The Listening of Space: Reimagining The Radio Drama Through Mobile Technology

Pekka Ihanainen and I have been advancing ideas gleaned from our other papers and are working towards finding models for the aesthetic literacies we have discussed there. Basically, we are talking about developing pedagogical models for stimulating mobile learning in open spaces and we keep stumbling to the radio drama (narrative fiction) vs. the podcast (as narrative non-fiction). So we submitted a proposal to the Theorizing the Web conference as follows:

Mobile technology has placed great pressure on both socialized convention and the methods we use to theorize these conventions. The way we interact with others, with our environment, and even with ourselves has evolved, or shifted, as a result of mobile technology. Mobile technology forces reconsiderations of what it means to be alone, to be present, and to be in proximity with others. As the theorizing of mobile space nears maturity, as we begin to see the digital landscape of social and emotional interaction as the norm, we as learners, teachers, and researchers believe there is a need for a participatory pedagogy that fosters an assertive approach to creating learning engagements from open space, to develop contexts for developing presence and proximity from what otherwise might manifest from loneliness and disconnection. Mobile technology has unmoored many of the social practices that girded open space: eye contact, the nod, the etiquette of physical spacing and proximity, connection, the communication and general social interaction. We believe there is a need to begin to redefine these social practices through an active approach, one that positions the technology as an active agent in social engagement. 

Much of this falls under aesthetic literacy. Aesthetic literacy is the capacity for creating interactional context from open space through mobile technology. It emphasizes perceptual sensitivity (the ability to perceive the potential of our immediate surroundings for generating learning) and behavioral rhetorics (being vigilant and attentive to these same open surroundings). It is a conditioning of the mind and body to make use of open space through mobile technology. These steps lead to collage, or the process of actively  composing or remixing meaning using media and dialogue. In this presentation, we detail one method for collaging that addresses this need for participatory pedagogy directly: the radio drama. The radio drama while fairly ubiquitous, technologically driven, and relatively accessible- leaves room for authentic learning better than our visually full packed and ready-made environments. It forces learners to create and reflect on meaning in open space. 

The radio drama represents opportunity for mobile technology and the communication that has emerged as a result, one with a historical precedent. It allows us to reimagine dialogue, presence, proximity, and contextual connections, and emotion away from binaries of the passive position of mobile learner as either a recipient or sender of information towards an approach that is much more interactional as a result of mobile technology: dialogues extend in perpetuity between actors (learners), media and artifacts are incorporated and jettisoned, meaning is assembled and reassembled. Actors perpetually oscillate across continuums of presence, proximity, and (dis)connection. The radio drama presents a method for stimulating aesthetic literacy in often passive participants. It has parallels in more content-driven compositions (informational podcasts) and in ongoing, dialogue-based applications (Whatsapp, Viber, KakaoTalk, WeChat). Our interpretation of radio drama is more compositionally and spatially oriented (moving freely between spaces through audio, video, text, GPS, and image), a communion of the physical and digital in open space.




Sights, sounds, smartphones: impromptu learning on the streets of Amsterdam

The second project involves another collaboration with erstwhile colleagues James Lamb and Jeremy Knox as part of the Visualizing the Street conference in Amsterdam in June. In this one we are basically arguing for building capacity for impromptu learning in urban spaces. Our abstract for this is as follows: 

Mobile technologies provide exciting opportunities for understanding how we interact with our urban environment. This paper will draw on data collected from the streets of Amsterdam to demonstrate how a wander through the city offers impromptu sites for learning when photographs and ambient audio are captured using a Smartphone. 

Our work is grounded in mobilities theory and notions of ‘minor urbanism‘ (Shepard 2013), and our methodology draws on the key critical work in mobile learning by Sharples et al. (2009), particularly in how it allows learners to “artfully engage with their surroundings to create impromptu sites of learning.” At the same time our analysis of the data is guided by multimodality, with its interest in the way that photographs, sounds and other semiotic resources combine to communicate meaning (see in particular Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001). This is an emerging methodology for engaging and visualizing urban space, where Baudelairean flanerie is reconfigured as digital, multimodal autoethnography.

Our paper will see us visiting Amsterdam immediately prior to the conference in order to enact our methodology and produce findings for presentation. This field exercise will build upon an earlier successful activity in London (January 2015), from which we will outline instances of impromptu learning, as well as describe how an attention to aural ambient data problematised some of our immediate visual impressions of the city. We argue that by studying the gathered snapshots and soundclips in juxtaposition, we become aware that urban spaces produce discord and incoherence in a way that is not always evident when we consider a photograph in isolation. Our audience will be invited to consider how an attention to the combined effects of the captured photographs and sounds influences how they understand the street corners, canals and cafes of Amsterdam’s streets.

