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Adaptive educational environments: theoretical developments and educational applications

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Abstract

Three years ago the authors worked collaboratively on a paper that integrated theoretical perspectives and practical insights in a conceptualisation of adaptive educational environments as creative spaces for fostering intellectual abilities associated with transference and synthesis in cross-disciplinary situations (Loi & Dillon, 2006). Since 2006, they have worked independently, developing and refining the notion of adaptive educational environments as creative spaces in different educational and industrial settings. The present paper offers a new synthesis and reflects on how their thinking has changed in the light of continuing work at both theoretical and practical levels.
ADAPTIVE ENVIRONMENTS AS CREATIVE SPACES:
THEORETICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND EDUCATIONAL APPLICATIONS
PATRICK DILLON
UNIVERSITY OF JOENSUU
FINLAND
DARIA LOI
INTEL CORPORATION, USA
KEYWORDS
Adaptive Educational Environments, Creative Spaces, Cultural Ecology, Tools, Applications
ABSTRACT
Three years ago the authors worked collaboratively on a paper that integrated theoretical perspectives and
practical insights in a conceptualisation of adaptive educational environments as creative spaces for fostering
intellectual abilities associated with transference and synthesis in cross-disciplinary situations (Loi & Dillon,
2006). Since 2006, they have worked independently, developing and refining the notion of adaptive educational
environments as creative spaces in different educational and industrial settings. The present paper offers a new
synthesis and reflects on how their thinking has changed in the light of continuing work at both theoretical and
practical levels.
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ADAPTIVE EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS AS CREATIVE SPACES
The original conceptualisation of adaptive educational environments (Loi & Dillon 2006) arose from a critique of
the intellectual abilities that Sternberg and Lubart (1999) identified with creativity. Much of the analytical, synthetic
and practical work arising within educational systems is structured around formal curricula and is thus based in
subjects or disciplines. Whereas discipline-based work may be creative, we were interested in how educational
environments may be structured to facilitate intellectual creativity in a broader sense. Our view was that
educational environments that claim to foster creativity must incorporate potential for analysis and, especially,
transference and synthesis between and across disciplines as well as within disciplines.
All educational environments are adaptive in that they accommodate changing relationships between people and
resources. By modelling the processes through which educational environments are maintained and developed, it
is possible to design interventions that favour particular outcomes. Interventions are an important part of the
model, especially technologically and pedagogically mediated interventions to educational environments that
facilitate synthesis and transference. The modified environments arising from these ‘designed interventions’ may
be regarded as ‘creative spaces’.
Creative spaces, and the learning activities that occur within them, can be modelled systemically through
ecological theory. An ecosystem is a self-contained community in its complete environment. In an ecological view
of learning, any part of the environment, human or physical, may be regarded as a resource. Tools (in the
broadest sense) mediate between people and resources. Interventions may be designed to promote the
generation of intellectual and creative niches through the transactions and connections that people make with
each other and the ways in which they utilise resources, tools, and information. In this sense, creative spaces are
educational environments that are adapted to accommodate the fluidity of collaborative, integrated work, where
ideas are analysed, synthesised and applied.
Drawing on the work of Beach (1999), the intellectual outcomes of interventions that lead to synthesis and
transference in creative spaces may be thought of as ‘consequential transitions’. A consequential transition
involves a developmental change in relation between an individual and one or more social or professional
activities and the continuation and/or the transformation of knowledge, skill and identity (Beach 1999).
THEORETICAL DEVELOPMENTS AND EDUCATIONAL APPLICATIONS
Dillon’s work has moved in two interconnected directions since the first paper on adaptive education
environments: (i) a pedagogy of connection for working across and between disciplines (Dillon 2006; 2008a;
2008b), and (ii) a cultural ecological lens on educational environments generally (e.g. Dillon 2008c).
Loi’s work has moved into further explorations of designed interventions by: (i) identifying a number of
implications associated with designing interventions (Loi 2007a; 2007b), and (ii) designing, deploying and
reflecting on the possible roles of designed interventions within educational and industrial settings (Burrows & Loi
2006; Loi 2009; Loi & Prabhala 2008).
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Theoretical developments
Cultural ecology is broadly based in systems theory. It deals with reciprocal relationships between people and
their environments which it sees as complex and adaptive. This view of cultural ecology incorporates three
important elements (Dillon 2008c):
Niche formation – where people and environments are in mutually transformative relationships.
