Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

What relevance does the sense of place have to online learning?

We often use the language of place when we interact online. If we post a text message and don’t get a quick answer, we might post, “Are you there?”   The title of my dissertation, “I am here – Are you there?” came from a regular interaction with a colleague in my cohort. (Whenever we were both in front of our computers we had a sense of each other in the shared place that was skype – we were always logged in, there for each other if needed). If a phone call gets dropped, we ask, “Are you there?”

I understand the sense of place in virtual environments to be the sense that “there is a there, there.” This continuously emerges through interaction with our environment, whether virtual or face-to-face. The metaphors we use about this almost all come from our experience of physical place. And part of this sense is . . . the place is there, even if I am not. It is there to meet me when I arrive, and it remains after I leave – in other words, it persists. 

It doesn’t take virtual reality to create this sense; humans are happy with  much lower fidelity than that provided by the glasses and gloves. And humans want it in the virtual environment – there’s a good reason that the developers of a very real engine of learning, World of Warcraft, spend time and energy on beautiful visualizations.

I’m not suggesting that we spend that kind of money on developing visual interfaces for learning management systems. But we can benefit greatly from being intentional about our design of virtual learning environments as places:  they need to be welcoming and warm, attractive with a richness and vividness, they need to appeal to multiple sensory channels, they need to have a recognizable consistent structure so we know “where” our stuff is, and at the same time,  allow us to put  pictures up on the walls and re-arrange the furniture (and even the walls) from time to time.


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This entry was posted on February 7, 2013 by in Designing learning spaces, sense of place, sense of presence.
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