The Theatre of Space…continued

Last week, I set up a collaborative writing exercise in Moodle. Below is the result; I think Susie’s contribution would be a more fitting end to the story but I do like Andy’s bathetic and disconnected contribution!

I think that this exercise was successful to a degree; a narrative was produced and the students reflected on and incorporated some of the ideas which we have been exploring in recent weeks.

The narrative doesn’t succeed as a story however; there is a lack of cohesion and development after the first few entries. I think more scaffolding from me as a teacher might help: some comments and suggestions after each entry about where the story might go next and what might be incorporated.

I’d be interested to explore the potential for other spaces and media to support collaborative narratives: would more visual media afford a richer narrative stream? Could video ‘pass-the-baton’ work as well for the production of stories as it has for Karen’s space/mini-bio task? How about Second Life as a space to generate stories, not just characters and settings? As a former English teacher, such opportunities and possibilities are exciting and offer the potential for plurivocal, multimedia, rich and complex narratives for students to engage with and produce.

The Theatre of Space: a Collaborative Tale

Picture of Karen Barns
Re: The Theatre of Space…
by Karen Barns – Sunday, 1 November 2015, 8:23 PM

Elegant evening gowns swept along the theatre aisles as the people made their way excitedly to their seats, ushered along the corridors by the flickering gaslights. Their chatter rose to the vaulted ceiling and echoed around the theatre walls. They had been chosen, Professor Marcello had said. Come tomorrow night you will  be shown! I will show you how the world will be! A world without walls, where we communicate as quickly as our thoughts can travel, and printed words will hang on clouds in the air. You will be amazed!

The tuning violins slowed as the pianist sat down at his instrument with an exuberant flourish of his coat tails. His hands poised dramatically above the keys as the curtains slowly opened.

At the top of the stairs, a tall, ashen man sat quietly in the red velvet chair, his beady eyes slightly squinting against the heavy cigar smoke which hung in the air. He listened to the chatter dim as Professor Marcello emerged from the darkness of the stage, holding a small black box as tenderly as a fragile butterfly. And with a deep slow breath, the man rose to his feet.

Picture of Sarah Rogerson
Re: The Theatre of Space…
by Sarah Rogerson – Monday, 2 November 2015, 8:43 AM

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Rhizome’ said the man. The curtains opened and the audience gasped. A sense of fear and dread filled the room and the tall, ashen man retreated. The rhizome stood on the stage, powerful and omnipresent, tenticles twitched and flailed simultaneously. The first few rows of the audience were sslowly getting covered in rhizome goo. The rhizome opened her mouth to speak and a slow whine came out of all of her mouthes as she growled: ‘I am region, I am network, I am institution, I am fire.’ The rhizome stopped and a tentacle flew back to the furthest row in the audience where….

 Picture of Paul Townsend
Re: The Theatre of Space…
by Paul Townsend – Tuesday, 3 November 2015, 9:02 PM

…stood the diminutive space-time detective, Alacratisa. A wry smile crossed her face, “Gotcha Root Face” see intoned, and pressed the shimmering virtual button at her fingertip.

The beautiful surroundings of the theatre wobbled and then collapsed into a pile of pixels which blew away, as sand in a storm. The dilapidated interior of the antiquated theatre stood in their place. The musty air filled Alacratisa’s nostrils as the code-space implants withdrew their steely tentacles from her elven nose. She turned to Hamish’s avatar, “Well, professor McRae, there’s your event. The smooth surface of the fabric underwent catastrophic corruption when the Rhizome interfered with the natural order. The striations are there for all to see.”

“Hum,” mused erudite tutor in his Scottish brogue, “but the theatre’s still so beautiful.”

  Susie Greig
Re: The Theatre of Space…
by Susie Greig – Thursday, 5 November 2015, 9:23 PM

Just then the the gaslights began to splutter. Then BANG! Stars burst from first one and then the next. Green swirls and stars filled the Theatre. Reflecting from the many ornate surfaces. All at once the the fireworks burst forth from every fitting. Professor McRae gasped in awe – “I almost can’t believe this is real life”.