Cultural dialogues – the interactions between beliefs, ideas and behaviours, and the arena in which
interactions take place between the people who hold or practice them.
Coming into presence – a mechanism that accommodates the emergence and endurance of cultural
patterns at varying scales and in varying timeframes.
Niches are formed through mutually transformative interactions between people and their environments (Odling-
Smee et al. 2003). Environments are more than just physical surroundings. They encompass the social and
psychological as well as the physical. This means that, in a given environment, niches are configurations of
knowledge, skills, ideas, beliefs, emotions etc. relative to and co-constituted with social dynamics and physical
characteristics.
Niches are maintained through cultural dialogues, that is, the interplay between human behaviour and the
environment. Cultural dialogues involve interactions between information and processes associated with
artefacts, tools, practices (e.g. any form of creative work), modes of communication (e.g. symbols, language),
lifestyles and combinations of these (e.g. any profession as a combination of tools, processes and lifestyle).
Cultural dialogues adapt to opportunities and are an expression of norms, values and local conditions where they
give rise to cultural patterns.
In addition to their regular, local expressions, cultural patterns have also novel characteristics that transcend the
properties of their constituent parts and cannot be predicted from the behaviour of the constituents. Dillon and
Howe (2007) and Osberg and Biesta (2007) call this coming into presence. Coming into presence is an
expression of the notion of ‘incoming of the other’. What emerges both transcends (in that it is more than what
came before) and subsumes (in that it includes what came before) the prior configurations. Coming into
presence reveals something not unexpected, but of unpredictable configuration, like in a kaleidoscope.
Designed interventions are based on notions of anomalous objects and odd experiences. By playing with these
notions it is possible to dramatically expand creative engagement between people, providing platforms where
diverse interpretations can be generated (Loi, Burrows & Coburn 2002; Loi & Burrows 2004; Burrows & Loi 2004;
Loi & Burrows 2006). Using these notions as conceptual background, a number of tools have been developed
and tested, namely reflective probes, playful triggers, and primitive probes (Loi 2007a).
Reflective Probes (Loi 2004; 2007a) create the conditions for reflective practice (Schon 1983) to prosper through
activities that take the form of creative, ambiguous and inspiring artefacts. Playful Triggers (Loi 2005) rekindle the
possibility for people to play, wonder, and learn – and to discover (or rediscover) the pleasures and benefits of
such experiences. Reflective engagement, fruitful communication, and improved collaboration are major
outcomes related to such experiences. A number of issues emerge when these tools are deployed in practice in
relation to: their context (where should they be deployed?); time (when?); audience (who are the most
appropriate recipients?); producer (who should design/deploy them?); content (what type of ‘data’ can they
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provide?); soul (are they rational or ambiguous?); purpose (what is their function?) and form (how should they be
designed?).
Through practically adopting these tools in a number of ethnographically informed and industrially based projects,
a number of core understandings have emerged (Loi 2007a):
a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work – context is key;
when a tool should be used is strictly related to where/why it will be used;
these are not magic toys: sometimes they simply will not work, or better – they do not work as anticipated;
the quality of a tool is strictly related to the capacity of its producer to design its content and form;
these tools produce warm information which can be highly valuable or completely unrepresentative of
objective data – their value is related to one’s view of what research is, should be and represents;
tools can enrich data when used alongside other ethnographic methods;
these tools should be about engaging with knowledge creation and how it may be challenged through
creative endeavour; and
they should be carefully and purposefully designed.
Moreover, the tools demonstrate a number of benefits, as they:
appear to assist researchers and participants through their transformative agency;
help researchers to ‘break the ice’ and ‘bridge gaps’ within culturally sensitive contexts, fostering and
supporting a participatory and unthreatening tone within focus groups and in-home interviews;
assist researchers when asking and supporting participants when answering complex or potentially sensitive
questions;
help individuals to better understand their customers and collaborating partners and stakeholders to better
understand the value of design research;
successfully complement qualitative research activities, facilitating, after and during, focused yet open-ended
ethnographic interviews, a comfortable increase in the level of specificity of feedback;
prove to be easy to adapt and modify on site, providing on-the-go visualisations/responses and concrete,
tangible and easy-to-access insights.
