Agents, Agency, Agencies in Assembling Liminal Learning Spaces

Agents, Agency, Agencies in Assembling Liminal Learning Spaces

This Research Project will investigate the types of learning landscapes we have at LCC and UAL in order to propose a remodelling of the way we teach our students now and in the new LCC building in Elephant and Castle. It recognises that the more involved all participants in the hosting, delivery and acquisition of teaching and learning become in this research, the more likely we are to have a building that delivers world class teaching and learning. As Dr Cathy Hall states in the literature review of, The impact of new learning spaces on teaching practice (2013) ‘To “create a world-class learning environment for students by offering opportunities for collaboration, team work, a sense of belonging, a creative culture and opportunities to excel…” (6)

The research would look at how we can create, spaces, physical, virtual and representational that fully allows for learning gain and aims to answer the question that Hall (2013 sets that, “no one knows how to prevent ‘learning-loss’ when you design a room ‘pedagogically’, whereas we know lots about designing for minimum ‘heat loss’ ” (6)

This project will interrogate a number of key questions such as ‘What do we want our learners to become? (15). The Learning Spaces Collaboratory (LCS) has given a number of answers to this question based on their research one of them is that our leaners becoming ‘Agents of their own learning’. (15). This would then lead to the question. ‘What experiences make that becoming happen? (8) One answer could be that we create access to “laboratory” ‘hack’ ‘maker’ ‘prototype’ spaces to experiment with innovative pedagogies or more temporary mobile spaces, which fill an urgent pedagogical need.

The idea of liminal learning spaces (landscapes) would be an over arching concept that drives this research. What might be called ‘uncontrolled’ informal spaces’ that rub shoulders and be contiguous with all other teaching and learning spaces and places will strive to ask can we go beyond the metaphors of ‘Blended Learning’, Braided Learning’ (16) or even ‘Woven Learning’ to a model of learning spaces that are agencies of for our agents of change so they enhance, articulate and understand their own agency?

Theoretical Framework  

1. De-territorialisation: ‘The pursuit of a line of flight into smooth spaces beyond that of the formal learning space is described as a process of deterritorialisation as boundaries are broken down and fluid movement and cultural heterogeneity emerges. This can present issues, as Savin-Baden (2007) states, ‘The contrast between smooth and striated learning spaces introduces questions about the role and identity of universities and academics in terms of what counts as a legitimate learning space and who makes such decisions of legitimacy.’ (p.14)’ (17)

2. Smooth learning spaces: ‘Smooth learning spaces are open, flexible and contested, spaces in which both learning and learners are always on the move. Students here would be encouraged to contest knowledge and ideas proffered by lecturers and in doing so create their own stance toward knowledge(s).’ (10)

3. Troublesome Knowledge: ‘This is knowledge that appears, for example, counter-intuitive, alien (emanating from another culture or discourse) or incoherent (discrete aspects are unproblematic but there is no organizing principle). Disjunction, then, is not only a form of troublesome knowledge but also a ‘space’ or ‘position’ reached through the realization that the knowledge is troublesome.’ (10)

4. Critiquing Threshold Concepts: “Advocates of ‘threshold concepts’ refer to ‘liminal spaces’ as places that students occupy as they move from a confused cognitive state of mind on the way to grasping what ‘threshold concepts’ mean, but say nothing about the physical spaces where learning occurs.” (7) “We now understand that learning spaces are not just classrooms: any space where a student can access a computer; talk with another student; read a book or join peers around a table at a café, is a potential learning space … the whole university is a potential learning space” (Jamieson et al., (2009, p.1). (7)

5. Deconstruction: Research and Teaching ‘The most compelling innovations are spaces that attempt to re-engineer the relationship between teaching and research. Spaces have been created to link teaching with research activity between undergraduates and postgraduates, and to facilitate collaboration between students and academics. (7)

6, I would want this project to use some if not all of the principles set out in the Learning Landscapes in Higher Education (2010) (7) paper. These being:

1. Drive research into effective teaching and learning.

2. Provide support models for staff and students on how to use innovative spaces, with provision for mentoring.

3. Include students, as clients and collaborators, ensuring their voices are heard.

4. Evaluate spaces in ways that are academically credible, based on measures of success that reflect the kinds of activities that are taking place.

5. Understand the importance of time as an issue for space planning: not just space, but space-time.

6. Connect the learning and teaching space with the campus as a whole, in ways that articulate the vision and mission of the university.

