I implemented a low-stake group activity in my Environmental Psychology class when introducing students to the Henri Lefebvre’s concept of social construction of space. Based on my previous teaching experiences, this was the most challenging concept for students, especially when they were expected to apply it in their own theorizing of place.
I was hoping that this exercise would provide students with an opportunity to engage in exploring the core ideas of this concept (e.g. three dimensions of space: perceived, conceived and lived space) as the activity prompted them to generate data (i.e. concrete situations of how space is used, designed and reimagined) that illustrated the concept and enabled students to make their own inferences and conclusions. Students were thus later able to connect abstract concept and their everyday experiences of places they encounter on campus at LaGuardia (e.g. classroom, library, cafeteria, halls, outdoor space, etc.). I hoped that this collaborative activity would allow students to engage in collective exploration of their relationship with places, provide each student to contribute with their own ideas, reflections and observations of the space as well as consider use of these spaces by members of other social groups (based on gender, age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis/ability, religious beliefs, etc.). I also believed that working in small groups would provide more intimate environment for students who might not feel comfortable voicing their ideas in a larger group or are hesitant to articulate and write their ideas when asked to work individually. Working in small groups allowed students to distribute responsibilities, and find the niche for their ways of preferred contribution and expression (e.g. speaking, writing, drawing). Students were provided with written and visual prompts (written questions and prompts, and images of the assigned spaces) on posters that they used to generate their ideas.
Specifically, students received the handout with the following instructions (besides the oral instructions):
As you read in the assigned chapter, Henri Lefebvre suggested that spaces are not mere containers of things and people, they are not static and passively ‘given’, rather they are ‘socially produced’ by human beings through our relationships to other people and places, and through activities we carry in them. As you learned from reading the chapter, Lefebvre proposed that humans produce three types of space: conceived, perceived and lived space.
As a group think of your assigned space and collectively answer the three sets of questions and probes on the poster. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible and describe the space in detail.
Poster probes and instructions for students:
[Images of the classroom HERE]
- What makes this space a …classroom….? How do you know it is a … classroom ….? What are the indications that this is a …classroom …? What kind of activities (spatial practices) are usually carried out in this space? By whom? Who belongs to this place (or does not?)
- Who decides that this is a … classroom …? Who decides what this place looks like? How is this place conceptualized (thought of and planned)?
- How else could this place be used? How else it could be ‘imagined’? For what purposes? By whom?
When considering these spaces think of yourself as well as members of other social groups (e.g. based on gender, race and ethnicity, dis/ability, sexual orientation, or different social roles at the college, such as students, faculty, staff, etc.)
In my Design for All research I am in interested in how collaborative learning can facilitate students’ engagement and accessibility to learning and how dis/ability can be integrated into curriculum and teaching. The implementation of this low-stake assignment enabled me to explore both of these questions.
Based on students’ responses and my observations of the class students enjoyed reflecting upon their every day use of space on campus and coming up with their ideas. Many students reported that they have never thought of space this way, other social and cultural groups’ use of space and considered it an eye-opening experience, especially when considering space from the perspective of other members of social and cultural groups. Students engaged in lively discussion, especially when considering students diagnosed with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities, as well as power relationships that space often promotes or reproduces.
This was a simple group activity, however, students’ engagement in this assignment made quite a difference in their understanding of the concept. (I was also able to compare this with another class from the last year). In our further discussion of Lefebvre’s ideas and other two related articles that applied his concept, I could utilize ideas generated by students in this class activity. Even more importantly, students could readily use their own examples from the assignment in making inferences, asking clarifying questions and understand connection between their and other authors examples.
I believe that my expectation of this exercise promoting inclusivity were fulfilled as it addressed all three aspects of UDL principles. This exercise offered if not multiple, certainly alternative or supplemental means of:
- representation – the concept was also explored by reading an article by Lefebvre describing the concept of social production of space and work of other two scholars that illustrate application of Lefebvre’s concept
- expression – as activity offered various means by which students could contribute to learning activity and demonstrate their knowledge,
- engagement – as students engaged in active exploration of their own (and other social groups members’ relationship) with space. Students vigorously interrogated spatial aspects of social relationships in the spaces they use and are familiar with. Furthermore, by exploring the relationship of members of various social identities and categories with environments, students’ awareness of diversity and differences was addressed and their own sense of inclusive environment was promoted.
In my research I am interested in developing a curriculum and instructions that will integrate dis/ability and social justice in teaching. I am also interested in developing teaching instructions based on collaborative learning that would lead to increased engagement of students and access to learning and thus promote their inclusion in learning.
In addition to creating inclusive environment by implementing UDL principles in my teaching practices, I believe that teaching instructions need to be organized in a way that the students can actively contribute to co-creating inclusive environment. In other words, I am thinking of the accessibility to learning as not something exclusively created by the instructor and delivered to the students. Rather, I prefer to think of accessibility as a part of classroom culture which is collectively co-constructed by all learners as they engage in learning-teaching process.
One of the goals of my research and teaching practice is to develop such curriculum and design such teaching practices. I am planning to design and implement instructions and assignments (in my Social Psychology class this spring) that would allow for collective construction of accessible learning culture of the classroom that would promote equitable education.