Exploring in-between space

Inbetween_webinar_ccbyIn a Teaching and Learning Conversation* webinar (26th Nov) Andrew Middleton and I wanted to present and explore some ideas about in-between spaces drawing on the concepts of liminality and third space/place and use this as an opportunity to talk about informal learning.

By in-between spaces we were referring to spaces that are outside pre-defined boundaries (and where there is the potential for people to step outside/transcend existing roles/identities). A lecture room or an institutional virtual learning environment are examples of bounded spaces that are well established and where the roles and expected contribution of staff and students can be said to be almost ‘built in’. In contrast in-between spaces are characterised by having less structure and less well-defined roles and therefore potentially they are spaces where less formalised interactions and conversations can happen.  In-between spaces are thus characterised by boundary crossings. 

In the webinar I talked about the ‘Students as Teaching and Learning Consultants‘ project and my analysis of the liminal conversational space that developed in the process (see references below). And when we asked participants where and when they learn, ‘in conversation’ and ‘in collaboration’ featured frequently. They also identified the activity of connecting across contexts and public/private, home/work spaces as key to their learning.

Mapping the constituent parts of the idea of in-between space

I have been trying to do a sort of initial mapping of the ideas influencing the notion of in-between and the different disciplines they originate in. In the image below I have tried to trace the influences that come together in the notion of in-between space. From Anthropology and Victor Turner‘s analysis of liminality comes the idea of the transformative power and ambiguous nature of the in-between. From Sociology and the work of Oldenburg (influenced by Georg Simmel‘s work on sociability) comes the idea that the in-between space is characterised by equality and community. From the thinking of Homi Bhaba in Cultural studies and the way Kris Gutierrez combines Bhaba with Vygotsky and Goffman, come the idea that the in-between space has the potential for boundary crossing and is characterised by negotiation and translation.


Depicting the aspects of different disciplines and writers that influence and come together in the notion of in-between space. CC-BY

*TLC is an informal cross-institutional collaboration to provide joint CPD opportunities for everybody teaching and/or supporting learning in Higher Education.

More information:

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Virago Collectors’ Cards – authors known and unknown

I came across a small selection of Virago collectors’ cards (1-6) in an Oxfam bookshop. The cards all had short author profiles and said they were part of a series of 40 issued in May 1982. I really like the design with the scroll at the top and the photo portraits.

Rosamond Lehmann and Ada Leverson

Rosamond Lehmann and Ada Leverson






Charlotte Mew and May Sinclair

Charlotte Mew and May Sinclair


I was intrigued to read snippets about these authors, who I readily confess were almost all unknown to me, though they certainly knew and influenced authors I like, such as Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and Siegfried Sassoon. Finding these cards made me think about how many lives and voices are filtered out along the way and goes to show that if you just go and look for them they are there and you can find them.




Rebecca West and Antonia White

Rebecca West and Antonia White


As a caveat, I should add that possibly many people will be familiar with these authors and so they are perhaps not the best example of voices that are ignored, forgotten or erased (they did after all get featured on a card).

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De Certeau on space and place

In a recent blog post on Places, Spaces, Teaching, Learning, Planning, Donna Lanclos (Library Anthropologist) talks about her research into active learning classrooms at UNC Charlotte. This included her reflections on how building the spaces is just the beginning and that:

“…these spaces without people, without programming, without communities of practice making them living breathing growing parts of the university’s mission, become accessories, mere performances of teaching, and learning opportunities lost.” (Lanclos, 11th August, 2015)

This is an absolutely key point in relation to learning spaces regardless of whether this involves online/digital and physical spaces. (And yes, I realise they are not distinct or separate. If you are interested in this, you might want to look at what Nathan Jurgenson has written on Digital Dualism).

However, my point is that Donna’s blog post reminded me of the difference between space (espace) and place (lieu) that Michel de Certeau writes about in ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’:

“A place is…an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability. A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs, as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities. On this view, in relation to place, space is like the word when it is spoken…In short, space is a practiced place. Thus the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers.” (de Certeau 1988:117)

I confess that I find the writing incredibly difficult to grasp (so please don’t ask me to explain the many terms in the quote) and convoluted (could be the translation I guess) but I think there is some useful insight here. After all the reference has been lodged in my mind as a useful idea since I first read this as an MA student in social/cultural anthropology (a fair few years ago).

