Working on a research project at the University of Edinburgh that is meant to explore the notion of space for elearners, namely what does it mean to be at a university (in this case, the University of Edinburgh) without physically being there. How do we position ourselves, orient ourselves as elearners? Some fascinating research that is already producing some rich results. However, that is not why I am here.

My fellow research associate and I have thought about the role of sound in elearning and how sound, in particular, orients us towards ‘work’ or ‘study’, places us in the mindframe of academia much the same as walking through the iron gates of a physical university might orient the student towards intellectual pursuits. Physical campuses are intentionally designed with this mixture of awe and sanctuary, respect and veneration that accelerate intellectual pursuit and enhances learning.

We, as elearners, do much the same with our rituals and routines and we use sensory inputs to place us in a state of mind, a meditation of engagement if you will. Many of us do that with music and we were surprised to discover how rich a vein that was with our fellow elearners. A consistent mention of sound as orienting structure. Dealing with endless streams of information online, one might think that sound would serve as a distraction. Quite the contrary. Depending on the structure of the sound, it organizes chaos into pattern. It is a primer.

And it defines space in a way. Let’s take an example. I go to Google Maps. I study the city of Manchester, UK. I walk the streets in Street View. I orient myself. I know this place as well as I can without traveling there. Then I visit and re-imagine the known with the slightly familiar, slightly peculiar sounds of the city. Some are known, but not known in this context. Some are unknown, but a hint of comforting familiarity looms behind them. Others are oblique and discomforting, disquiet lack of sanctuary. Sounds encompasses all like water on pavement. It is a torrent.

So, to contribute my own slice to an aural landscape, or for lack of a better option, I am going to use the iPhone app for Audioboo and record the ambient sounds of my city, my neighborhood, my bizarre sounding elevator. I want to geolocate these (using the RSS feed from Audioboo and running it through a filter of sorts before bringing it to Google Maps) and demonstrate my world of sound. Imagine doing this on scale, a community, national, or even global scale. Imagine the renewed sense of relearning place when confronted with sensory input as primordial as sound. Imagine the applications for elearning orientation and design.

These Audioboo recordings will make their way to this blog in one form or another. Just so you know what is coming.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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