Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Paper submitted for a Pedegogy Course

The Classroom as Dialogic Space:
Questioning How Space Effects Learning

The spatial arrangement of physical learning and teaching environments is an important part of how behavior and attitudes are negotiated in it. Outcomes from teaching and learning sessions are argued here as having degrees of relation to the space the session is conducted in. Following Bakhtin (1982) it is possible to build a relationship between discourse and dialogism, whereby the centrifugal (hierarchical, ordered, centralized) and centripetal (dispersed, horizontal) forces at work in a communicative act or assemblage (i.e. a classroom) are made apparent through analysis of the exchanges which take place in such a textual and discursive environment. The ‘authoring of space’ can be a way of discussing architecture and design in relation to teaching and learning practice and it is upon this premise that the paper is grounded. The paper discusses a small action research based study comparing spatial arrangements and dialogic interaction in learning and teaching environments where heightened dialogic learning is seen as the optimal state for all participants.

The dialogic classroom (Galin and Latchaw 1998) is a space where teachers and students dedicate themselves to re-seeing their situations by “disbanding their habitual orientations” and learning to “restructure and re-examine” conflicting sets of “perception and understanding”. Dialogic teaching and learning involve, in part, openness to the unknown and a rejection of stale or habitual approaches to education, especially within contexts that involve technology. (Galin and Latchaw xi) In relation to dialogic learning Koschmann (1999) describes it “as the process of multiple voices coming into contact, both within and across speaker-produced utterances”. It is reasonable to equate the classroom with the spatial arrangement implied by Koschmann in that voices are situated spatially (“coming into contact”, “within and across”) in relation to each other.
Over a time period of one week research was conducted in four learning sessions within particularly defined spaces on the campus of Umeå University. An overall assessment of each session was undertaken using criteria from Taylor et al (1997) regarding constructivist learning environments that exhibit dialogic qualities. In these environments students are able to

* Negotiate with the teacher about the nature of their learning activities
* Participate in the determination of assessment criteria and undertake self assessment and peer-assessment.
* Engage in collaborative and open-ended inquiry with fellow students.
* Participate in reconstructing the social norms of the classroom.

The criteria from Taylor et. al. in conjunction with those of the dialogic classroom listed by Galin and Latchaw ( “disbanding their habitual orientations”, “restructure and re-examine”, and “perception and understanding”), were used to evaluate the dialogic qualities of four learning spaces at Umeå University where the design of the physical space is questioned.


First pages of a paper presented as part of a pedegogy course I have taken in the last months or so.

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