I am working on a research project at the University of Edinburgh, specifically the MSc in Elearning program, which is out to investigate what space and geography means to online learners. It was my experience that geography was indeed very important and that learning online is not a negation of space, but rather a reapplication of it towards a broader (?) canvas serving as a vehicle for communication.
I spent two years on a program and was curious each and every day about the physical space itself. The University of Edinburgh. The city. The train station. The walk to the Moray House. All of it fascinated me. How I felt a part of the university. How I felt a part of my course and my community. It all just felt right.
And now, working on this research project after having graduated, after listening to stories of people and their arrivals ‘at’ the University of Edinburgh (despite for many never having physically seen the city or the school), I feel wistful for the learning and camaraderie I experienced there. I miss it. I am nostalgic for a ‘place’ I constructed, we constructed, entirely online. In feverish blog posts, discussion boards, Twitter threads, Skype tutorials, and more. I am (intellectually and communally) homesick.
The first and only time I saw the city and University of Edinburgh was for my graduation. It was a pilgrimage to a seat in my intellectual journey. It was closure. I miss it, like I miss the comfort of my home at a young age, or the flush of fall in Princeton. Inviting.
I am sentimental for a place I have seen once, well after the substance of the sentiment had been established. So, tell me where that emotive substance comes from online? Tell me a place doesn’t exist, and tell me these are what learning spaces will look like online? If you are in them and participating, you will know you are ‘at’ a place. It is real.