Educational applications
Dillon has explored some practicalities of a cultural ecological approach to education through the Arts Council of
England’s Creative Partnership Scheme. Loi has continued her work with designed interventions through two
Australian Research Council funded projects focusing on primary and secondary teachers’ use and
understanding of Learning-by-Design.
This project in the Arts Council of England’s Creative Partnership Scheme was a collaborative venture involving
landscape designers (Colour Udl, Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and researchers Anna Craft (University of Exeter and
The Open University) Penelope Best (Roehampton University) and Patrick Dillon working in co-participant action
research with staff, pupils, parents and governors in Peases West Primary School. The project was concerned
with how transforming the grounds (the outside environment) in a primary school altered the way teaching and
learning took place, both inside the school and outside.
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Peases West is a primary school for c.125 pupils in a rural location in a former mining region of Weardale,
County Durham, UK. The school is accommodated in a modern, one-storey building which incorporates a nursery
unit. The interior is semi-open plan with four main teaching areas, shared areas for practical work, and quiet
areas between rooms. The main hall is multi-purpose, being used for dining, physical education, assemblies and
performances. There is an information and communication technology suite. The central part of the school is built
around an open-air quadrangle with split levels, flower beds, a fish pond and seating. The school grounds
comprise two playgrounds, extensive areas of grassland and numerous trees. There are extensive views of the
north Pennine landscape to the south and more locally to the surrounding village giving a strong sense of place.
Creative interventions were an important dimension in the creative partnership. The landscape designers
undertook interventions that involved (i) on-site activities concerned with favourite and least-favourite places,
imagined uses of space, building temporary structures, and designing and managing space for specific purposes,
and (ii) off-site visits for staff to see outdoor education initiatives elsewhere. The interventions were designed to
build articulacy with the external environment, engage the students and staff cumulatively in exploring the
potential of spaces within the school grounds for learning and teaching, and in particular to encourage
involvement through thinking, feeling, doing, and to prepare for some permanent changes. The researchers and
landscape designers first established a baseline and then the researchers collected information in parallel with
the interventions of the landscape designers. Research was undertaken in a broadly interpretative frame, i.e.
seeking to understand rather than to explain, and involved ethnographic and inductive-deductive approaches. A
range of methods was employed, including direct observation, participant observation, interviewing, and
gathering evidence through structured records kept by teachers and pupils. A report of the research is in Dillon,
Craft and Best (2007) where the results are given in full. What follows is summary of the significant outcomes.
Baseline information was collected from pupils, teachers, parents, and governors. In summary, it revealed that:
Pupils had need of varied and diversified indoor and outdoor environments that accommodated the
developmental needs of different ages with material elements, social spaces and spaces that offered
opportunities for different forms of learning.
Teachers’ focused on learning, and thus primarily with the inside of the school. But they recognised the
importance of the wider school environment to the general wellbeing of the pupils and thus liked to see it well
designed, well managed and physically and aesthetically pleasing. They were aware of the potential of the
outside for learning activities.
Parents valued places for dedicated activities favoured by their children and places with personal memory
associations.
Governors were concerned primarily with the school fabric and ensuring the best for the staff and pupils.
They recognised that the school environment plays an important role in the way the school is represented.
Having established a baseline against which change could be reviewed, the research team documented the
creative partnership through the stories of the main participants. Of these, the learning and teaching stories, i.e.
those of the pupils and teachers, are given prominence.
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The teachers’ story
The approach with the teachers’ research was largely ethnographic and aimed to build a cumulative account of
the teachers’ story ‘from the inside’ by progressively focusing and encouraging emergent issues. Things
happened through the project (actualities), and possibilities and challenges were identified.
In terms of actualities, the project encouraged more opportunities for concrete and experiential learning, for
generating questions outside, greater sensitivity to the educational potential of the outside, and more flexible use
of the environment. These are evidenced in: more co-planning between teachers, pupils and others; more
connections between the thinking, feeling, doing and playing aspects of learning; different forms of organisation
and management of space; and changing relationships between the cognitive and affective aspects of learning. A
better understanding emerged of the relationship between creativity and what makes learning experiences
special: e.g. beyond enjoyment, excitement and happiness, fantasy and reality, and possession, ‘being part of it’.
