Enacted Spaces for Learning

I just started reading Eric O. Jacobsen’s new book The Space Between: a Christian Engagement with the Built Environment. In his introduction Jacobsen helps define what is and what is not the Built Environment. In his short primer he briefly introduces one aspect of the built environment that is called ‘enacted space.’ “Enacted space refers to the dynamic interaction of people and props in a particular space through time.” So an enacted space requires four things: a built space, people, props and a specific time.

photo from arteyfotografia.com.ar

Jacobsen gives the example of a baseball field. One can’t really observe a baseball field unless one observes it during a game- when props and people are scheduled to be involved.  Of course one could see a baseball field outside of this specific time, but then they would be observing the absence of enacted space. A built space that is not being activated.

This idea of enacted space got me thinking about learning spaces. Specifically I was reminded of my one week mooc course this past August. One of our assignments was to create a one minute video describing places where learning takes place. Due to time constraints and technical problems I was unable to complete that video, but nonetheless I spent most of that day contemplating the question. Since I think that learning takes place everywhere, what I was really interested in was where learning does not take place. So really that built space that never is truly enacted.

Think of a classroom. A classroom is a built environment designed to encourage and facilitate learning. Classrooms come in all shapes and sizes; for my purposes I’d like to look at the large lecture hall typical on all university campuses. Set a specific time, students and faculty come, PPT and textbooks accompany them, and it would appear that the space is ‘enacted’. But as Jacobsen points out, it is very difficult to build a successfully enacted space. The space, props, people, and time have come together in the lecture hall, but is learning really taking place? For sure things are taking place, but is learning one of those things?

A library would be another great example or more specifically a Learning Commons. The space is built, props are added, hours of operation are posted, and people even come…but is the space activated? What would we observe if it truly was? What would we observe if it wasn’t?

Getting back to the question of MOOCs. Is it helpful to think about MOOCs as a virtual built environment meant to be activated for learning? And if so, what will we observe when learning is taking place? In other words what will be the signs the built environment has successfully led to people learning? I’m not asking how can we assess the learning, but what will the space look like when learning is happening?

Does a MOOC have the four elements of an enacted space? Built Environment? Yes, in the virtual sense of a carved out space on the Internet; can be built within an LMS or some other platform. Props? These, I think, would be the tools that people would use or activate, such as creativity tools, and intellectual sources that people would engage with and respond to. Specified Time? Yes, usually a set number of days, weeks, months. People? Hopefully. This is perhaps the most necessary component and the most inconsistent, thus far in MOOCs. Many detractors cite the fact that many MOOCs spark a lot of interest and enrollment, but very few students actually fully complete the course.

So I think it is this final criteria that would need to be present and observable. Are people participating? Are they engaging with the material, with each other, with the space? To what extent are they engaging? Are they, in a sense, helping to build or form the environment? Or are they merely observing, lurking? If students are only observing and lurking is the space enacted? Or is it a virtual built learning environment that has been unsuccessful in activating learning?

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