7. Recognise and reward leadership that supports the development of learning and teaching spaces.

8. Create formal and informal management structures that support strategic experimentation.

9. Clarify roles, grounded in supportive relationships between and across professional groups.

10. Intellectualise the issues: generate debate on the nature of academic values and the role and purpose of higher education: the idea of the university.


As the project’s aims is to look at multi versatile spaces I would want to use ‘…multi-factor, multi-method analyses…’ (6). I would use:

1. ‘Concept Mapping’ as a data collection method, ‘…[as it] is especially valuable when researchers want to involve relevant stakeholder groups in the act of creating the research project.’ (14)

2.  ‘Structuration Theory’ is a social theory of the creation and reproduction of social systems that is based in the analysis of both structure and agents (see structure and agency), without giving primacy to either. Further, in structuration theory, neither micro- nor macro-focused analysis alone are sufficient.

3. ‘Contextual Design’ as a process that consists of the following top-level steps: contextual inquiry, interpretation, data consolidation, visioning, storyboarding, user environment design, and prototyping.’

4. Bricolage and Assemblage Methods: The idea of research as an assemblage derives from the DeleuzoGuattarian view of assemblages as ‘machines’ that link elements together affectively to do something, to produce something. Applying the conception of a ‘machinic assemblage’ different stages in the research process such as data collection or analysis, or techniques used, for example, to sample data or increase validity, can be treated as a machine that works because of its affects.

Project’s Alignment to College Priorities & Intended Impact:

It would address, ‘Improving student transition, understandings of independent learning &

Retention and the ‘Innovation of use of physical and digital learning spaces with an

emphasis on flexibility and change’.

If we want to be for, ‘..for the curious, the brave and the committed: those who want to transform themselves and the world around them,…’ we need physical spaces, conceptual space, virtual space and representational places that foster these aims. We have a chance to do this as we transform and transpose from one place, LCC on the north side of Elephant and Castle to the south side of where we are now. We have great opportunity to use our existing infrastructures to model new ones for our new building in 2022. This project I hope you be a small part of helping this transformation. I would want it to be a collaboration between all our stakeholders, from Deans to students from Estates to Teaching and Learning academics, subject specialists to workshop technicians, Associate Lecturers to Quality managers and everything and every body in-between. Without all voices being heard and given the chance to help build these new experiences we could be left with retrofitting spaces reactively rather than being proactively creating productive innovative teaching and learning spaces.

Using UALs Strategic 2015-2022 this project would place curiosity, making, critical questioning and rigour at the heart of our curriculum and create the spaces for this to happen. This project would engage,’… our students in developing flexible modes of teaching delivery, taking into account the particular characteristics of a London-based education and advances in digital technologies. At the core of this project would be to place diversity and inclusivity at the core of our recruitment and education for staff and students, and the access to inclusive spaces and place where they help at home with us.

Project Dissemination:

This would be through an ‘unconference’ so  “the sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of the expertise of the people on stage.” As Nick Terry  (23) says ‘The concept is fairly simple. At an unconference, no topics have been predetermined, no keynote speakers have been invited, no panels or working groups have been arranged. Instead, the event lives and dies by the participation of its attendees. They decide what topics will be discussed and they convene the individual breakout sessions. In other words, an unconference has no agenda until the participants create it.’ This would then lead to an ‘unwebsite’ with perhaps all the key aspects of the ‘unconference’ kept intact.


1. Designing Spaces for Effective Learning: A guide to 21st century learning space design (2006) JISC

2. THE HILT ROOMGUND 522 (2013)

3. Innovative learning spaces (2011)

4. Innovation Spaces: The New Design of Work (2017)

5. Classrooms of the future (2002)

6. The impact of new learning spaces on teaching practice (2013)

7. Learning Landscapes in Higher Education (2010)

8. A Guide Planning for Assessing 21st Century Spaces for 21st Century Learners

9. Design for Learning Spaces and Innovative Classrooms (2013)

10. Forms of Learning Spaces

11. State Of The Estate

12. Learning in Liminal Spaces

13. The Liminal Space Consultancy

14. Using Concept Maps to Gather Data

15. Learning Spaces Collaboratory

16. Braided Learning – a theoretical background

17. Learning Spaces – Exploring Complexity Beyond The Seminar Room

18. Tinkering with the Idea of Bricolage

19. The Critical Potential of Experience in Experience-Centered Design

20. Contextual Design

21. Landscapes of Practice: Bricolage as a Method for Situated Design

22. Mixed methods, materialism and the micropolitics of the research-assemblage

23. What on earth is an ‘unconference’?

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