Human Posture, Place-Based Learning, and Mobile Technologies: Some Introductory Ruminations.

In which we uncover some taken-for-granted presumptions. In addition, in which, we discover some parallels between Western and Indigenous philosophies and hence some potential alliances for each in making their respective cases and even perhaps in working together. Finally, in which we play with some cheap-and-cheerful devices and technologies in both the classroom and the field and so further complicate the boundaries between the classroom, real life, roles, and relationships.

My introduction to course work at University of Alaska Fairbanks was Ray Barnhardt’s Culture, Ray Barnhardt pictureCurriculum and Community course. Ray is a fierce advocate for Alaska Native knowledge. One element of this knowledge is that it is specific to a particular place-time. I was surprised that this was not taken for granted. My assumptions arose from graduate studies in philosophy in the early Picture of David Bohm90’s. There we read about quantum mechanics, Boehm on the holomovement for one example. We also viewed computer-generated fractal art, read chaos theory, and closer to my heart and relative sophistication I read about bioregionalism. All of these sources contributed to a rationalization of local knowledge, perhaps out of proportion to its relative size, for example, we now speak of videos, tweets, or posts that go “viral.” Then we imagined the butterfly wing flap in Brazil that caused a hurricane in Tampa. Therefore, to be in Ray’s class 25 years later and to hear people struggling to articulate place-based knowledge and struggling to legitimize it, simply set me on my heels; I took it as assumed that these arguments were already made. That said there is some fun to be had in making those arguments again and with the slant, this assignment provides, that is aimed at mobile learning and mobile technology.

John A. Schumacher in this book Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry unpacks the privileged monolog and position of Western metaphysics and epistemology. He argues that a God-like posture, all-seeing, is an artifice, that collapses as we move through theories of relativity to quantum Picture of John A. Schumachermechanical descriptions. Rather, now we have to include our posture and our literal location as we define our inquiries; said differently, place-time (nor are they reducible to independent terms) does not cancel out as we work our equations. (This is an oversimplification. His book takes 259 pages to make his argument.) Therefore, acknowledging these arguments, we must sacrifice our schemes for a grand and unified theory. Yet, what do we gain?

Turning to a shorter work, Design in Movement: The Prospects of Interdisciplinary Design, Bronet and Schumacher collaborate, working interdisciplinarily between philosophy, architecture, and pedagogy.

Design in movement is a complement to traditional architectural design in space. Design in movement allows us to experience, through our bodies, in a way that challenges our deeply ingrained visual culture. If we design, in this visual culture without being able to call the culture into question, we do not take advantage of the full range of design’s liberative potential: it is one thing to design so as to refuse any single authoritative reading in space, but another to discover an alternative to reading itself. We are investigating how design in movement can motivate new ways of liberative building and inhabiting that challenge the hegemony of design in space (1999, 97).

From this, we begin to learn Bronet and Schumacher’s specialized vocabulary. A vocabulary that I think is important to develop before we delve into mobile learning. Space is no longer taken for granted but vexed by these two. Movement is celebrated, perhaps privileged, over reading. Reading signifies a negative return to a taken for granted type of inquiry, an inquiry that necessarily privileges our visual culture. Bronet and Schumacher offer the Hopi as exemplary of the kind of spatial participation they are seeking to understand and employee because of its disruptive value.

…”Distance includes what we call time in the sense of the temporal relations between events which have already happened. The Hopi conceive of time and motion in the objective realm in a purely operational sense — a matter of the complexity and magnitude of operations connecting events — so that the element of time is not separated from whatever element of space enters into the operations.” 5 Hopi descriptions, to use Warriner’s terms, organizes movements rather than presents a tableau. (1999, 97)

Hence, one element of our critical theory is to seek moments, tools, and disruptive practices that are about organizing movements rather than presenting a snapshot, a still life, a view. As a quick summary of the tension, they are trying to create, I offer an illustration from this article.


Chart from Bronet and Schumacher

Therefore, this conceptual architecture served Bronet and Schumacher as they developed a pedagogical experiment in design and philosophy.

