Reflections on virtual placemaking

set up for VC at ALTC 2016

Set up for VC at ALTC 2016

Today I was fortunate to be able to participate in a discussion which was part of the MELSIG conference at Edgehill. The SIG is a community of practice for media in learning as you can see here in the statement of purpose.

Here’s the information about the event:

Description: The event will consider how learning space becomes learning place through the use of digital and social media in and out of the classroom. We will hear from academics and developers about how the learning space is becoming richer through blended and more personal and networked approaches.

The discourse around learning place relates the “salient qualities of specific learning places to successful learning activities, enjoyable learning experiences and good learning outcomes. Such connections between place and learning can be subtle and powerful.” – Ellis & Goodyear (2016). 

The recording of the hangout is available here

Virtually Connecting was explained to us by one of the co-founders, Maha Bali,  as a third space, an expression which resonated with me immediately as I would define my institutional position as a third space professional, part of what is now a feature of the changing (or is it?) HE landscape. I do find that thinking about digital spaces (or places) is facilitated when we use metaphors from real life. During the hangout Sarah pointed out the benefits of the kitchen table that is a virtually connecting “pop-up” session. The informality, the focus on connecting people regardless of the messiness (drop out, technical hiccups etc) to make things, to think together. This sort of space was described as sending a subliminal message which is inviting others in, so I’m thinking farmhouse kitchen table! We have to bear in mind of course that virtually connecting”buddies” are generally very comfortable online and that many who are less so would not find joining a hangout so comfortable but they can easily watch the recording on YouTube. So role (in the farming community metaphor – from farmer to consumer) may vary.

There is a serendipity to such encounters afforded by the now ubiquitous technology. Further chance intervened when I sat to read the paper after our session. This article appeared today adding an election bound UK context to my reflections. The metaphor i am interested in here is that of “common land” versus enclosure.

Christian spoke eloquently about the importance of agency in digital places. He and I (and many VC folk) share a passion for open education and the political themes of agency, ownership and inclusivity are very relevant. There is no doubt in my mind that these informal hangouts have been instrumental in connecting a wide range of people who support open education, however we have been using “common land” places in cyberspace which we claim and populate because we can.  Cost is not an issue we currently have to face. Given our political climate, will such luxuries always be available? There are those who would seek to monetise the places or the storage, the platforms and the channels either by direct charging or by harvesting data for advertising. We need to fight for the continuation of the common land of the open web if others are to benefit as we have. Digital placemaking helps bring digital capabilities to all and reinforces our agency in the stateless universe that is the open web. Use it or lose it!



4 responses to “Reflections on virtual placemaking

  1. Beautiful reflections, Teresa, and you somehow manage to infuse hope in the midst of somber potential futures. It’s knowing people like you that infuses joy in my life in the midst of an increasingly dark world

  2. Love the metaphor of ‘common land’ for freely accessible digital spaces. I wonder if the digital is our last champion of shared public space and I think your concerns around enclosure are very relevant.

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