The global pandemic has shifted the Higher Education landscape of how we learn and teach, from physical campus spaces to virtual learning in invisible rooms. Hybrid learning can offer a culmination of physical and virtual spaces, developing new photographic pedagogical principles using technology. Educators and learners can work together to co-create a new kind of space, uniting a community of artists and photographers through their unique creative practices.
Written by LAURA BLIGHT | PUBLISHED ON 8th decembed 2021 | Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash
This article investigates hybrid learning spaces and how they can be used effectively to teach and learn photography in Higher Education. Visual arts based disciplines such as Photography rely heavily on physical spaces like the studio, to experiment, play, take risks and make mistakes. This article considers what a hybrid learning space may look and fees like in relation to photographic practice, as Higher Education transitions from a post-pandemic environment. Informed by literature from between 2019-2021, this research considers the tensions of ‘pedagogical principles’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:826) within the photographic discipline in transitioning from physical to virtual learning spaces. Rather than reacting to external circumstances with little time for designing distributed learning, I will investigate teaching and learning creative disciplines in hybrid learning spaces. As an Hourly Part Time Lecturer in Photography, a photographic practitioner and PGCert student, I am interested in how we can create engaging, meaningful and flexible hybrid learning spaces embracing a learner-centered approach, with a focus on photographic practice.
What is a hybrid learning space?
The journal article ‘Flexible hybrid format in university curricula to offer students in-subject choice of study mode: An educational design research project’ (Colasante et. al., 2020) explores the meaning of the term hybridity stating it’s an old and emerging term. “This concept encapsulates the longstanding human ability to aggregate the virtual (unseen) and the actual as well as emerging educational experiences that blur differences when integrating physical and digital technologies” (Alexander et al., 2019 cited in Colasante et al., 2020:1). We can find value in hybrid learning spaces by placing more emphasis on co-creation between educator and learner, balancing power to create bespoke learning and providing flexibility based on a learner’s individual needs. The following quote also resonated with me referring to hybridity as an “amalgamation; not a blend but an opening of a new space – a heterogeneous composite that combines different elements to create something other” which acknowledges “otherness and difference as something productive and of in-between spaces” (Pedersen, Nørgaard and Köppe, 2018:229 cited in Colasante et.al 2020:2).
The StudyFlex Model
‘StudyFlex’ (Colasante et al., 2020:01), a trial in Australia taking place between 2018-2019 at La Trobe University, looks at the intersection of physical and non-physical learning spaces, as a means to investigate flexible hybrid learning formats. Essentially the trial poses a student-centered approach empowering the learner to give them more flexibility to choose and design their own learning pathway based on their individual needs.
This paper notes the ‘StudyFlex’ (Colasante et al., 2020:1) concept is still in its experimental testing phase. This article has reinforced my underlying values as an educator of placing students at the core of their learning experience. The research challenges conventional learning design offering bespoke pathways based on individual needs and circumstances, with the flexibility for learners to change their learning programme weekly or by topic.
Practitioners and researchers collaborated together to design the concept with an opportunity for students to give feedback. The data has been analysed comparing original learner intentions, verses how their participation learning pathway actually turned out. The strengths are the flexibility in choice of how, what and when you learn but the hyper flexibility in choice could also be a weakness placing educators in a tricky position when prepping sessions and therefore increasing their administration workload.
Being and Becoming
The autobiographical and narrative based inquiry ‘Being and Becoming Online Teachers’ (2021) explores what online teaching is and how educators navigate and negotiate the online learning space. The collective research took place over a year considering how personal, practical and social elements shape our online learning spaces. ‘The explorations of our narratives highlighted how the shift to online teaching created tensions and wonders about what is lost and what is still possible when the learning environment moves from the physical to the virtual’ (Cardinal et al., 2021:46). The research leans heavily on reflective writing which could be seen as a weakness, rather than grounding the research in evidence based inquiry like the ‘StudyFlex’ model (Colasante et al., 2020:01). The article does not take into consideration the perspective of the student but may offer support to educators in the transition to online learning spaces through its personable and visual approach. The text grounds itself in storytelling which is something everybody can connect with no matter what your discipline or background.