In our experiment with dance/design, therefore, we also tried to blur the distinction between the designers’ bodies and their movements, on the one hand, and the dancers’ bodies and their movements, on the other. In the main project, Dance Infusion, six seven-member teams of first-year architecture students were each asked to design an inhabitable installation that responded to the concept of movement determining space that is to space-in-the-making. The movements that determines the space was to be performed by dancers, who were themselves involved all along in the studio, as critics and as performers. And, finally, the students were led, through exercises, to blur the distinction between designing and building as well. (1999, 101)

My point here is not to fully summarize Bronet and Schumacher, but instead to aggressively borrow and develop a critical theory from them. For my purposes here, we will stipulate that these elements in the movement column are what I am seeking to develop in my own pedagogy of mobile learning. This is a self-conscious privileging for the sake of critical discourse. Bronet and Schumacher experimented with a first-year design course; here I will experiment with Chris Dede (and team’s) EcoMuve and EcoMobile projects.



I am at first seduced by the EcoMuve module. However, the power of strangeness that Bronet and Schumacher’s vocabulary invoke inspires me to critical reflection. The opening scene is a standard computer classroom organized in ranks and rows, each student at once isolated and visible. The classroom organized for the teacher’s convenience. The classroom is a ready-made-space, with ready-made-status. We turn to the lesson on the computer and it gives primacy to the eye, and to space (a simulated world, hence one that is read). As the student moves the mouse we have a tiny bit of vertigo, a tiny throwback to eyes-moving-with-the head, alas, a pop-up text box interrupts our wonder in the virtual world and we slip back to reading. Soon, the linear plot introduces a minor villain who inadvertently is causing eutrophication in the pond and we see political authority and ready-made-justice. Yet all the while the nerdy gamer in me is loving what Harvard has done with this program. Better game developers could raise the level making it open-ended, letting one switch roles, better graphics, and UI. Yet, I think the criticism still stands.



I suspect our program developers at Harvard felt misgivings, too, and chaffed a bit at the implicit map-territory error. Once we get past the talking head, and the classroom scene, we see a group of youngsters walking in the woods. The trip is augmented with cheap-and-cheerful smartphones keeping the hardware within the budgets of most schools. The FreshAir augmented reality software is likewise accessible, cheap-and-cheerful, costing $20.00 per month for 30 users, but also easy to use for curricula designers; finally, they have low-cost Texas Instruments NSpires with Vernier probes collection devices. Being cheap we have to imagine things not always running smoothly with the interface, and indeed the narrator tells about peer-to-peer learning. But wait, let me invoke our critical vocabulary: recall that in the virtual pond one could walk into the pond and on its bottom, the political boundaries, the artifice of a kind omnipotence, whereas in the real world, you get muddy and wet if you trespass the natural shore-water boundary. We see the young people moving their eyes with their heads, even as they insert the phone and its additional information between themselves and the world. It is easy to see the enthusiasm the learners experience as they do real science, in the real world. Certainly, the teachers have constrained the scope, but the associations the learners are making about other applications, other uses are evident. My absolute favorite moment in the video is at 3:43. This young person, lacking the vocabulary of movement is attempting to celebrate the day’s learning and to criticize previous classroom time. Spontaneously, this youngster starts to articulate the difference.

Augmented reality is frequently demonstrated in an urban landscape, showing us places to eat, or telling us about historical landmarks, and sometimes creative or subversive uses connect graffiti with interpretive and polemic.


So, yes, what possible use could this distracting, consumerist toy offer serious learners? Both Alaska’s struggles with remembering place-names and the EcoMobile team inspired me to imagine my smartphone on the tundra. Where mountains and trees, salmon and bears, become hotspots, and language, culture, and science swirled together as seductively as Spiderman beating the Hulk….

I have held the tension long enough and here it truly becomes important to define some terms. First, “place-based education” in Wikipedia, offers us this:

Place-based education seeks to help communities through employing students and school staff in solving community problems. Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning. Thus, place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place[2] —that is, in students’ own “place” or immediate schoolyard, neighborhood, town or community.

Certainly, ethnicity and culture bear strongly on an Alaska Native understanding of this notion and practice.