Down Under Education
Re: The Theatre of Space…
by Andy Hynds – Friday, 6 November 2015, 12:52 AM

The damp air clung to my clothes as I shuffled through the dark.  The crunching underfoot, undermined my feeling of security.  Whispers of  wind, caressed my face, as I walked closer to the edge of the stairway.  As the cold reached my legs, I could feel the hairs rising on my neck.  In the distance a flickering faint light drew my attention,  I walked to it, feeling uncomfortable yet drawn to the light.  I walked more surefooted as my need to reach the light became more urgent.  At last I reached the goal and the gentle running of water could be heard inside, Feeling for the entrance I grasped the handle and pushed it, applying more  pressure to open the door, it moved.  Suddenly surrounded, and bathed in white light I relaxed, and breathed easy, I had found the toilet…

The Theatre of Space

This week’s task was challenging.  We were asked to extend and develop the metaphors we have been constructing and co-constructing into an educational resource or practice. We were also asked to explore an online environment to develop an educational activity. There was also the option to combine both activities.


I found the broad terms of the assignment paradoxically impeding: there was so much I could do I didn’t know where to start. This gave me an interesting insight into the seemingly contradictory impact that ‘free’ and ‘open’ tasks can have on our learners. Smooth is not necessarily always positive and striated spaces can be easier to navigate and work within.

There was also, I felt a deliberate contradiction within the task itself: last week we were indulging in creative extremes, developing complex and extended metaphors within open spaces and even, like Yoyu and Ruth, going freestyle and freehand. This week, we were asked to re-examine those and other encapsulating metaphors but within more constrained and restrictive environments: how could we focus the energies of the metaphors into ordered learning resources and approaches? And how could we potentially deploy Moodle and other learning spaces to develop our ideas and engage our peers as learners? We had to yoke the bacchanalian chaos of our metaphoric playfulness into the Apollonian arenas of striated learning spaces and environments.

Edwards (2014) gave me the prompt I needed to activate a new metaphor; in his examination of what considerations of spatial theories offer to our understanding and definitions of education, he posits:

‘This shifts attention from a focus on the cognito of the individual subject who learns about the world ‘out there’ to a notion of education as a gathering of agencies to experiment and act in the world – an actor-network’. (p.527).

This distinction, ‘between individuals learning about the world – a distancing – and collectives intervening in or learning as a way of being in or enacting the world – getting closer’ (p.527) gave me the notion of working within the linear and contained space of Moodle to offer learners an opportunity to act together on a learning stage. And so I developed the ‘Theatre of Space’.


By actively encouraging the plurivocal, multiplicities and the chaotic, there is the possibility of repurposing a striated space to take on some of the characteristics which are connoted by open spaces: ‘mobility, openness, cosmopolitanism and freedom’ (p.528). Further, if we accept Edwards’ notion that ‘education is association’ then encouraging dialogue, play and communication within a striated, closed space, we are offering ‘spatio-temporal ordering of mobilizing, mooring and boundary marking in the valuing and enacting of certain practices as educational’ (p.530). I am encouraging fellow actors to temporarily take to the stage and play their part in moving our shared story forward.

Karen has begun the story – quite brilliantly – and I hope that others will contribute. However, we’re moving into our new Second Lives soon so perhaps the spaces we have created over the last few weeks will soon be forgotten.



Edwards, R. (2014) Spatial theory in networked learning. Proceedings of the 9th international Networked Learning Conference, University of Edinburgh. Retrieved: 22 October 2015 from

My Edinburgh

“… the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the interplay of signification ad infinitum.”
– Jacques Derrida

“This (Edinburgh) is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
– Alexander McCall Smith

ed viewIn their 2013 paper, ‘Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students’, Bayne et all consider ‘how online distance students enact the space of ‘the university’ (p569).  The paper explores the ‘topological multiplicities’ (p.571) which constitute what it is to ‘be at’ Edinburgh University on a course such as this:

‘…institutional formation and personal identity, location and diaspora, mobility and stasis are continually and creatively re-thought, re-formed and re-shaped’.  (p.571)

University is, the paper argues ‘recast as a complex enactment’ (p.571). As online distance learners, our social spaces are ‘fluid’ (Mol and Law 1994) and Law and Mol’s concept of ‘fire’ (2001) serves to denote the ‘complex intersections of presence and absence’ which comprise our experience, our spaces and our learning. So far so postmodern: online distance learning offers alterity to and the logos, the fixed and the physical. Academically and intellectually, this definition of our experience appeals: as with the metaphor of the rhizome, the rejection of sedentarist assumptions about what is normal – stability, meaning and place – for a definition of space as a ‘dynamic entity’ (p.572) reflects the role we have as creators of our own definitions of what our class is, what our university is and what our learning is.