The ‘Special issue on hybrid pedagogies’ (2019) explores the complications with digital technologies considering social and ethical implications from a range of visual disciplines. The text summaries four contributions discussing hybrid pedagogies in an interdisciplinary approach. Rather than reading each individual contribution, I am only responding to the summary article. The article states that bringing ‘sites of pedagogy’ (Ratto et al., 2019:215) together offer an impressive mode for change exploring how humans interact with technology. There is a particular focus on science and technology, therefore it is necessary to investigate how photographic physical ‘sites of pedagogy’ (Ratto et al., 2019:215) can be translated into virtual learning spaces.
Together but Apart
‘Together but Apart: Creating and Supporting Online Learning Communities in an Era of Distributed Studio Education’ (2020) focuses on the impact on physical visual arts spaces as a result of the pandemic and the strengths and weaknesses of student engagement when moving learning into distributed spaces. The text identifies ‘the studio as a site for learning’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:827) and how collaboration is a fundamental aspect of the physical studio space and crucial to a learner’s creative journey. The research provided is underpinned by a framework titled ‘Cultural Historical Activity Theory’ (CHAT) (…) originally conceived by Vygotsky and Leont’ev’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020). CHAT focuses on the centrality of human interactions, emotions and activity directed by human motivations. The research findings investigate physical and virtual learning environments ‘activity systems’ stating ‘both of which have a defined set of rules, boundaries and tools’ (Sclater, 2018 in Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:832). Th e CHAT framework reinforces a social constructivist approach to hybrid learning spaces, placing learners and their goals at the core of their activity system.
Participants favoured physical campus spaces as a way to meet and interact with others – from the café to workshops. For photography, printmaking studios are a swarm of activity to create and collaborate. Group work was more balanced across individual participation when engaging in a physical space and perceived as unequal in virtual spaces, due to educators struggling to grasp engagement and comprehension levels. However, staff were able to use digital collaborative tools and platforms to engage learners more positively.
Feedback across all disciplines implied there were issues understanding practical tasks digitally. For practice based courses the online sphere proves tricky ‘as pedagogical engagement now occurs in a multiplicity of ways: online, at a distance, physically within specialised campus facilities and at home, and as collective and social encounters change’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:838).
The research indicates participants prefer to use a combination of analogue and digital technologies. Analogue strategies such as note taking and doodling were deemed particularly important to break-up digital fatigue. However, these are vitally important for practice-based disciplines, such as photography to support individuals’ creative journey to generate new ideas.The research links to ‘communities of practice’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:834) stating how social factors were impacted the most in physical to online learning environments. Although the research analyses staff and student data, the data could have been represented more accurately in a visual way. There is also little evidence in terms of participatory quotes.
Reconstructing Hybrid Learning
‘Design and Co-Configuration for Hybrid Learning: Theorising the Practices of Learning Space Design’ (2020), focuses on how we understand the design of hybrid learning spaces. The text also discusses some of the challenges in designing hybrid learning spaces suggesting that ‘some learning space design practices simplify their task by privileging ergonomics and apprenticeship over pedagogy and transfer’ (Goodyear, 2020:1046) implying this has a negative approach to education. The research applies practice theory to the understanding and design of learning spaces. The paper has been written by an Australian author and therefore doesn’t consider HE in the UK. The research carried out was between 2015 – 2019, so although the paper was written in 2020, it doesn’t consider learning space design in a post-pandemic HE environment.
Thinking about the ‘studio as a site for learning’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:827) from the perspective of photography, Sontag stated in her seminal text ‘On Photography’ (1977) that ‘photographs are, of course artifacts’ and in the tangible physical space of the studio – they are. We may lay prints on the table, attach them up on the wall, move them around one another until they speak to us. We must reconstruct the signature pedagogy of the workshop or critique within the virtual space as ‘immersive technologies will increasingly replace analogue surroundings with virtual data rooms’ (Kunstverein, 2017) changing the way we learn, interact and work.