The second term I have employed without definition is “augmented reality.” So that we are comparing apples-to-apples, Wikipedia offers this definition of “augmented reality:”

Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality , in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

Interestingly, implicit in each definition is an alignment with our chart above. “Place-based education” resonates with elements in the “movement” column. “Augmented reality” seems more closely aligned with elements in the “space” column. Perhaps, then our way forward is like the Buddha, a third way, the “tensive play of eye and movement” that Bronet and Schumacher summarize. Perhaps instead we employ place-based education and augmented reality in ways that each keeps the other honest. Perhaps we can avoid slipping into the excesses of either by navigating both.

In my opening, I mention reading bio-regionalist thought back in the 90’s and hence part of why I assumed the argument for place-based pedagogy was made. An excellent summary of bioregional thought is displayed in this quiz (Charles et al., 1981):

  1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.
  2. How many days til the moon is full? (Slack of2 days allowed.)
  3. What soil series are you standing on?
  4. What was the total rainfall in your area last year (July-June)? (Slack: 1 inch for every 20 inches.)
  5. When was the last time a fire burned in your area?
  6. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?
  7. Name 5 edible plants in your region and their season(s) of availability.
  8. From what direction do winter storms generally, come in your region?
  9. Where does your garbage go?
  10. How long is the growing season where you live?
  11. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
  12. When do the deer rut in your region, and when are the young born?
  13. Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?
  14. Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.
  15. What is the land use history of where you live?
  16. What primary ecological event/process influenced the landform where you live? (Bonus special: what’s the evidence?)
  17. What species have become extinct in your area?
  18. What are the major plant associations in your region?
  19. From where you’re reading this, point north.
  20. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

Before I accept this at face value, I want to think about it in light of the vocabulary that Bronet and Schumacher provide us. I worry that this quiz could easily slip into “knowledge as a tableau.” I could Google the answers to all of these questions. We inhabit a data-rich era. However, what if instead of “trace” our water, which smacks of a pencil and paper exercise, we must literally follow our water. We begin standing in the rain. We follow the run-off, to a stream, to a lake, and because we know the answer to question three, we know how that water enters our aquifer. Because we hand-dug, or at least watched curiously while our well was drilled, and because we know how the submersible pump works, and our homes’ pressure system, we can say we followed our drinking water to its origin. To my mind, this paragraph answers the letter of the law and the activity of “following my water” fulfills the spirit of the quiz. Moreover, I think that demonstrates how this quiz operates in the tensive moment between “space” and “movement” as Bronet and Schumacher define them.

I think this insight is important because this coursework, this assignment is aimed at training me to be an instructional designer focused on the online environment. We are already predisposed to visual tropes, to the artifice of an all-seeing, all-knowing epistemology. Our information technology with its graphical user interface seduces us further in this direction. How can we design our curriculum and our learning modules to interrupt, self-reflexively, to make learners aware of themselves and their devices moving in the real world? How can we write lessons that scale learners into the roles they are seeking to take on – scientist to Scientist, perhaps? Since this was exactly the work that Bronet and Schumacher were involved in, though not online, it seems worthwhile to circle back to their article and see how the first-year design students fared with this challenge. We recall that they divided the class into six seven-member teams. Each team was charged with designing an “inhabitable installation that responded to the concept of movement determining space.” The test, as it were, (actually a feedback cycle, with opportunities for revision) was that groups of contact improvisation dancers then inhabited the installations. Wikipedia defines “Contact improvisation” in this way:

Contact improvisation is a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation.[1] Contact Improvisation is a form of dance improvisation and is one of the best-known and most characteristic forms of postmodern dance.[2]

Therefore, in this case, the mobile technology is this form of dance improvisation; the reality is augmented or designed by our aspiring design students (the boundary violation is reversed bringing the outside inside). At the end of the article Bronet and Schumacher review and evaluate each group’s (or perhaps report on these) relative success with the assignment. For our purposes here I am most interested in the groups that struggled in the middle, not those that failed or succeeded. Here we will review one of those projects called the Dichotomy Project.