However, Bayne et al state that, although distance students relish ‘their immersion in the networked, fluid and fire spaces of the online mode’ (p.573), they counter-balance this multiplicity with the construction of ‘their own version of the ‘certainties’ of bounded campus space.’ (p.573).

‘Not me!’ I thought.

And then, reading on, I rethought.

Bayne et al identify and define three key themes which characterise distance students’ conceptualisation and experience of ‘Edinburgh University’; of the ways ‘in which ‘university’ space is enacted’ (p.575). All had resonance for me:

1. Homing and the sentimental campus
I studied in Edinburgh from ’92 – ’96. I was determined to make a success of my time there having transferred from Oxford (where I was reading PPE) to read English which which was my passion. You can only imagine how delighted my parents were, especially as I was the first in my family to make it to university. Anyway…my love of literature was quickly augmented by my love of the city. I continued to live in Edinburgh after I graduated and, since then, have left and returned on a number of occasions. Starting this course feels like another return; I am once again experiencing a sense of connection with the city, ‘a conceptual homeward return’ (p.577).

2. The metaphysics of presence or ‘campus envy’.
Edinburgh University is, for me, ‘a kind of touchstone – a logos’. It is a point (albeit imagined) of fixity, of presence in our online experience of ‘the fire’: the ‘lambent interdependency of the ‘here’ and ‘not here” (p.582). Bayne et al record students’ ‘sense of the possibility of campus presence’ (p.583). I have enacted the same need for physical connectedness – registering for and receiving a student card which I am unlikely to use and making arrangements to attend – in person – the anniversary celebration at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 26th November.


3. The imagined campus
My Edinburgh University campus is multiple and varied, I ‘operate within a material space of ‘churn and flow’. This week, my class has been a restaurant table in a Best Western in Wilmslow, an office in Stockport and my spare room at home in Cumbria. Next week, it will be a hotel in Cornwall. Paradoxically, the complex ‘entanglements’ which ‘enact (this) institutional space’ (p.583) serve to provide me with a sense of constancy wherever I happen to be. Edinburgh University comes with me.

My experience being ‘at Edinburgh’ is one in which I feel both here and there; I feel connected and disconnected, absent and present and ‘somewhere in between’:

‘To be ‘at’ Edinburgh…is to be oriented in multiple ways to the institution, to be simultaneously inside and outside, in flux and in stasis, in presence and in absence’ (p.581)

I do, however, feel that I am in exactly the right place and space for me.

Bayne, S., Gallagher, M. S., & Lamb, J. (2014). Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education, 67, 569-583.

InVision: my trial(s)

Thinglink and InVision are two of the tools which have been used by IDEL students to create their metaphors this week. They are similar in that they allow an image to be overlaid with more information and commentary.

Susie and Stephanie used Thinglink:


roadtrip 1

And Yoyu (to add an overlay to her brilliant drawing) used InVision:

World of IDEL 2

As readers/viewers, we were able to add our own comments to the creations; this function was more structured within InVision:

The World of IDEL 1

These tools have real power and potential. They offer the possibility for collaborative commentary on/explanation of images and a way of undertaking analysis which is not driven, necessarily, by a linear structure.

I engaged in some loop input practice and developed a presentation of my responses to the reading and discussion around MOOCs using InVision (I selected this, rather than Thinglink, as it offered numbered comments, allowing for the development, I thought, of a linear argument; this turned out to be moot). The three core ‘texts’ were Adams et al, this IDEL discussion and Christine’s blog about EDCMOOC.

First, I took some snippings of the core text and some of the key points raise in the discussion and added them to Photoshop in order that I could create an image to be used in InVision. This was time-consuming and raised questions of how to order the snips on the canvas; I determined (perversely, given the medium) on a fairly linear structure which followed the structures of the Adams et al’s original paper and the discussion which it prompted. This process in itself was time-consuming and, part way through, I wished that I had determined to simply offer a standard blog entry on my reading.