These projects might seem disparate on first glance, but they, and a new project exploring multimodal composition, are all drawing from the same well of urban cartographies and the possibility provided by mobile technology in writing/composing those spaces.

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.

16 thoughts on “Remixing Narrative Content for a mLearning World and Visualizing the Street”
  1. Hi Michael,

    I’ve always been intrigued by your chosen path of study, and when you pop up on my Twitter feed and I have time I try to have a look. (Today’s a snow day; no school) On the whole I agree with the value of the ideas that you explore and the conclusions that you draw. But at the same time, I’ve always wondered what you feel sets your approaches apart from what normally inquisitive people do as they walk through cities. We see things and try to learn more about them, don’t we?

    As individuals, we’ll each find a different set of images and information to educate ourselves with.

    None of us will ever experience the location in the same way.

    I suppose the experience can be ‘flattened out’ somewhat if we experience the location in immersive virtual reality, but even then our experiences and biology will affect which parts of the information we respond to and focus on.

    I suppose what I am curious about is that although I find your research fascinating, I’m not clear on the aim. It’s something I actually spend some time considering, especially when I’m in a new city. I notice all the sights and sounds and smells and invariably as I proceed along my train of thought I remember snippets of the projects you and Jeremy and James have brought to my attention, and I wonder again where you’re all going with it.

    So today, as it’s a snow day and I’ve spent the afternoon working on maps and considering local planning decisions, I thought I’d ask.

    1. Hello there, Bo. Good to hear from you and I hope all is well. These are all good points and helpful in helping us articulate what it is we are setting about to do here. To begin, and in answer to some of your points, it is highly emergent and exploratory, i.e. we have no idea if this is anything or indeed even something useful. That is an open question so remains to be seen, but I do know that these technologies are providing the opportunity for reworking some pedagogy to reflect the lived world of learners. To broach the gap a bit between what we learn formally and what we experience informally in our lived worlds. And that ultimately is where my interests are: pedagogy. I see this as forming the backdrop of a new set of pedagogies designed to stimulate attentiveness (for lack of a better word; I refer to it in other papers as aesthetic literacy, but still not sure what to call it) amidst the banality of the everyday. So while you and I might notice snippets or sounds and smells from a new place (or even on our daily routines), I believe there is a secondary step that might be stimulated where we take those observations, recordings, reflections and bring that into our formal instruction and learning. So I suppose what we are really doing here is looking for organic models that might be used to parallel or support formal instruction that might be enacted in our everyday worlds. I can’t speak for the others but first and foremost I am a teacher so most of my research revolves around how I can stimulate learning in whatever technology might be available in whatever environments the students find themselves in. I have a parallel interest in the media and compositions generated as a result of these activities but mostly I am looking for organic pedagogies that can be enacted in daily worlds. With the students I work with at my university in Korea, I have generated some interest results from this activity that directly supports or even supplants the classroom instruction I am doing there. That is basically where we are with this. Thanks for taking the time to post!

      1. Thanks Michael, and sorry it’s taken a while to respond. I suppose for both of us working in Asia the distinction between formal and informal is pretty rigid, and it’s interesting to find ways to help our students become aware that not all learning is/needs to be formal. I sometimes experience students who don’t count my lessons as ‘education’ if there’s no rote learning going on.
        Right now I’m developing overseas programs for engineering post-grads, and in the first iteration last year they spent a few weeks involved in learning experiences at State universities in California. Because they’re older, and already have established knowledge in their fields, they were more aware of the teaching process than a first or second year undergrad would be, and they were fascinated and intrigued by a more participative pedagogy.

        Right now the buzzword in our uni is ‘active learning’ by which they mean involving students in their education: making learning objectives clear and introducing rubrics. It’ll be interesting to see how this goes. My background isn’t engineering, it’s education, and I will be working on improving English language skills in the Graduate School from next year. For that to work I’m going to need to implement a lot of ‘informal’ learning, as there is no mandate for extensive language education in a graduate school of science and engineering, even though there’s certainly a need.

        Some of the ideas you describe would work really well for Architecture students. Do you conduct yours in English? Or Korean? As parts of what kinds of courses?

        My interests are pedagogical, but I’m also quite interested in architecture and urban design, and I often wonder about ways to make the urban environment more useful for city dwellers, especially in terms of helping people learn.

        Thanks for responding!

