The Relationship between People, Space, Activities and Artefacts

I have been thinking more about my intended research project as well as bouncing ideas and talking to colleagues about it as well. One of the recurring themes was a person or a groups relationship to and between space (physical, virtual or both?). These relationships could occur between:

  • Student to Student
  • Student to Peer Group
  • Student to Tutor
  • Peer Group to Peer Group
  • Peer Group to Tutor

It reminded me of some journal articles that I read as part of my “Space, Place and Technology” wiki articles for the “Psychological and Social Contexts of e-Learning” module. Specifically, this regards Nova (2005, p. 119) who proposes that when “dealing with the concept of space in collective situations“, it should be considered through the lens of a number of dimensions:

  • Person to Person
  • Person to Artefact
  • Person to Place
  • Space, Place and Activity
  • Space and Artefacts
  • Space and Time

The “Space, Place and Technology” wiki articles are now converted into an “as is” electronic paper version on Issuu, if you wish to find out more about these dimensions. We can represent these dimension using the following illustration.

Using Physical and Virtual Spaces

What we are looking at are fixed physical spaces are depicted as solid circles whereas transient physical spaces are denoted with dashed circles. Each circle is inhabited by people with some form of information and communication device like a desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone or PDA; also present are a number of “artefacts” represented by the orange star and the green diamond – these “artefacts” could be a chair, table, books, or Interactive White Boards. As depicted in the diagram, some “spaces” can overlap and be shared. Each information and communication device is connected to one or more virtual spaces as depicted by the computer servers inside a blue dashed cloud formation. These virtual spaces could be blogs, wikis, virtual environments, web pages and such like.

In terms of thinking about methodology, some ethnographic approach could be considered, but as Cousin (2009, p. 109) warns us:

At first sight, it might seem that anyone can do ethnography but doing it well requires familiarity with a theoretical field, a set of research skills and perhaps, above all, … an ‘enlightened eye’

Cousin (ibid) goes to say that “ethnography is not so much about studying people as learning from them“. In their joint Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)?in Creativity project called inQbate, the Universities of Sussex and Brighton have created “two creativity zones” which offers “exciting opportunities for students to work in spaces that foster collaborative, self-directed and experiential learning“.

The methodology for capturing how students reacted to and interacted within the space and with eachother was to use Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).This is a relatively recent qualitative approach developed specifically within psychology by Jonathan A. Smith, a Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London. IPA concerns itself by:

…trying to understand lived experience and with how participants themselves make sense of their experiences. Therefore it is centrally concerned with the meanings which those experiences hold for the participants.

I am not really considering IPA but it does demonstrate some of the deep and rich approaches to data collection and analysis. What has caught my eye, however, is something called Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) which is a theory about the link between attitudes and behaviour. TPB is a quantitative approach developed by Icek Ajzen, a Professor of Psychology at Amherst, University of Massachusetts. It was Siragusa & Dixon (2009) paper for the Ascilite 2009 conference where they were using questionnaire items related to components of the TPB to determine students’ attitudes and planned use of ICT-based instruction. Like any methodology, TPB has its’ advocates and detractors.

It has been suggested to me that I could develop a case study. But in the meantime, I think I will look into TPB to see if it has any real value.


Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education (6th Edition). New York, London: Routledge.

Cousin, G. (2009). Researching Learning in Higher Education. New York, London: Routledge.

Norton, L.S. (2009). Action Research in Teaching & Learning. New York, London: Routledge.

Nova, N. (2005). “A Review of How Space Affords Socio-Cognitive Processes during Collaboration”. PsychNology Journal, 3(2): 118-148.

Robson, C. (2002). Real World Research (2nd Edition). Malden, MA; Oxford; Carlton, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing.

Siragusa, L. & Dixon, K.C. (2009). “Theory of planned behaviour: Higher education students’
attitudes towards ICT-based learning interactions”. In Same places, different spaces. Proceedings ascilite Auckland 2009. Available at: [Accessed 02.02.2010].