Canvas process
Putting the canvas together

I then added the image to InVision. Interestingly, it was only when I did this that it became apparent that InVision has been created to enable prototypes of designs to be built and shared with a wider audience for testing, comment and feedback. It’s great that Yoyu and IDEL have now appropriated this tool for education: affordance in action.

I then got a bit stuck. My canvas was there but that was it. There was a lack of an interface and a moment of ‘now what?’:

Now what
What do I press?


So,  I watched the help video. And found comments. I could progress.

The outcome is here. It’s not perfect – Christine’s blog extracts are a little too small on the screen and the canvas is a little chaotic. Lessons learnt. If you view it be sure to switch comments on:

comments on

What did I learn from engaging in this process?

It was difficult to create the arc of an argument within this medium; my responses to individual snips felt piecemeal. But then we don’t always have to follow the trajectory of a beginning and a middle and an end within written academic reflection. The breaking of the ‘typical’ structure also broke my notions as to how I should be expected to respond in an academic context and as I result I felt less constricted and restrained in my thinking and my writing. It was telling that my writing in the comments slipped, on occasion into a clipped, note form and I certainly felt that my tone was less formal that it would be in a traditional essay. I felt I was freer to be discursive, to posit questions, half-thoughts and half-ideas. There is value in the fragmentary, in the partial ideas which may gestate into something fully formed or may not. All of this is part of learning. What’s also exciting is that this medium offers the potential for the plurivocal construction of analyses through multiple comments; the possibility of real dialogic engagement with ideas.

These lessons are valuable; I’m forming nascent ideas about how I can use Thinglink and InVision in my practice for starter activities, crowd-sourcing ideas and building learning communities.

Roll up, roll up!


It was the hall of mirrors which did it…This nugget of an idea finally formed into a metaphor which seemed to offer what was needed to represent the chaotic richness of the IDEL course.

The process of putting the Lino together was satisfying and stimulating. Initially, I intended only to use the images and the descriptions explaining why the imagery was appropriate for highlighting and symbolising certain aspects of the course. However, as I immersed myself in this, I started to make connections between readings, blog posts and activities which it seemed appropriate to include. I enjoyed the meta-textual, creative process of putting this together. As Christine noted, it offered an opportunity to take a mind-wander through the activities, readings, thoughts and communications of the past weeks.


With regard to my disengaged teachers, I think that this might be a useful exercise to ask them to undertake. Thinking about how they can represent the changes they and their schools have gone through in the last year might offer opportunities to reflect on successes and failures, on positives and negatives. Hopefully it will also stimulate frank and supportive discussion.

If you’d like to extend the metaphor, you can take a ride on the fairground here.


Imagining our spaces

This week, we have been considering what metaphors we might use to convey our experience of IDEL, how we see the space that we are in, whether we can map it out or represent it in some alternative form, based on a spatial metaphor.

There have been some interesting propositions so far:

Christine has usefully summarised the offerings so far:

Broad Theme Started by… Metaphor/Analogy Representation
EcologyMovement & changeChange & timeConnections 








What’s going on below the surface…


… and how is it represented?

Kelly Ecosystem Image
Karen Starship on journeyDancing – change in steps Story
Lorenzo Pit – showing change process Visual graph
Sai Baby steps – increasing exposureWeb of connections Visual graph + Quicktime
Lisa Caught in the web Image
Lorenzo Knowledge bubbles Image
Mary Maps Image
Susie Sushi bar – digestion + service Image + Thinglink annotation
Sarah MOOcow and body functions Image + annotation
Renee Paperbag princess, hacking at fairytales Images
Chris Space – and a remix of the week’s intro Image, sound, remixed words (Soundcloud)
Andy Binaries  (and rhizomes) QR code
Dorine Object oriented way of thinking Discussion
Discussion themes Questions
Anna Neuroplasticity of the brain Do we process differently?
MaryMary Ownership & control How do we protect students from being exploited?
Skeuomorphism Are our old metaphors no longer working?
Helen Design How do we make a transition to new ways?
Implications for teaching Marie New form of engagement How do students feel?
Karen Role of teacher (in MOOCs) What is a teacher at scale?

Mid-way through the week and I’m still stuck for ideas.


