Lense one: Observing the materiality of things

The doors through which Marcus entered the learning environment were generous, allowing him to pause as he entered. He moved through the entrance, visually scanning the space. He located his teacher within a semi-circular seating arrangement, made his way towards him, and took a seat. Was any of that material? Did the presence of large doors, leading Marcus to a central point from where he could quickly scan the environment, contribute to an experience of materiality?  How did the seating configuration act to cue the students about what was to come? What was it that kept the laptop, pencil case, and books inert, resting on his knees as he waited?

How did knowing that the verbal instructions were mirrored in the online class environment change his experience of sitting, watching and listening to his teacher?

Did having the freedom to choose where to sit and work change his engagement with the lesson? Was it the choice in and of itself – the tailoring of the environment to suite his preferences – or was it something else?

Without further instruction Marcus and his partner settled themselves, opened their laptops and began working. They referred to their individual physical work journals, and one laptop was used to access online learning resources, whilst the other was used as a recording device. A school-wide Wi-Fi network facilitated this and Marcus and his partner navigated without hesitation between the physical and virtual environments.

With paper and pencil firm in their grasp, their fingers skipping across the keyboard, they initiated, paused and re-recorded their work. The meter of their voices calmed as they practiced, and they changed their physical orientation on the floor countless times. On receiving a reminder about time constraints they emailed their audio file, the only trace of their work, and returned to the red amphitheater. This time the focal point was not their teacher, who stood behind the semi-circular seating arrangement, but the whiteboard, on which their work appeared. Today’s work, in the form of an audio track, provided the sound track to a previously compiled visual montage.

If materiality is, as Sorensen (2007) describes, the ability of an object to relate to other objects through a particular arrangement of socio-technical elements, how then do we begin to make sense of this arrangement. How do we leverage the available tools and plan learning encounters that apprehend the affordances of materiality?

Please note that this series of one, plus three first appeared in the  extended research proposal of my PhD  (2012). I am sharing it because it is a central part of the evolution of this project. Where posts include in text citations I will add the full citations to a post I shall call – Bibliography! As with all my writing please note that pseudonyms are used for people. However, the school in which I conducted my observations is very real – and I have their permission to refer to them by name.  

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