Lense two: Observing the latent power of place

The large welcoming entry acted to draw the students in. Situated at the top of a rise, adjacent to two outdoor seating areas, there is generous space on both sides of the doors and the transition from one area to the next is gradual. Once inside, Marcus had sight of five different zones: to his left a gallery displaying student work; alongside that, an audio visual immersion zone, and directly ahead a double volume teaching space. Beyond this was the outdoor garden room and to his right, past the stairs, he could see his teacher within the curve of a seating arrangement.

Marcus made his way towards him, greeted him, and sat within the crescent alongside his classmates. Gathering, they discussed what had been done and the details of the task for the day.  After which the students were free to work within agreed upon boundaries defined by both physical elements – in the form of walls, a stair case, and furniture – and by the requirement that they were to remain within line-of-sight of their teacher.

In the angle where the stairs rise is a nook which houses a few small tables. Marcus and his partner made their way towards the tables, but didn’t stop. They continued on to the point where the underside of the stairs meets the floor. There, they made themselves comfortable on the carpet.

Busying themselves with their work they moved from the physical, to the virtual and back again. The ability to do this was taken as given by both the students and the teacher. Movement in the service of learning wasn’t confined to traversing between the physical and the virtual but was also apparent in how students and staff configured and reconfigured formations of furniture to create different places in which to work. A second, less visible layer of controls ensured a temperate climate and task-appropriate lighting, audio zoning and video projection.

In this description it is the spatial formations of gathering, dispersal and regathering that fascinate me. How the simple act of creating a semi-circle and standing within it cued the introductory discussion, whilst standing behind it initiated the joint viewing of the students’ work. During the phase of dispersal the teacher did not remain anchored to any one point but walked through the space. Is this common-sense, just good practice – or does it warrant further investigation?

Part of the process of describing how materials participate in practice is accounting for their forms of presence – it is in turning to these forms of presence that we begin to see the latent power of place.

Watching it all in motion it is hard to point to the combination of things which ‘held’ that group, engaged in that place, on that particular day. However, one can’t help but notice how the provision of these elements enabled a different style of interaction and how those interactions facilitated engagement that appeared to be an ongoing dialogue calling forth a place, in which doing became thinking.

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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