Following the transition to online delivery in 2012 the programme team have been absorbed by the challenges, limitations and potential values of e-learning both as a mode of pedagogy and as a potential means of developing learning communities. In attempting to shed “distance” for our distance learning students we have recognised the value of “social learning” (Ryan and Tilbury, 2013) as a legitimate benefit of learning as a negotiated process.
The symposium theme ‘Onstage, offstage and beyond: exploring actual, imaginative and virtual spaces’ challenged us to consider how we might design synchronous and asynchronous events to explore
- how actual, imaginary and virtual spaces can be problematised by developing technologies;
- how we might push at the boundaries of our current webinar provision to provide opportunities for practical engagement in teaching and learning activities;
- how cross-College collaboration and blended events might generate negotiated and collectively owned learning communities (Wenger, 1998).
The nature of ‘practical activities’ was an important concern when considering the limits and parameters of the webinar setup. For example, potential technical issues can militate against pedagogical creativity and spontaneity, resulting in students doing little more than passively listening or observing. We wished to challenge these behaviours and those implicit in online delivery by exploring new ways of collaborating via online virtual spaces.
We recognised that in a physical sense, virtual spaces offer only the semblance of community where participants’ somatic experience of proximity is necessarily fractured. However, we aimed to question whether the notion of networked communities might is more than just “a helpful imaginary” (Glynis and Deepwell, 2005). While it is not enough to suggest that synchronous presence in virtual space equates to social engagement or practical activity we had already recognised that it is very often the social and negotiated elements of learning that are most productive in online activities. In agreement with Ryan and Tilbury (2013) we recognised that learning platforms have to “develop flexibility as an attribute of capability.” For the Symposium we developed a suite of events designed to ensure that participants separated by physical space could collaborate through activity-centred work which drew attention to lived experience; embodied engagement and physical sensations which are often ignored as purposeful contributors to the learning experience – especially in online education.
Our presentation will explore the challenges faced by this research and some of the “signature pedagogies” (Shulman, 2005) the College is developing in online learning and teaching in Performing Arts.