Physical and digital learning spaces

CSM clear dayA criticism of personal digital technologies is that they can distract students in class. However, as the statements below illustrate, physical settings can also be awash with distractions that hinder learning and teaching. With Art and Design higher education institutions facing increasing demands on their physical spaces, it’s worthwhile asking ourselves whether the very technologies we criticise might actually enable new models of learning and teaching, and provide better environments online than some of the physical locations we are using at present.

I want students to focus, to build up their confidence as learners within a group, and to create a supportive environment. I can’t do that sitting in a corridor. We can’t do that sitting in a corridor.

Design tutor


One evening I was teaching a group around a table on one of the bridges. Someone was playing the piano below, and another student roller-skated by us! It’s too distracting. Plus, I had to raise my voice to be heard.

Associate lecturer


I see colleagues in the open spaces, and say “hello”… then cringe because I hadn’t appreciated they were teaching and I’ve just interrupted their group crit. We then look apologetically at each other.

 Design tutor

Increasingly sophisticated technologies, our growing confidence and ability to communicate through digital devices, and the opportunities for artists, designers, students and educators to work together globally, suggests that our learning spaces should include digital platforms. And yet, the degree of pedagogical transformation that networked personal devices have had on Art and Design pedagogies so far seems quite limited – with little meaningful investigation of mobile technologies at all.

Mobile technologies provide immediate location independent access to information, support learning that is essentially situated, experiential and authentic, and are used as powerful creative tools by Art and Design students at CSM; creating, collating, communicating, collaborating, storing, recording, browsing, researching, reflecting, sharing, publishing, planning, as well as navigating physical locations. These practices can be aligned to design pedagogies, and therefore it may be useful to frame mobile technologies as a form of extension of the studio and the library – or as a new learning environment entirely.

I cannot imagine ever passing a semester in the classroom again without the umbilical chord to the network to energise, diversify, and deepen what we do.

Globalising Education, p114


My team loved teaching online… It’s an incredibly precise and rewarding way of teaching.

Design tutor


The University’s virtual learning environment (VLE) provides a suite of locally supported tools that allows staff and students to create and access content, access assessments and feedback, electronically submit documents, communicate, collaborate and manage learning and teaching activities. There are tools for video-conferencing, blogging and producing digital portfolios. Outside of university provision, all sorts of tools are in play, we know that colleagues are using software such as Skype to undertake tutorials when their students are studying abroad, run group workshops to support learning, and take part in multi-partner commercial collaborations.

This post is not written from a tech determinist perspective – far from it – but it does ask for concerted and sustained inquiry into the ways that digital technologies might afford us to conceptualise, benefit from, and shape new learning environments within an Art and Design frame. At a time when access to physical space is often limited, and colleagues across the University are developing and sharing deep insights about best practice for online education, it makes sense that we enable ourselves to teach and to learn in new ways.


We are reading the future…and it’s all going to happen.

School-girl on train, Bristol 2013

Useful References

Digital Present article about Skype

Centre for Learning and Teaching in Arts and Design (CLTAD)