On March 12th, 2020, the HEIs closed. As work moved from our educational institutions, complete with offices, corridors, lecture theatres, tutorial rooms and staff rooms, to our homes, we also moved from the physical world to the virtual world of work. In designing these new structures, attention was paid to the new architecture of the learning space. How can we teach in these new spaces? Zoom or Teams or Google Meet? How much time should be spent on screen before giving a task? How do we manage participation, indeed what does participation look like in this virtual learning space?
The architecture built virtual lecture theatres and tutorial spaces, even virtual breakout rooms, but the ways in which we move from one learning space to another didn’t feature in this new architecture. There are no virtual corridors, no virtual shared spaces outside the tutorial rooms, no virtual staff rooms; what we left behind when we moved to the virtual space were all of those features where the accidental conversations, the chance encounters, the unscheduled conversations happen. These events in these spaces play a significant role in our work, our own learning and the learning of our students. They are the places where weak ties (Granovetter, 1983), connections with those who are not part of our close social network, are formed and where new and novel ideas begin to take root. These are also the places where the boundaries of different communities of practice (Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner et al, 2015) come into contact with each other and changes to understanding can happen. Of course these can also happen in our lecture theatres and our tutorials and breakout rooms, but the absence of accidental spaces in our new architecture means that these unplanned educational processes are also absent.
So how do we respond to this? At one level, the answer appears to be simple. We can open virtual rooms before lectures and tutorials begin and encourage our students to arrive early. We can take advantage of technologies such as Network App, which have already created virtual corridors where participants can wait and chat before entering a webinar or presentation (see https://networkapp.com/en/online-tech-corridors-meeting-lounge/). We can schedule coffee breaks and keep the virtual room open. But there are problems with these solutions, namely that they are scheduled rather than accidental and that they do not allow for dryads, triads or small groups to spontaneously form and break, as happens naturally in the face to face environment.
These issues are also significant for our education conferences, such as the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Association of Teacher Educators in Europe (ATEE), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI), to name but a few.
"We need to think about how to create the coffee breaks, the tidy up moments following sessions where chat happens, the capacity to find someone for a quick one-to-one conversation to follow up on an idea or to propose a possible collaboration in the future".
These issues are not only for educators; they reach much further than that. For us as teacher educators, the idea that ‘How I teach is the message’ (Russell, 1997) is central to how we progress this. It is so important for us to develop ways of working, and to share those with each other, so that how we teach teachers, whether beginning or experienced, highlights the significance of the corridor and coffee conversations and actively works to find ways to authentically build them into the architecture of the virtual space.
Granovetter, M. (1983). The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. Sociological Theory, 1, 201-233.
Russell, T. (1997). Teaching Teachers: How I Teach IS the Message. In J. Loughran, & T. Russell (Eds.) Teaching about Teaching Purpose, Passion and Pedagogy in Teacher Education (pp. 32-47). Oxon: Routledge Falmer.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger-Trayner, E., Fenton-O'Creevy, M., Hutchinson, S., Kubiak, C. & Wenger-Trayner, B. eds., (2015).Learning in landscapes of practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning. London: Routledge.
Rose Dolan (Rose.Dolan@mu.ie) is Programme Leader of the Doctor of Education with Specialisms and Assistant Professor in the Department of Education, Maynooth University. Her research focuses on how first order practitioners become second order practitioners, most especially across the continuum of teacher education, and in the process of learning across boundaries, with emphasis on practitioner and professional knowledge transfer.
Rose Dolan, Ann McPhail and Melanie Ní Dhuinn have, since 2017, facilitated the National Teacher Education and Teacher Educator Forum in Ireland with a view to support the professional development of teacher educators and to contribute to the development of the continuum of teacher education in Ireland. In re-connecting recently in response to an online catch-up meeting, unsurprisingly our conversation quickly turned to our respective observations of the reality of negotiating teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share our conversation contributions here in anticipation of initiating conversation on how we can best engage as a community of teacher educators in the pandemic context and subsequently consider how such conversations might confirm or challenge our practices as teacher educators. Read post 1 and post 2