Research tools, developed by the researchers and introduced to the teachers in workshops, helped teachers with
both recording and curriculum development.
Possibilities and challenges included: reducing the extent to which fixed equipment restricts the potential use of
space; recognising the possibilities for planning work outside and the rules for using different spaces; finding
applications in subjects that do not lend themselves to work outside; how to build on the contribution of pupils and
the expertise they developed as pupil researchers, and how to build on their own expertise as researchers.
The pupils’ story
The approach with the pupils’ research was largely based around deductive and inductive analysis of criterion-
referenced questions which enabled the production of numerous thematic findings which could be referenced
back to the information sources and from which generalisations could be derived. The research revealed that
through the project:
pupils’ showed greater sensitivity to the management of space and were more discriminating about space,
e.g. spaces for thinking, spaces for doing, and spaces for just being;
pupils’ vocabulary changed;
pupils’ thinking matured;
initially learning was linked to curriculum and taught subjects; the best places for learning were not too
cluttered and were physically comfortable;
pupils enjoyed planning and doing activities more than hearing about them;
planning became significantly less important and hearing about the activity even less so; the enjoyment was
in ‘doing’ and seeing the outcomes;
enjoyment, excitement and happiness were recurring expressions of doing. For older pupils enjoyment was
connected with involvement, cooperation and increased confidence. The transferable nature of learning skills
was recognised, but pupils found it difficult to deconstruct how they learnt;
there was increased collaborative opportunities through team work;
working with others gave a sense of fun, enjoyment, confidence and pride;
pupils experienced a greater blending of inside and outside;
identity was reflected in the things that were created. This generates memories pupils will take with them.
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The research revealed a developmental sequence associated with learning, play and socialising. For the
youngest children (age 4-5) physical/cognitive aspects of learning were particularly emphasised and then the
emotional aspects of learning came into focus. As they got older relational elements were prioritised, with an
emphasis on pupils’ proximity to others during learning. Later still, social elements were emphasised more, with
high value placed on partnership, volunteering, sharing and collective ownership of ideas. By age 11, there was
an emphasis on achieving a balance between individual and social work.
Throughout the project, places where pupils felt happiest were seen to be ‘favourite’ places and these were
increasingly outdoors, although the differentiation was less pronounced with the younger pupils. Special
restricted places, available to certain year groups, were deemed important. For older pupils in particular, there
was a sense of ownership and legacy. For some pupils opportunities to be messy are associated with happiness
but school spaces were viewed by pupils throughout the project as tidy and clean. Over the course of the project
even the younger pupils recognised the significance of, and opportunities to develop, their creativity and
imagination.
In 2005 and 2006 Loi worked on two Australian Research Council funded projects focused on primary and
secondary teachers’ use and understanding of Learning-by-Design (Burrows & Loi 2005; Cope et al. 2005), a
pedagogical theory that assumes that:
teaching takes place in the context of a digitalised/globalised environment;
issues of student diversity and inclusion have to be taken into consideration;
there is a need to be mindful of the grammars involved in constructing and de-constructing multimodal texts;
teachers need to deliberatively choose between a range of context-appropriate pedagogies.
The first project (Learning-by-Design: creating pedagogical frameworks for knowledge building in the 21st
century) investigated the ways in which ‘middle-years’ teachers design, record and enact their curriculum and the
relationships between pedagogical choices and learner outcomes. The second (Pedagogies for elearning: a
critical analysis of strategies for effective use of ICT for teaching and learning) investigated the needs of learners
in a communication environment where digital and multimodal texts are adopted. A particular focus in both
projects was on the development of a methodology that would enable researchers to collect rich and meaningful
data while avoiding classroom disruption. A participative inquiry approach was developed, and approximately fifty
teachers from four different jurisdictions in Australia (metropolitan and rural Queensland, Victoria and the
Australian Capital Territory) were engaged in the projects.
Participative inquiry is ‘a participative process, about research with people rather than research on people’ as ‘a
means by which people engage together to explore some significant aspect of their lives, to understand it better
and to transform their action so as to meet their purposes more fully’ (Reason 1994, p. 1). This mode of inquiry is
characterised by a focus on the practical – the capacity for the research to speak to a wider audience, and to
prompt reflective practice. When engaging in participative inquiry people cycle iteratively through four
interdependent forms of knowing to ‘enrich their congruence and deepen their complementarity’ (Reason 1998: p.
