But if we take a moment to deconstruct this image, it becomes clear that this space is far from neutral. Even before we explore Lefebre’s ‘relations between things’, the fact that the computer room exists in its own detached space, disconnected from the everyday interactions of the classroom, carries the implicit message (to teachers and learners) that technology isn’tsomething that should be woven into the fabric of knowledge construction. It reinforces a digital/physical dichotomy by literally separating the two through distance.
Returning to the picture, we can see that the computers are arranged linearly, in rows, and there is a single chair in front of each fixed screen. A pair of headphones is connected to each PC for listening to audio. Collectively, this configuration of space, people and technology hinders movement and social interaction and encourages the isolated, passive consumption of digital content, as opposed to the active, hands-on social construction of knowledge.
To be fair, there is a certain amount of technological determinism at work here. Desktop PCs are designed for the individual. In fact, this is why they were called PCs in the first place. They are (usually) clunky, heavy devices intended to remain static. In the past their size was also a consequence of their technological limitations. With operating systems designed for input through a physical keyboard and mouse, a single, screen-facing chair of appropriate height also makes sense. On top of this, most ageing PCs would need to be hardwired to the Internet through ethernet cables plugged into wall sockets. For managers, teachers and learners, it is especially important to consider the impact of technology on learning, as there is a clear interplay between the ways in which we shape our technologies, how they impact the learning environment, and how these choices influence our interactions with media and each other.
Video games, cathedrals, theme parks, prisons, shopping malls and classrooms. The one thing they have in common is that they are all examples of highly formalised spaces. Each one, whether digital or physical, has been designed to encourage or limit particular types of movement and behaviour and to provoke a particular experience. Our movements and actions within these spaces form part of a dynamic interactive system. Designers of virtual spaces, such as those in video games, have an acute awareness of this. For example, in online multiplayer games in which players have to work with or against other human players, a delicate balance has to be achieved between competing factions. Even the careless placement of a wall can provide an unfair advantage for one team and ruin the game. The size and positioning of every rock or building, the layout of each interior space and the distribution of supplies, all have to be carefully contemplated.
If we consider space as non-neutral, we can begin to develop an empowering sense of spatial literacy and recognise spatial design as a medium, or form of discourse. Interactivity stems from choices, and spatial design silently but firmly communicates interactive possibilities.
Moving these ideas from theory to practical application was a significant undertaking for a large language school, involving major changes to infrastructure, as well as hundreds of smaller decisions regarding technology choices, new procedures and teacher training. After months of hard work, planning, ordering, refurbishment, design meetings and network upgrades (you can read about some of the painstaking details here), our former rigid computer room has now transformed into this. We call it The Port.