Place-People-Practice-Process: Using a sociomaterial frame to interpret entangled higher education physical spaces, teaching, and learning

Year: 2016

Author: Acton, Renae

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Pedagogy is an inherently spatial practice. Implicit in much of the rhetoric of physical space designed for teaching and learning is an ontological position that assumes material space as distinct from human practice, often conceptualising space as causally (and simplistically) impacting upon people’s behaviours. An alternative, and growing, perspective instead theorises infrastructure as a sociomaterial assemblage, an entanglement, with scholarly learning, teaching, institutional agendas, architectural intent, technology, staff, students, pedagogic outcomes, and built form all participants in an active symbiosis of becoming. This paper synthesises and works with spatial theories to elaborate on the emergent literature and apply a sociomaterial understanding to teaching and learning in a higher education context. The terms sociomaterial, assemblage and entanglement allude to the relational ontology between space and the social. I argue that sociomaterial theory assists in making meaning of the inseparable mélange of people, place, technologies, interaction, discourse, feeling, value and power that is teaching and learning. As part of broader post-graduate research investigating interrelations between infrastructure and pedagogy, the focus here centres on the development of a theoretical framework for interpretation and its application to select data as an exemplar. First, I survey and consolidate existing literature and provide a description of the theoretical landscape; secondly, I move into these theoretical ways of knowing and being, situating myself as a spatial subject in a process of becoming within the places of higher education. Finally, a sociomaterial theoretical approach is applied to preliminary data from interviews with university staff who teach in an ‘active learning’ space. Narratives presented are of changeable spatial practice, demonstrating the interconnection between the social worlds of policy rhetoric, university agendas, teaching philosophies, learning preferences, technological affordances and realties, physical and emotional and social needs, and cognitive process. The stories of significant change reflect situated teaching and learning processes, more personal and complex than imagined in the strategic intent of ‘innovative’ spaces to transform learning and teaching within institutions. A sociomaterial approach to the interpretation of pedagogic practice allows for a more critical exploration of the spatialised and spatialising processes of power in higher education. This understanding can further support the realisation of the intent underlying transformations of material spaces to create collaborative and inclusive universities, where students can learn, belong, and become as part of a scholarly community.