Hybrid learning spaces should follow a social constructivist approach whereby educators and learners build a partnership to co-create hybrid learning spaces with learners becoming active participants in the process. This could be through varying modes of study based on individual needs and lifestyle. Just as hybrid learning spaces flex, morph and blend into one another – as does how we learn. Educators and learners must work together to evolve ‘pedagogical principles’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:826) to suit hybrid learning spaces.
Through the lens of critical pedagogy, too much emphasis is placed on the educator or video based content, risking imposing a ‘banking model’ (Cammarota, 2012) on learners; resulting in passive rather than active learning. The amalgamation of informal and formal learning approaches feeds into hybrid learning spaces, breaking down hierarchical structures between educator and learner by ‘becoming less visible’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020). A re-balancing of power within hybrid learning spaces is required ensuring learning and teaching are co-created. The intersection of physical and non-physical learning spaces can empower learners to take ownership over their learning pathway due to a culmination of analogue and digital tools, placing flexibility at the heart of hybrid learning spaces.
Communities of Practice
Whereas ‘social constructivism’ (Mcleod, 2019) creates the foundations to co-construct hybrid learning spaces, ‘communities of practice’ (Illeris, 2018:219) can be used to forge meaningful and socially sustainable learning in hybrid spaces. Photography practice is anchored in a community of practice whereby learners share a common purpose of becoming competent practitioners. The three essential components to build a socially sustainable communities of practice considering the photographic discipline are:
- Domain – Photographic practice
- Community – Photography learners in HE
- Practice – Meaningful, socially sustainable learning and exchange within the discipline of photographic practice.
Storytelling and narrative can unite learners and educators using individual voices to create meaningful and active learning. Through a ‘community of practice’ (Illeries, 2018:219) individuals can learn from one another where the group actively shapes the learning environment.
A hybrid learning space is not something that is fixed but shifts and changes depending on what and how we learn, teach and our lifestyle. Hybrid learning spaces are a metamorphose. A combination of analogue and digital technologies is crucial for photography and practice based disciplines, to sustain a learners engagement and to encourage explorative, experiential thinking and approaches to creative practice. However, accessibility is paramount. We must ensure learners have access to the relevant tools to empower their learning experience. Through evolving and distributed ‘sites of pedagogy’ (Ratto et al., 2019:215), we can use photographic storytelling as a means to connect cross-cultural narratives, creating meaningful ‘communities of practice’ (Illeries, 2018:219) in hybrid learning spaces whilst we reconfigure ‘pedagogical principles’ (Marshalsey and Sclater, 2020:826).
Through further research, more analysis could be placed on ‘the meaning of place’ (Cardinal et al., 2021:45) in online learning environments exploring what is lost and what is gained when we transition from physical to virtual learning spaces. I would like to investigate what alternative models to the Australian ‘StudyFlex’ (Colasante et al., 2020:01) programme exist here in the UK outside of The Open University. We know that physical spaces allow us to create spontaneous interactions with others and our environment, often sparking creativity, so how can this be replicated in online learning spaces? Alternative models to combine photographic theory and practice could also be explored making them interconnected.
Fig. 1 Blight, L. (2020) Paper pulp submerged in water. [Photograph] In possession of: the author: London.
Fig. 2 Blight, L. (2020) Individual paper pieces in a pile. [Photograph] In possession of: the author: London.
Fig. 3 Blight, L. (2020) Fig. 3 Reconstructed paper (2020). [Photograph] In possession of: the author: London.
About the author
Laura Blight is a photographer and academic from Essex, living and working in Cornwall. In July 2021 Laura completed a PGCert in Creative Education at University for the Creative Arts. She received a Distinction in MA Photography at University of the Arts London in 2018. Traces left by human activity are recurring themes throughout her work, exploring the tension between the familiar and unknown in domestic environments. In the last three years Laura has exhibited globally including, the Arles International Festival of Photography in France, Pingyao Photography Festival in China and at Four Corners gallery in London.”
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