429)
propositional knowing – when questions, concepts and related methodology are explored and developed
together;
practical knowing – when methodologies are applied in the world of practice individually or together, and lead
to demonstrating skills and competencies;
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experiential knowing – where direct face-to-face encounters, prompted by the methodologies, lead to new
understandings;
presentational knowing – where the significant patterns identified via these shared experiences are
represented through expressive multimodal forms of imagery and lead to a renewed understanding of the
originating questions.
The participative approach to both projects integrated ideas of teachers and students as co-researchers
(Loughran et al. 2002; Phelps et al. 2004) and designers (Brown & Edelson 2003). The research also adopted an
innovative rhizomic approach to professional development where teachers learn to become mentors and
collaborating researchers. This builds on research practices that involve the ‘networking of practitioners’ using ‘a
system which affords classroom-based enquiry, the sharing of ideas, and reflection on practice and learning
(Kennewell 2003).
To enlist teachers as reflective co-researchers and to elicit their insights about their practices, a range of tools
and methods was adopted: interviews and recorded conversations; classroom observations and impact stories;
background and contextual data; reflective prompts and artefacts (Reflective Probes); student artefact
collections; and workshop-based interventions. Ethnographically informed and multimodal ways of capturing and
representing data were encouraged at all levels and a range of knowledge sharing sessions enabled teachers
throughout the projects to share ideas and learn how to adopt ethnographically informed and multimodal tools as
part of their teaching and co-researching practices.
The rationale behind the use of the methods and tools was that engagement with these types of artefacts can
provide a richer, more vibrant, and potentially more informative experience than would be possible with empirical
methods. Moreover, ‘teachers are not all the same. They have different beliefs about how children learn and how
best to help them. Their classroom experience draws on, and reshapes, these beliefs’ (Reimann & Goodyear
2004, p. 4). The challenge therefore is to capture the potentially subtle pedagogical beliefs and choices
represented in and through teachers’ practices. The methodology that was adopted for the two projects
addressed this challenge.
In analysing what happens when teachers become co-researchers and when they adopt research tools and
techniques, a number of observations can be made. The approach adopted in the two projects described here
enabled a paradigm shift on competencies as well as a shift of agency, where researchers had more often the
role of synthesising teachers’ research, observations and insights instead of conducting direct classroom
research and observations (see Table 1).
Tools Data type Teachers/mentors role Researchers role
Interviews and recorded
conversations
Notes; audio or video
recordings
Interviewers/interviewee
/analysers/synthesisers
Interviewers (maybe)
/analysers/synthesisers
Classroom observations
and impact stories
Notes; audio or video
recordings; photographic
Self & peer observers/
observed/recorders/
analysers/synthesisers
Observers (maybe)/
recorders/analysers/
synthesisers
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Background and
contextual data
Hand-written, printed,
photographic, existing
documents…
Responders/analysers
/synthesisers
Collectors/analysers/
synthesisers
Reflective prompts and
artefacts
Hand-written or drawn,
printed, photographic,
audio, video…
Responders/analysers
/synthesisers
Creators/analysers/
synthesisers
Student artefact collection Hand-written or drawn,
printed, photographic,
audio, video…
Collectors/analysers
/synthesisers
Prompters/analysers/
synthesisers
Workshops/interventions Hand-written or drawn,
printed, photographic,
audio, video…
Participants/analysers
/synthesisers
Creators/facilitators
collectors/analysers/
synthesisers
Table 1. Research design: tools, types of data, actor roles
It is interesting to note that the research showed in several instances that many of the teachers involved in the
project had a tendency to describe their practices in minimalist and foreshortened ways and to take for granted
what they do and how they have arrived at what they do. The design of the methodology, and the ways in which
the methodology has been enacted throughout the two projects, has been crucial in eliciting insights from
teachers.
