Where and when are you?

Over the past month or so directions, locations and  travel seem to be on mind a lot. Not just because it’s coming up to holiday season, but also because things have been a bit unsettled at work.  A number of conference presentations and blogs have appeared in my twitter stream and have also got me thinking in terms of where and how I do things and how that is perceived by others. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but I have finally found the space and place to do it today.

This podcast from James Clay features a discussion with Lawrie Phipps and Donna Lancos based on a blog post they wrote called  “something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen? .  The post reflected on some work done by Jisc back in 2007  which explored  location independent working in universities and a policy developed by the University of Coventry.  I wasn’t aware of the report  but have to agree with the points made in the post about the lack of more examples of a more formalised approach to this type of flexible, location independent working in Universities.

“Why isn’t location independent working more widespread in higher education contexts?  We wonder here the extent to which the suspicion of using digital places and tools to facilitate working presence is related to the generalized suspicion of screens and the conviction some people have that digital presence isn’t “genuine” or “real” enough.  The privileging of physical interactions at the expense of the potential for digital interactions to enhance or substitute for face-to-face meetings happens in classroom settings as well, with professors banning laptops, thinking that will make their students pay more attention.  This flies in the face of what we know about the rich potential of online interaction, the ways that people engage in important parts of their lives online as well as face to face.”

I am relatively fortunate in that I have a reasonable amount of flexibility in my job.  Working from home is not frowned upon, and in certain circumstances I actually think I am more productive when I work from home. Particularly if I have some writing to do as I don’t have the same distractions as when I’m in the office.

I still have my online presence during these times and that connectivity ensures that I can still interact with colleagues as and when necessary. I don’t need to be on campus to fulfil certain tasks. As Lawrie and Donna highlighted:

“The recognition that work does not just take place on the campus is more important now than ever before. Fixing an individual’s role to a place, in a culture where identity is becoming more important than role, can lead to loss of productivity in the individual, but from the institutions perspective it is also losing the opportunity to become greater than the boundaries of its official self.  Tying the work of individuals to a physical location ignores and blocks the benefits of being networked scholars and practitioners, of using the spaces of the web to facilitate and enhance their work, regardless of where they are physically.”

In the podcast Lawrie also highlights that often we confuse presence with work, and assume if you are “in the office/on campus” you are working and ergo more productive than if you were somewhere else. I’m pretty sure we all know of instances where that is most definitely not the case. The old walking around with some paper (or perhaps an iPad now) with a sense of purpose trick did spring to my mind.

How does this networked, location independent way of working then impact on the traditional role of the campus based education. As much as we still equate work with “the office” we still tend to equate learning with “ being in the classroom/lecture theatre”.

Sian Bayne’s recent keynote at the Networked Learning Conference explored notions of  “campus codespaces for networked students” (Jenny Mackness has also written a great summary of Sian’s talk)   Although primarily thinking about distance learners, Sian’s presentation raises key questions for campus based education too and key questions for every university in our increasingly digital age.

“the university can no longer be seen as a bounded stable place – static container in which education takes place. Instead it is re-cast as a complex enactment by which people, buildings, objects, machines are brought together to produce certain performances in certain places at certain times”

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This is really a significant shift in perspective which I don’t think is being fully realised particularly by senior management.  Later in the presentation Sian highlighted this blog post by James Lamb which gives a fabulous critique of a new university policy around student leave of absence  and relates that to research about learning spaces he carried out with Sian

“We also looked to the work of Edwards et al. around mobilities and moorings to argue that when teaching and learning takes place within digital online environments, the university becomes characterised by ‘flux and flows rather than simple bounded space’ (2011, p.153). While our research focused on ‘distance’ learners, the distinction between students who attend classes within the university’s physical buildings and those who do not, is becoming increasingly blurred. “

So how do these flows and interactions really fit in terms of our current practice particularly around student attendance?  Like many other institutions we have a swipe card system for students to swipe into class.  This does help with many important regulatory conditions the institutions needs to fulfil such as visa compliance. But again, we come back to the simplistic notion that if you are on campus you must be “learning”.

I still believe that campus does provide an vital hub for both learners and staff (both teaching and administrative). When we talk about the learning environment, we are talking about so much more than the VLE. It’s about our own personal learning/working environments and networks. The physical campus still has a large role in facilitating this and as I have argued before, evolving more into a digital hub with analytics capabilities that can provide us with more sophisticated measures of learning than swiping in and out of classrooms. Then we can start to have more nuanced conversations about where and when we are working and learning.

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