his London landscape from his other significant locations, and has included labels for London libraries (the British Library, Senate House, the IoA Library, and in particular the Wellcome Library, limned in red), antiquity societies and museums, the Tube, and his office in the IoA.  Cambridge is important because of its connection to his brother as much as it is for its academic resources.  Yale’s Beinecke gains additional importance because of New Haven’s pizza.  His home setup is represented by him in an armchair with his laptop and a cat.

What strikes me most about these maps, especially given that I followed up the mapping exercise with a structured interview (modeled on the V&R instrument) is the relative lack of representations of “the digital.”  We get some tools (computers, iPods, phones), and occasional representations of places/services such as Dropbox or Evernote, but in general, the digital is shot through these, but invisibly.  If I were to try to layer “the digital” onto a map such as this, it would simply light the entire thing up.

I want to pause here and note that when I first heard “post-digital” in conversation with Lawrie Phipps and Dave White, I was incredibly annoyed.  What on earth could they mean by that?  It smacked of “post-racial,” which in my experience is a phrase used by people keen to deny particular sorts of realities.   But these maps, and the interviews that accompanied them plus the last 3 years (yikes) I’ve spent working on the Visitors and Residents project have apparently made me less resistant to the idea of “post-digital” than I would have been if I’d heard about it when the 52 group (Dave Cormier, Richard Hall, Lawrie Phipps, Dave White, Ian Truelove, and Mark Childs) came up with their concept paper in 2009.

I think I have post-digital learning landscape maps here.  The digital is just understood.  It’s water to these academic fish.  And it’s not just academics; people generally take the digital so much for granted, that when we ask them (as we do in the Visitors and Residents structured interviews) to think about what they do “with technology” or “on the web” they are taken aback, they have to think about disentangling it to talk about it separately, because their everyday practices are so completely wound around digital tools and places.  The role of the digital is practically unspeakable, we in our interviews are asking them to describe what it’s like to breathe.  And when people do talk about technology, it takes very few sentences indeed for them to switch over to talking about people, or information–that is, the stuff they are accessing via technology is far more important, and far more the point, than the technology itself.

From the 52 group’s 2009 concept paper, thanks to Doug Belshaw and his blog for leading the way to the cite:

Not only is the digital subservient to the social, it is, in some ways (and soon most ways), transparent. We are moving towards a postdigital age where the tools driven by the microprocessor are common to the extent to which they will no longer be noticed. As the ‘digital’ calculator and the ‘digital’ watch have become calculators and watches, so will the ebook become a book and IM become ‘message’: the ‘instant’ will be taken for granted. Things digital will be accepted alongside our other technologies and the slate swept clear of many of the distracting dualisms (and technological factions) that pervade the educational discourse. The postdigital frees us to think more clearly and precisely about the issues we face, rather than become tied to an obsession with, and the language of, the new.”

London Travelogue, Part the Third: Senate House

Thanks to Andrew Praeter and Simon Barron I got a fantastic tour of the Senate House library (and building) just before I left London for home.

It’s a spectacular building–apparently, if WWII hadn’t broken out, it would have been part of a complex that extended all the way up through Gordon Square (right in front of the current Institute of Archaeology building).  Crazy to think about.  It was the first skyscraper in London.

It’s a landmark in Bloomsbury, and I’ve been walking past it for years, never quite realizing that’s what it was.  Senate House is an interesting library in that it’s not attached to any one particular University, but rather has (someone correct me if I’m wrong) member institutions who pay for their students to have access.  Senate House showed up in some of the cognitive maps that I collected from people at UCL, as a place where people enjoyed working.  It’s a lovely building, I adore Art Deco architecture and design, and it’s a pleasure walking around it.  The specific history of the building is fascinating, as there are elements that are simply unfinished (especially decorative flourishes that never happened), because of the War.  The decorative flourishes that did manage to happen are stunning.

Stained glass windows.

The Senate Chamber.  I want to give a talk in this room SO MUCH.

More stained glass.

Beautiful clock (with the reflection of Simon for good measure).

Lovely fabulous marble hall.

The library-specific spaces in Senate House are uniformly Traditional Quiet Library spaces–there are no group study spaces in Senate House (although, apparently, students will walk up to the desk and ask “where are the group study rooms?”).  The assumption is that there are such spaces provided by the home academic departments.  I wonder how accurate that assumption is.

At any rate, as Traditional Library Spaces go, the ones in Senate House are nicely appointed, and are a good fit with contemporary scholarly behaviors (and technology).

This traditional reading room has tables big enough for people to spread out, and also use their laptops/tablets
This reading room used to have desktop computers in it, but they moved those out and now just have large tables as shown.

Self-service laptop checkouts have replaced desktop computers distributed throughout the Senate House spaces. Patrons can take the laptops wherever in Senate House they feel most comfortable working, and don’t have to rely on where computers happen to be, if they don’t walk in with their own devices.  Wireless is throughout the building.
Up in the stacks, there are workspaces as well.  These little window seats have always been popular (windows are popular in Atkins, and really in nearly every library I’ve ever seen, at least in terms of where patrons like to park themselves).  Senate House recently got new fittings for these window areas.
A light, a shelf, a work surface, and outlets/powerpoints.  And, a chair.
There are also these tables, with powerpoints and room to spread out.  The funny pillars on the end of the table are artifacts from when there was a fixed desktop and monitor on one end of the table.  Senate House has moved away from desktops in their library, except where they are used for catalog check stations.
This, however, is my favorite space in Senate House.  Filled with huge tufted leather sofas.  Magic.
Apparently there was some initial worry that the sofas would encourage talking.  I think that the arrangement of them in rows, the fact that they are massive heavy pieces, and the placement of them in a room that is clearly a “Traditional Reading Room” all sets the tone nicely, and it’s clearly a quiet place to study that just happens to be filled with soft seating rather than desks and hard chairs.  I would spend all of my time here, if this were My Library.