I feel like I’m in a confusing hall of mirrors with half visions and half ideas fragmenting and dispersing.

hall of mirrors

However, maybe I’m just reflecting…



…and and and…

“Why should things be easy to understand?”
– Thomas Pynchon

I’m a fan of postmodernist fiction. I like the game of it, the acknowledgement of itself as a structure, the rejection of the logos, of the author, of meaning. The internet is postmodern: plurivocal and intertextual, ‘cyberspace’ is, as Cousin acknowledges, ‘postmodern because it allows playful and deceitful identity performances…and is labyrinthine rather than linear’ (Cousin, 2005, p.124*).

Cousin proposes the rhizome as a metaphor which encapsulates the characteristics of the internet. Extending and developing the definition of rhizomatic learning proposed by French postmodern theorists Deleuze and Guattari (1987**), ‘rhizomatic learning requires the creation of a context within which the curriculum and knowledge are constructed by contributions made by members of the learning community, and which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner…As Cormier (2010) puts it, ‘the community is the curriculum’ (OpenLearn***).

The tree is the first metaphor which must be rejected as a representation of learning and of the internet. It symbolises a logical branching structure, a singular rootedness, a linear development and a beginning and an end.


Conversely ‘any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other, and must be’ (Cousin, 2005, p. 125). This ‘heterogeneity and connectivity’ (ibid, p.125) facilitates ‘the development of multiple ‘additions’ to a text, as learners post their comments from their own position…’ (ibid, p.125). The rhizome, therefore, establishes a ‘logic of the AND’ (Tapscott, 1998, p.25****).

As Deleuze and Guattari conclude, ‘we are tired of trees’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.25).

Cousin’s article concludes with an evocative statement about the power and potential of a reimagining of learning within less traditional metaphorical boundaries:

‘…the limit (is) beyond the skies, all is possible, the map is the territory, the medium is definitely the message, the message being that all contact, fleeting or sustained, is possible. All identities are fictional to any degree, and all points of departure are available. It is also more playful, more daring and perhaps more dangerous’ (Cousin, 2005, p.127).

*Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, Routledge-Falmer. pp.117-129.
**Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F, (1987) A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press
****Tapscott, D (1998) Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, New York: McGraw Hill

Geekly interference

In one of my roles, I work for a company which has been commissioned by a Multi-Academy Trust to develop and embed a learning platform into their schools (we don’t refer to it as a VLE because of the now negative connotations the term has). The suite of tools harnesses Office 365 technologies to offer much of what would typically be found in a VLE.

I have spent two years in what has felt like a war of attrition trying to encourage, cajole and persuade staff to adopt these new technologies, these new ways of working, of creating knowledge, of constructing learning. Throughout this time the constant refrain, which has been repeated by the Trust and by the schools, is a variant on ‘teaching comes first, the technology should support the teaching’. There is a frequently expressed concern that ‘geekly interference’ (Cousin, 2005, p.117*) should get in the way of practice.

It was, therefore, a relief to spend some time in the company of Glynis Cousin this week. Her assertion that ‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them’ (ibid, p.118) defines what we need to convey (with sensitivity and empathy) to the teachers and leaders with whom we are working. Cousin’s stance offers a refreshing counterpoint to the ‘mantra’ (ibid, p.117) that humans and technology are separate and the ‘latter is neutral and in the service of the former’ (ibid, p.117):

‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them, and in the process they become mutually determining.’ (ibid, p.118)

We have to figure out ways to counter the notions that technology is a threat, a tool, or ‘a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature’ (ibid, p.119). We need to recognise that the media serves to construct the self, imprinting ‘our imagination with the realm of the possible’ (p.119).

I have no ready answers as to how we can shift teachers’ perceptions and attitudes towards the technologies we are introducing. At the heart of much of the resistance, there is a sense of threat and disempowerment and a weary disillusionment with the false promises which edtech brings. However, what Cousin’s article has highlighted is that what I can readily shift and change is my own lexicon; I need to treat terms like ‘tool’ with care. When working with teachers, I also need to challenge the notion that the pedagogy defines the technology and the use of the technology; a more nuanced exploration of the interrelationship and interconnectedness of our selves, our practices and our technologies is required.

*Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, Routledge-Falmer. pp.117-129.