        1. Hello there Bo,

          Absolutely, I think the Asian aspect of this is pronounced in my thinking. The differences between formal and informal being so rigid, I find myself constantly looking for ways to break those divides down. No small feat, as you know. As for my university, my courses are taught entirely in English. It is a Foreign Studies university, which I suspect Japan is similar in that it is a catch-all term for all things non-Korean (languages, international studies, regional studies, diplomacy, our university trains many if not most of the foreign service people). So teaching in English is the standard, although the other departments teach in their target language as well (I think we have like 60-70 languages being taught). So I have lots of curricular freedom to explore different approaches as long as I hit my marks/departmental goals.

          And the urban part of this is absolutely riveting to me. I think there is a relationship there between citizen and urban space that we are only just starting to uncover. I am not sure how skilled I am at uncovering, but I am enthusiastic. And there are few more dynamic places to explore this than Asian metropolises, right?

          1. I just watched your video and went ‘ohhhh, you’re a video artist!’ That video wouldn’t be out of place in a gallery, or as part of an MFA.

            What you’re doing is interesting, and if you find other areas of academia are having a hard time grasping it in depth, you’ll find a very receptive academic audience in any art school. There might even be funding for it in the arts.

            Just a passing initial thought, anyway.

  2. Thanks for your comments and questions, Bo. They have usefully prompted me to articulate what it is that that Michael, Jeremy and I do when we get together for these exercises (or at least, my take on what we do).

    ‘None of us will ever experience the location in the same way. I suppose the experience can be ‘flattened out’ somewhat if we experience the location in immersive virtual reality, but even then our experiences and biology will affect which parts of the information we respond to and focus on.’

    I don’t think we’ve ever claimed that everyone experiences the city in the same way. Our interest is in devising ways of thinking about our interaction with the city, not trying to propose that there’s a single truth waiting to be uncovered. What you suggest about the different ways we respond to the information is one of the things that makes this really interesting. For instance, as we wander the city Jeremy, Michael and I will often capture different sights and sounds. It’s when we sit down later that night to look through all the data that patterns, as well as contrasts, come to the surface.

    ‘I’ve always wondered what you feel sets your approaches apart from what normally inquisitive people do as they walk through cities. We see things and try to learn more about them, don’t we?’

    I can’t speak for the pursuits of normally inquisitive people, however I suggest our approach differs in that we set out with the intention of experiencing-and-capturing what we see and hear, before going on to study and then share the different sights, sounds and experiences we encountered. But I certainly wouldn’t suggest that we are somehow better than normally inquisitive people, rather that we have our own ways of thinking about our interaction with the city, an interest that others share:

    Thanks again for your interest in this, Bo – it’s really useful to stop and remind myself what it is that we’re doing here.

    All the best,


    1. James, thanks for your reply.
      When I posted I was only musing aloud, no criticism intended. I’m genuinely really interested in what you’re doing and just want to know more.

      As I mentioned in my reply to Michael, I’ve got a side interest in architecture and urban planning, and from that perspective, urban spaces can have a quite formalised vocabulary. Many of our experiences in a city are quite constructed, but there is also the extremely personal in our experience. That crossover space between the personal experience and the constructed one is intriguing.

      Maybe that doesn’t really have a bearing on anything, but it’s what keeps bringing me back to Michael’s blog from time to time.

      That, and it’s nice to know what other people are up to. It sounds like you’ve found something fun and interesting to explore, and I’m glad you’re sharing it, because it gives me things to think about too.

      So thank you for taking the time to answer.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I’m in my second year of the MScDE program and loving the experience of learning with such an amazing group of tutors and students. I teach Japanese literature at a small college in Atlanta. I’m taking six students on a ten day course to Japan in May called Tokyo Explorations. Four themes will guide our explorations:

    Cultural memory — how does Tokyo tell the story of its past through monuments, museums and public events?

    Social norms and expectations — how does Tokyo impart ideas about work, play, national identity and the social order?

    Mobilities — how is Tokyo a network of interdependent “bodies on the move” — commuters, consumers, tourists, international students, sports fans, migrant populations, the homeless?

    The digital city — how does physical Tokyo intersect with technology, media and the digital?

    I hope to take a page or two from your book as I design the activities for the course. I’m still not up to speed with mobile learning theory, so baby steps for now. Anyway, really looking forward to seeing where these projects take you.



    1. Hello there, Bob. Pleasure to meet you and good to hear you are on the MScDE course; still a highlight of my education. The Japanese course you describe sounds fantastic; would love to learn more. My thesis revolves around some of the questions you are asking here about how social expectations pattern a lot of this activity and about the different kind of mobilities emerging from all of this. As far as I can tell you are definitely on the right track. I did a workshop in Helsinki a few years back that did some of these same things as well, which actually served as inspiration for the book. Happy to help if I can Bob so don’t hesitate to let me know!

      1. Hi Michael,

        Thank you for your reply, and for the workshop link. I’m sure I’ll find it useful.


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