Another interesting benefit that arose from the adopted technique was its professional development potential for
teachers. As a consequence of enlisting them as co-researchers, teachers were given the opportunity to expand
their knowledge and capabilities beyond teaching practice and towards a deeper appreciation of research
methods and endeavours. Moreover, the adoption of ethnographically informed and multimodal techniques to
gather data greatly influenced their teaching practice. Consequently, as the two projects evolved, teachers
expanded their skill repertoire and teaching practices – many of them have since enrolled in Masters and PhD
courses, most of them modified their own teaching to embrace multimodality, reflective practice and
ethnographically informed techniques, and some are now in mentorship roles to assist new teachers who decided
to join the projects.
In 2006 a yearly forum was established by the researcher team to provide teachers with a space in which to
present and share their insights as co-researchers. Through the forum teachers have and continue to
demonstrate the transformative power of the research methodology and tools they adopted during the projects.
Presentations not only provide an insight into their evolved and evolving practice, but also the richness and
diversity that has been generated as a consequence of their involvement in the projects.
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REFLECTION AND SYNTHESIS
The set of common understandings on which the original paper was based were generated in 2005. Since then,
the authors have shared some ideas through email at a general level, but have otherwise worked independently
of each other. In this section we reflect on the research reported above and comment on matters on which there
has been further consolidation and matters which present further challenges.
CONSOLIDATION
The cultural ecological/systemic approaches were premised on the notion that routine interventions that happen
in educational situations maintain the status quo through negative feedback, that is, they produce largely
predictable, objective-responsive behavioural outcomes. Designed interventions associated with creative spaces
have the potential to generate more radical outcomes, but they do so by de-stabilising the status quo, a process
called positive feedback. In the terminology of systems analysis, positive feedback means systemic change. It is
thus distinct from but related to the more common usage of the term as a ‘form of affirmative response’.
Systemic change resulting from positive feedback is evident in the Creative Partnership, for example in:
The ways in which learning was gradually seen, particularly by pupils, to seep into the outside as well as the
indoors. At the outset of the project, pupils identified inside as a significant place for ‘learning’, and by the
end they were identifying outside spaces as where learning might take place too.
Pupils’ capacity for leadership. Older pupils were able to consider ways of engaging younger ones in co-
analysis and questioning through evolving their own strategies. Remarkable was their ability to consider their
environment for research or teaching, the need for behaviour management and clarity in their introduction of
work. Older pupils positioned themselves as both teacher and researcher for younger pupils.
An implicit adoption of possibility thinking (Burnard et al. 2006; Cremin et al. 2006) – in other words moving
from what is to what might be. In particular, where pupils pose questions, play with ideas, and immerse
themselves in activities designed to foster imagination, innovation and to a degree, self-determination.
Systemic change resulting from positive feedback is evident in the Learning-by-Design projects, for example in:
How teachers extended their competency – from teachers to researchers as a result of engaging as
research partners in the project. By the end of the project several teachers had enrolled in Masters and then
PhDs.
How teachers transformed their teaching practice as a consequence of the multimodal research
methodology they were asked to gradually unfold and apply. At the start of the project most tended to adopt
more conventional tools in their teaching practice. After a few months of working as research partners, they
started to notice and articulate how multimodal tools could be applied. By the end of the project, most
teachers radically transformed their practice to incorporate multimodality as a core competency.
Pupils’ capacity to articulate complex matters and ideas through multimodality. A competency transfer gently
yet visibly occurred during the project – pupils not only benefited from their teacher’s new multimodal
methods, but learned through role-modelling how to adopt multimodality themselves. As a consequence
pupils’ ways of exploring new concepts and of articulating themselves visibly benefited, as they increasingly
developed their own ways of using multimodality in the classroom and beyond.
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Positive feedback also generates energy and momentum. In the Peases West Creative Partnership, the project
lives on in that it informs (i) a re-design of the school grounds including the construction of some new permanent
features, and (ii) ongoing creative work in teaching and learning, including designing a broad and balanced
curriculum derived from the needs and abilities of the pupils, the expertise and interests of the staff, the
particularities of the environment, and ethos at the school.
Similarly, although the Learning-by-Design project is still in progress, a number of elements already demonstrate
how it has radically impacted on teachers and surrounding communities: (i) a network of Learning-by-Design
practitioners has been established and is providing ongoing support where teachers can actively share their
practices through a number of online tools; (ii) a conference was established and annually offers a forum for
Learning-by-Design practitioners, teachers and researchers to share with peers and the community examples of
and reflections on their practices and investigations; and (iii) a Learning-by-Design online tool and network is
enabling teachers to articulate and share their teaching modules across the country.
