Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

How does “pedagogical topography” frame learning spaces?

What a wonderful turn of phrase, “pedagogical topography” (Hybrid Pedagogy, May 8, 2013)! With that metaphor,  Morris and Stommel capture the concept that the design of space (virtual or physical) can force or afford different pedagogical practices and activities. My interest is in spaces that can support collaborative learning. The boundaries between the physical and the virtual are blurred for the kinds of learning spaces I have in mind (think temporal as well as spatial).

An ideal learning space (whether virtual or physical) is fluid, its configuration changing as the needs change for a particular learning activity. But I don’t think of most learning spaces as “wide open.”  Humans love visiting grand landscapes, but they don’t often live there, they build towns and cities alongside essential resources like the rivers and streams and other resources. Humans seem to need containers for their activities – we need our houses.

Technology has certainly untethered us in many ways, so in one sense our learning space can be a kind of “moveable feast,” we can carry it around in our laptop. But is that enough for collaborative learning and group activities, especially those for groups that are truly “blended,” working together at the same time, some face-to-face, and some online?  What are the resources that we need, that we are “tethered to” when we want to work together, that our laptops can’t contain?

One resource is the properly-shaped flat surface to work on. In a previous post, I suggested that the shape of collaboration is a circle, so, a round table that can seat at least 5.  We need comfortable seating, the right kind of light, and for a long session we probably need power for our laptops.  For a shared focus for collaborative work (we need to all be able to look at the same document, for example), we probably need a computer projector and screen, or a large monitor. If our group is truly blended, with some participating face-to-face and some online, we may need higher-speed networking to support video and audio interactions over the Internet. We also need a sound “container,” so that others won’t disturb us and we don’t disturb them when we get excited and speak passionately, or play an especially lively YouTube video.  We also need a suite of collaborative tools in a virtual environment, so we can work across boundaries of space and time. Altogether, this creates a sort of collaboration “pod” – and maybe there are pod-ports that we can plug into for our power and network connectivity. We can temporarily put four pods together, and we have a collaborative learning classroom. But we don’t need to tether the pods to each other, or to a particular location in the learning space, permanently.

The next question to explore is, what is the nature of the space that would contain these pods?


Morris, S.M., & Stommel, J. (2013, May 8). The discussion forum is dead, long live the discussion forum. Hybrid Pedagogy. Retrieved from


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This entry was posted on June 7, 2013 by in Designing learning spaces and tagged , , .
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