Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

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Shaped Spaces and Learning - In a Cave or On the Stage?

I've parroted 'Technology is Space' for a few years now, because I have high confidence in the ability of this perspective to bring insight to where technology fits in schools and in learning generally. If you want an accessible entry point to this line of thinking, have a look at this article by David Thornburg.

I've seen technology wreck learning - often - and when I track back what has gone wrong I perceive the absence of an insightful framework into what technology is, the nature of the beast.


A telltale sign: goals to 'increase use of technology' in a school, or 'to encourage teachers to use technology'. These goals are nonsensical. They aren't legitimate goals. If technology is space, then the goal 'enhance learning with technology' reads 'enhance learning with space' - why not just 'enhance learning?' and then work from there to contextual strategies?

Tech is no holy grail. It is hyped up like Finland. 

Our world is characterised by constantly emerging and re-emerging relationships, no noun can tame these and dish up an easy solution. 

By saying 'technology is space' we open up a plethora of possible containers for these relationships. Thornburg does this with the terms: Cave, Campfire, Watering Hole. Each of these describes a relationship - Cave = 1:self, Campfire = 1:many, and Watering Hole = many:many.

These three terms provide a powerful taxonomy that can be used in one breath to examine physical spaces, and the very next, virtual. There isn't, in my opinion, any hard difference between physical and virtual - it's only a matter of degree: cause-and-effect in the raw universe versus cause-and-effect in a shaped universe. Technology is the shaping. By this definition our school sports field (artificially shaped space) might be a much better space for my French class than a chat system (artificially shaped space).

Spaces have affordances and constraints. In different spaces, some relatonships are possible, others unlikely. Relationships between you and me, me and them, me and me, you and you, each with many modes and modalities. It gets complicated.

When I work through Cave / Campfire / Watering Hole with school leaders we often hit an ambiguity characterising the 'blog.'

Some want to call a blog a Cave, thinking of the individual relating intimately to their own inner world as they compose their post. It is the feeling of writing a diary entry: 'dear diary', with an experience of deep inner flow as we conceptualise our thoughts in the glow of the computer screen. 

Others leap immediately to its other quality as a Campfire: blog posts can be read by many - they are a broadcast.

This mash-up of the Cave with the Campfire explains why so many get themselves in trouble with regretted tweets. Staring at the screen, one feels alone, and externalising one's thoughts feels little more than throwing a message in a bottle out into the ocean, whereas it is in fact throwing the message into a printing press, for prompt delivery to as many wish to receive and attend to.

A boy from Anastasis Academy talks about his journing with blogging.

Track cause-and-effect, affordances and constraints, through this mash-up of an iPhone + laptop + two students.

Ideas bouncing from brains to wall back to brains. Note textbook and calculator also feature - where do they fit? How are they shaped-space, and what do they shape?

All kinds of social melt-downs among teenagers (let alone adults) are caused by a weak literacy in these new spaces, these new bubbles of spaces that are multiplying (bye bye MySpace, hello Pinterest).

A particular issue is the bandwidth of the space, since raw face to face communication includes tone, facial expressions, posture, etc, whereas derivative technological spaces are often little more than text. The low-bandwidth of a blog post creates a sense of safety, because the spotlight is not on my every reaction... I feel secure to fashion my message, and refashion it over time. I'd rather remain in diary mode (cave mode) and write an email than give the person a call with its self-exposure via nuances of voice.

In working to reform email use at my school, it became clear we often use email as a diary entry, meant to sort out our own thoughts rather than to communicate with conciseness or clarity. We appropriate spaces for our own agendas, and spaces become associated with particular purposes.

Space is cause and effect - that's all it is. Space mediates relationships (between objects, people, ideas, information). We appropriate space to manipulate these relationships toward certain ends. Think: cricket bat, tanning bed, letter to the editor, knife and fork. Spaces can be re-appropriated for previously unimagined purposes, and mashed-up together in the process. 

We shape the space, then the space shapes us, or it's just not cricket.

So here's an interesting question: how might we inspire younger people to shape powerful new spaces for their own purposes? 

Boldly go...