CHALLENGES
In the original formulation of adaptive educational environments as creative spaces we placed great emphasis on
contexts. To some extent the importance of context has been confirmed, especially with respect to some of the
tools used in the Learning-by-Design projects. However, it is also evident that emergent and unpredictable
outcomes, i.e. those not pre-specified through objectives, and typically associated with positive feedback, also
challenge established notions of context.
For one of us (PD), this was a particularly striking outcome in professional development work undertaken in
Mongolia. As if often the case, working in a different cultural situation throws up questions about contextual
matters that are otherwise taken for granted (see Dillon, Bayliss, Stolpe & Bayliss 2008). In brief, the argument is
this: In Western educational settings, structures and contexts are substantially pre-defined, and we talk about
things as ‘context-dependent’, since context is something that can be defined as the backdrop to behaviour. This
is a relational view of context: situations and activities are understood relative to each other and relative to other
situations and activities. In Mongolia occasions were observed when both meaning and context emerged from
people’s interactions with their environments and subsequently could be described. These contexts, like their
Western counterparts, are relational in that once they have emerged they can be understood relative to other
situations. But they also have an ‘in the moment’ unpredictability about them, a ‘context’ emerges that could not
have been anticipated. Because these emergent contexts are dependent on the peculiarities of a particular time,
place and set of circumstances, we called them co-constitutional. Relational and co-constitutional interpretations
are different, not oppositional or mutually exclusive. What we see in the Creative Partnership and the Learning-
by-Design projects is both relational and co-constitutional manifestations of context, with the co-constitutional
particularly evident in emergent outcomes.
This is essentially an ecological explanation that recognises the capacity of adaptive environments to reflect both
stasis and change simultaneously. Thus a relational characterisation of the Peases West context would be that
the school, the curriculum, pedagogies and teaching methods provide structured places and ‘spaces’ through
which children learn, develop and socialise. A co-constitutional characterisation would be that pupils inhabit
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space by continuously constructing places, both imaginary and real. Within these places, pupils’ interactions with
others, and with the environment, determine the possibilities and qualities of learning. An ecological
characterisation, arising from the interaction of the relational and the co-constitutional, would be that space is
given shape and identity by the relationships created within it. Learning is situated, adapted, localised, and
connected through continual ‘dialogues’ between the pupils, adults and their environment.
Another interesting challenge permeated the initial stages of the Learning-by-Design project: the innovative and
experimental nature of the method generated a number of obstacles and sceptical responses. For some teachers
the method required a massive engagement, grander than their already complex daily routines. The method was
novel, it was designed by researchers and not teachers, it was perceived by some teachers and administrators to
be risky and potentially not worth the effort as there was no evidence that it would work. Moreover, some
administrators and, more interestingly, some members of the research team who were involved in the less
operational aspects of the project, were sceptical about the research design as its novel nature represented a
potential risk of failure, something to be avoided as the project was government funded. In both cases, first the
perseverance of the research team, and later the enthusiasm of the teachers involved overcame the doubts.
Once the first set of results arrived, data clearly evidenced the transformative power of the methodology and
indeed showed benefits that reached well beyond what the researchers initially planned and hoped for. This
challenge demonstrates that novel design interventions involve taking creative risks, not dissimilar to the creative
risks involved in dealing with ‘in the moment’ co-constitutional experiences.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks to Professor Anna Craft and Penelope Best who co-researched the Creative Partnership with Patrick
Dillon, and Dr Peter Burrows for his insights related to the Learning-by-Design projects. Thanks also to the pupils,
staff and parent at Peases West Primary School, UK, landscape designers Peter Owens, Al Rigby and Katia
Simma of Colour, UDL, UK and all the Australian teachers who participated in the Learning-by-Design projects.