So my main insight from this quote is really the notion that ‘space is a practiced place’ by which I understand that it is really people interacting in and with the place that makes it into a space. I think this is a powerful way of understanding how spaces are constructed (or maybe produced?) and takes into account that this could be in different ways and for different purposes and perhaps with different meanings and outcomes depending on who (and maybe what) is happening. Anyway, I will carry on thinking about the processes and characteristics of learning spaces…

More on Digital Dualism:

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What did I learn at #altc

I have spent the day in Manchester at the Association for Learning Technology Conference. It was the first day with sessions and it was an extensive programme on offer, take a look:


If you can’t be there it is worth following the hashtag on Twitter #altc and some of the sessions are live streamed. 


photo by Rebecca Sellers (@becksell2001)

Throughout the day I definitely felt like I had been plugged into a supportive network; I had a feeling of energy no doubt helped by the substantial amount of coffee I managed to consume (somewhat unwisely probably). Tomorrow it will be peppermint tea all day, honest!

What did you learn?
Inspired by someone asking the question ‘what have I learnt today’, I had a little think and this is (some of) what I learnt:
1. How welcoming the alt community really is. I’ve never been to the conference before and I got some good advice about not planning too much from Trevor Walsh, a seasoned altc participant.

2. That you can’t underestimate how important it is to have students involved in what we do. The two students who co-presented the keynote made some of the most important points of the day.
“I wish students like us could afford all those apple macs” YES key structural issues in terms of power and economic issues #altc (@DonnaLanclos)

3. That Donna Lanclos definitely needs to write the ten top things an academic need to consider before tweeting. 
4. That there are so many more people I need to follow on twitter.
5. To boldly declare I do know stuff about research into learning spaces* (well, I sort of do).
6. That QR codes might (again?) be worthwhile.
7. That I should have had a scone with cream whilst I could. Never turn down a scone.
8. But first and foremost I have had the message reinforced that it really is about the people (and not the technology). But also that working in binary distinctions or oppositions is not really that helpful. Reality is messy – to be continued…

What did you learn?

Many thanks to Rebecca Sellers who kindly let me use her excellent photo. 

*if you are interested in literature on learning spaces take a look at  Zotero group where I am collating useful links related to learning spaces, the concept of third space and liminality.

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Perspectives and movements in learning landscapes – #blimage

Thanks to a challenge from Catherine Cronin I’m joining the #blimage activities and blogging in response to an image (specifically the image Catherine used in her post).

The image makes me feel like I am in the role of a spectator and that a lot is outside my frame of vision. As Catherine mentioned is has the feel of a snap shot. To me it reinforces the idea that there is always a story going on and how important it is to recognise that learners/colleagues are always in the midst of their lives with a lot happening that I don’t know about or am able to see from my perspective or position.

When I look at the image I also think about the different ways that we can move through learning landscapes. The need to consider where we are coming from/our background and where we might be going/or want to go (and perhaps with whom). In this image, the girl appears to be moving very confidently towards something/someone whereas others might meander, move slower or gain confidence as they go along.

Runaway Jane

CC BY 2.0 Matt Wiebe (Flickr)

Steve Wheeler comments about how #blimage started:

“The #blimage challenge was started as a bit of fun between Amy Burvall and I. We started it on July 18th and it has been growing steadily ever since with many of our friends and colleagues participating. The challenge is this: Send an image to friends in your personal learning network and ask them to write a learning related blog post about it. They then challenge their friends with an image of their choice. All the posts are labelled with the hashtag #blimage (blog-image) so they can be easily discovered and aggregated. Since the start of activities, the following posts and other artefacts related to #blimage have been posted. Several are destined to become classics of educational blogging.”

From The #blimage list posted on 26th July 2015 by Steve Wheeler. See the Youtube video by Amy Burvall explaining how it came about.

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Identity and teaching and learning spaces

Recently, a paper I co-wrote about the ‘Student Teaching and Learning Consultant’ scheme was published. I wrote it with Dawn Bagnall, who was one of the students working as a consultant, and it was a really valuable experience to be able to discuss and analyse what the scheme had been about with someone who had worked with the staff. I was the project co-ordinator and co-trainer of the student consultants and although I did get feedback from staff who participated in the scheme, I did not participate in the consultancy activity itself.

Although the scheme is not running this year, for a variety of reasons, I continue to reflect on the space that was created as a result of the scheme. I have characterised this space as ‘liminal’ in other posts (and in another forthcoming paper, link added 25th June 2015) because the roles of students/staff became ambiguous and existed to some extent outside the normal or traditional framing of that relationship. Liminality is also connected to a blurring of identity, which is something that came through in the analysis of the scheme and is reflected in the title of a poster I developed with two students for the ALDinHe conference back in April 2014.