The Dichotomy Project, which was most impressive visually in terms of form, lighting, and so on, could be read all at once. It consisted of two amorphously shaped, stretched-fabric-over-wood forms seated on electronically triggered ramps that responded to pressure by lighting up specific quadrants of the set…. The location of the audience and the stage like configuration of the elements immediately set up a scenario of viewing all-at-once. This scenario was consistent with the dancers’ interpretation of the space and the difficulty they had developing sequences that were not spatially predictable; we could anticipate how they would use the forms. (1999)

As a lifelong student, I recognize the damning death-knell of grading in the phrase “a scenario of viewing all-at-once.” I know that we failed. However, it seems these learners failed-forward. So, as an aspiring designer of online learning, what can I learn from them? They did not vex the roles of audience-participant sufficiently but rather, at a glance, I can recognize the performance space. That error forces roles and predictability on and within the performance.  Perhaps, they did not test their installation sufficiently with the dancers and audience, both in practice and in mind. We see this in the phrase, “dancers’ … the difficulty they had developing sequences that were not spatially predictable.” However, it is the “electronically triggered ramps… {and} lighting…” that salvages this installation for the learners and the dancers and ultimately for the audience.

The person-bodies were quite independent of the architectural bodies. The minimal manipulation of elements on site during layout, construction, and test-inhabitation may have contributed to the predictability of movement…. For example, when the performers figured out the triggers for the lights they began to use those, and found rhythms with one another between their feet on the ramps and the lights going on and off. The props and the bodies referred to one another, with an in-the-making quality that began to establish them as aspects of an order of movement rather than as aspects of a ready-made space. (1999)

The praise is evident when Bronet and Schumacher say that: “the bodies referred to one another, with an in-the-making quality…”(1999). Therefore, as a designer, I want my mobile technology and augmented reality to rupture the boundaries between class and community. However, imagine an EcoMobile learner at the pond and a passer-by asks her what she is doing and as a result together they engage in learning. The roles are negotiated, as the youngster explains the smartphone and augmented reality assignment and some facts about the pond. Imagine the passer-by asking a question that the youngster cannot answer, but through logic and troubleshooting they together work out the answer. Our EcoMobile narrator seems unflustered and poised yet we know that on a field-trip with technology that we, as the “teachers,” are going to have to “wing-it.” If we are open to a permeable boundary (we are comfortable with our own role as learners) then exchanging roles with the younger folks as we-together-step in the co-making of mobile learning will become a contact improvisation.

As a designer, I am also looking for the unpredictability of movement. For example, learners using the TI probes to sample other water sources, adjacent puddles, or a home water source. I need to ask questions about the smartphone and the software used out of context. Will the AR recognize a bear, for example outside the linear narrative I have imagined? If I am viewing a landscape, 2 miles to the west, will the AR still recognize the shape of the mountain and offer the correct indigenous place-name? What happens when I imagine an AR that is modifiable perhaps like Wikipedia, where the content grows out of the users’ interactions? How can the functions and features of the hardware/software create opportunities for online interactions? How does the onboard GPS help us to refine and develop both content and potential interactivity?  What happens to our content when mobile devices are in proximity and “recognize” each other?

I am merely touching the surface of these topics however, I am unconvinced that simply using mobile technology will inspire a radical learning experience. Rather, the assumptions which we approach a course design and instruction have to be called into question, perhaps even mugged and left in history’s back alley. I think Bronet and Schumacher provide us a vocabulary and they have piloted a fruitful route.  However, the work is not all done.  In 1999 they did not imagine the ubiquity of mobile devices, nor the pressures on higher education to move towards online education. So, it remains for us to move this critical theory into our practice as designers and architects of learning.


Augmented reality. (2016, Oct. 18). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 18, 2016,

Bohm, D., (December 1971) Quantum theory as an indication of a new order in physics. Part A. The development of new orders as shown through the history of physics. Foundations of Physics , Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 359–381.

Bohm, D., (June 1973) Quantum theory as an indication of a new order in physics. B. Implicate and explicate order in physical law. Foundations of Physics , Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 139–168.

Bronet, F., & Schumacher, J. (1999). Design in Movement: The Prospects of Interdisciplinary Design. Journal Of Architectural Education53(2), 97-109. doi:10.1162/104648899564475

Charles, L., Dodge, J, Milliman, L., and Stockley, V., (Winter 1981) Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz. Coevolution Quarterly 32: 1.

Contact Improvisation. (2016, Oct. 20). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 20, 2016

Place-based education. (2016, Oct. 18). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from

Schumacher, J. A., (1989), Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry, Albany, NY: SUNY Press.