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AUTHORS’ BIOGRAPHIES
Dr. Patrick Dillon has degrees in biological science, economic history and education. He is Professor of
Education at the University of Joensuu, Finland and Emeritus Professor at the University of Exeter, UK. He has
worked in higher education for 27 years and before that he worked in industry and taught in primary and
secondary schools. He has cross-disciplinary interests in culture, education and technology that encompass
cultural heritage education, creativity, design education and e-learning. He also researchers and writes on
landscape and environmental education out of which has emerged his belief in the value of integrating ecological
perspectives into theories of education. More details at: http://education.exeter.ac.uk/staff_details.php
With a background in Architecture and a PhD in Design/Management from Royal Melbourne Institute of
Technology University, Daria Loi is a Research Scientist in the User Experience Group at Intel, where she
develops and tests usage models and design concepts for domestic environments. Before joining Intel she
worked as a designer, journalist, lecturer and senior research fellow in Italy and Australia. Daria is a committee
member and reviewer for: Australasian Human Computer Interaction Conference; Computer Human Interaction
Conference; Design Research Society; Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference; Participatory Design
Conference; Research Into Practice; Artifact; International Journal of Arts and Technology; and Journal of
Computers in Human Behavior. Her practice revolves around participatory design, human computer interaction,
multimodal interfaces, and practice-based inquiry. More details at: http://www.darialoi.com
... If ICTs are to be effective in supporting creative improvisations they must become integral parts of the normal, everyday life, i.e. the 'cultural ecology' of the environments in which they will be used. Cultural ecology is taken to mean the dynamics of people's interactions with and within their environments (Dillon, 2008;Dillon & Loi, 2008;Loi & Dillon, 2006;Vesisenaho & Dillon, 2009, 2013. These interactions embody a continual interplay between an individual's immediate experiences and how he/she knows the world. ...
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... In a narrow sense, one can see a learning environment as an "enclosed" web space (though not necessarily closed off) such as Moodle or Edmundo. Canvas, Blackboard and many others are mainly for supporting learners, teachers, students and professors in a larger system of tools for the management of learning and learning itself (Dillon & Loi, 2008). These learning environments have evolved alongside theories that emphasize learning and developing functions of regulation and self-containment of the individual learner or the social aim of the learning process, the acquisition of knowledge and skills to coincide with the individual's goals and methods of self-expression that express independent choice (Koschmann, 1996;Lai, 2008;Boekaerts, 1999). ...
... The ideas have been developed and refined over a number of years and shaped by the influences set out in the previous section. The cultural ecological framework given below builds on work undertaken personally and in collaboration with colleagues and is thus a consolidation and refinement of ideas published in earlier papers, notably Dillon (2008aDillon ( & 2012, Dillon & Loi (2008) and Vesisenaho & Dillon (2013). ...
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I would normally avoid using a standard English dictionary definition to begin an intelligent conversation about almost anything, let alone introduce an entire chapter with one. However, our everyday use of the term transfer has a powerful metaphorical bearing on how we, as educators and social scientists who also happen to lead everyday lives, think about learning transfer. The American Heritage Dictionary (1976) defines transfer as follows. transfer (tr~tns-ffir', t r ~ s ' f e r) v. -ferred, -ferring, -fers. --tr. 1. To convey or shift from one person or place to another. 2. To make over the possession or legal title of to another. 3. To convey (a drawing, pattern, mural, or design) from one surface to another. --i n t r . I. To move oneself, as from one location,job, or school to another. 2. To change from one airplane, bus, or other carrier to another. Transfer involves the movement of a person, a transaction, or an object from one place and time to another in our daily lives. As a construct in educational psychology, it refers to the appearance of a person carrying the product of learning from one task, problem, situation, or institution to another. It is here that the metaphor begins to break down. Transfer is distinguished from run-of-the-mill learning by virtue of its distinct tasks and situations, yet it does not include the genesis of tasks and situations as a part of the process. Transfer is necessarily a part of our moment-to-moment lives, yet seems difficult to study and even more difficult to foster intentionally. This irony is not lost on Shweder (1980), who notes that the "everyday mind accomplishes a very difficult task. It looks out at [the] behavioral world of complex, context-dependent interaction effects and insubstantial correlations among events, yet it perceives continuities, neat clusters, and simple regularities" (p. 77). However, the important educational issues and phenomena that underlie trans-fer do not dissipate with the metaphor or with irony. This chapter is an expedition I am grateful to Asgbar (All) Iran-Nejad and David Pearson ll)r their patience and helpful comments; to my consulting editors, James Greeno and Yrjo Engestrtim, for their excellent suggcstions; and to present and pas~ members of the Transitions Research Group at Michigan State University for sharing in the labor and excitement of this expedition.
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