Spaces, the web, and the classroom

I was delighted and inspired by Jenny Mackness’ recent post on Spaces at an exhibition. One could take each space and envision ways in which it is a metaphor for a learning space as experienced by a college class (yes, that’s my perspective and I’m sticking to it).

I answered Jenny on Facebook:

Screenshot 2014-04-05 at 7.20.28 PM

 My physical classroom at San Elijo is wonderful in many ways – it has two doors and windows that open, a big projection screen, a computer that works, and four large whiteboards.  But with the exception of a few old college announcements and a two-decade-old project poster on Israel, the walls are blank and there is no visual stimulation in the room other than the people in it. While I understand the monastic impulse, the space still seems sterile.

Compare this to the content-rich, ever-distracting web.

We think of our online classes as being on the web, but most of them aren’t on the web – they’re inside an LMS, isolated from the internet. New online instructors often sense this sterility and add images and videos. But the images are often decorative rather than instructional, and the videos are now embedded, which is great for convenience and less distraction but less suitable for exploration.


The assignments would be the logical place to allow for exploration, as I do with my students collecting primary sources from wherever they can find them (article on this forthcoming). And yet I see so many classes where all class materials are given inside the LMS space, and I wonder whether we are afraid of field trips because we know that richness also means distractions, and predictability is very important to the success of many of our students. The web is never predictable.

Where are the structured web spaces, the ones where we as teachers know what’s there, but where students can explore? Databases full of primary sources are boring. Where is the equivalent of installation art, where the artist defines the space but the interpretations and experience are left to the viewer?


4 thoughts to “Spaces, the web, and the classroom”

  1. A space that is known but unbounded? What trickery!

    I’ve come across some candidates– though curious what the critical historian has to say– what people have called “web documentaries” or “interactive documentaries” I call them web sites that don’t look like web pages. Here is a small collection

    Especially for you

    A Journal of Insomnia (experiential)
    Bear 71 (ditto)
    Killing Lincoln (ding ding history)
    A Short History of the Highrise
    The Hole Story

    1. What fun field trips! I should have known you would be the one to know some good spaces. I am enjoying the high rise one particularly.

      The features are very like the ones I tried to create myself when designing my first classes back in the late 1990s. I had one on feminist music, and a slideshow on Jeanette Rankin, and a slideshow with music and narration on Tin Pan Alley. They are still inside my lectures but I don’t sense students using them. These, of course, are more media-rich, and have much more content. I could send students there and use that as a foundation for discussion.

      It’s a shame I can’t build in them.

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