Poster presented at ALDinHE conference in April 2014

Poster presented at ALDinHE conference in April 2014 CC BY-SA 4.0

Open learning spaces and identity

Similarly, Catherine Cronin talked about learning spaces in her keynote entitled ‘Openness in HE: Choosing our Paths’ which she delivered at the Festival of Teaching and Learning at the University of Huddersfield on 12th June 2015. Catherine talked very passionately about the need to support students in bridging the divide between formal and informal learning and to reflect on the types of spaces that we engage in and their characteristics in relation to notions of openness. Catherine’s work also looks at how educators and students can navigate the boundary between formal and informal learning and how the characteristics of open online spaces have implications for the identities, roles and relationships that students and educators develop (Cronin 2014).

You can freely access the papers/presentations/posters:

Cronin, C. (2014).  Networked learning and identity development in open online spaces. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014, Edited by: Bayne S, Jones C, de Laat M, Ryberg T & Sinclair C. ISBN 978-1-86220-304-4

Jensen, K. and Bennett, Liz (2015). Enhancing teaching and learning through dialogue: a student and staff partnership model. The International Journal of Academic Development, 20 (4). ISSN 1470-1324 (In Press).

Jensen, K.S.H and Bagnall, D. (2015) Student Teaching and Learning Consultants: developing conversations about teaching and learning. Journal of educational innovation, partnership and change, Vol. 1, No.1.

Jensen, K. (2014) Blurring Staff and Student Identities: the impact of learning partnerships. In: ALDinHE 2014: Learning Development Spaces and Places, 14-16 April 2014, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom. (Unpublished)

Jensen, K., Kendrick, J. and Swinburn, S. (2014) Blurring Staff and Student Identities: the impact of learning partnerships. In: ALDinHE 2014: Learning Development Spaces and Places , 14th – 16th April 2014, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom.

The ‘Students as Teaching and Learning Consultants’ scheme was funded by the Higher Education Academy in 2012/2013 and was supported collaboratively by the Teaching and Learning Institute and the Students’ Union in the academic year 2013/14.  All of the outputs can be accessed via the central project webpage and they are available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike copyright licence. http://www.hud.ac.uk/tali/projects/proj_archive/central_init/heastlc/

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Using Lego for research purposes

Friday and Saturday (24 and 25th April 2015) I attended two workshops on using Lego to reflect on your research and as a research methodology in relation to data collection. These workshops were based on the concept of Lego Serious Play and run by David Gauntlett, Professor in the Faculty of Media, Art and Design at the University of Westminster.

Megan Beech, one of my colleagues have covered what took place on the Friday in her blog post Using Lego Serious Play to explore my PhD research journey so I will mainly be reflecting on the Saturday workshop in this post.

In this session David gave more background to using creative research methods and talked about how visual and hands on methods get the brain working in different way. He shared some of the research he has undertaken where getting people to create was part of the research process itself. This approach gives participants time to construct meaningful responses in a different way to for example interviews and focus groups. He shared 3 main findings from his own work:

  1. Creative and visual research methods give people the opportunity to communicate different kinds of information.
  2. Metaphors can be powerful in social research. It allows you to explore more intangible concepts like identity and metaphors can be fruitful for engendering additional meanings.
  3. Research participants need reflective time to construct knowledge. It allows things to surface, it allows participants to put together knowledge and it is a way to give form to abstract experience.
A photo of a Lego model

A model of me as researcher including thoughts on my values and priorities

Creative Commons Licence
A model of me as researcher by @kshjensen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Points to consider if you want to run a Lego workshop

  • Consider whether to consult the Lego Serious Play script for guidance
  • The importance of doing the initial building exercises that enable participants to switch from literal model explanations to metaphorical mode
  • The meaning of the Lego model is down to the individual creator and the researcher and fellow participants should not be interpreting or translating the model in any way
  • It is important when doing the Lego workshop that everyone gets to contribute and explain their Lego models. The fact that everyone does build a model ensures that all voices are heard.
  • When asking follow-up questions about the model, always ask about features in the model rather than questions of the participant. Ask open questions, like: what is this?
  • Be respectful of the models and appreciate everyone’s contribution.

Using Lego to capture experiences

David also covered how you might use Lego in different, less time-consuming ways (the workshop activities take about 5 hours) and mentioned how it was used at a conference called Research Through Design to get delegates to build something that represented an aspect of their conference experience. This example is available on his website.

Lego as part of the research design process

After the session I thought that using Lego in an early stage of the research design process (rather than as part of data collection) could be a really powerful way of exploring a research topic and ensuring that views and experiences of stakeholders and potential research participants could be part of setting the research questions. It was the complexities of the stories people told about their Lego models that was really impressive and that I imagine would be useful not only in gathering data but also in deciding how to frame the proposed research.

You can find more about the research using Lego carried out by David Gauntlett in his book Creative Explorations (2007).

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