User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Learning Spaces (School?) as Narrative Architecture

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As a former outdoor educator, I experienced how the physical leaning space contributes to the learning process in the best environment available – the natural one.   See DesignShare,, for more information about importance of learning spaces.

I also believe that a purpose of education and the educator is to provide learners with a framework and skills for directing their own learning (hence the name of this Blog – User-Generated Education).  Part of the process becomes giving the opportunity for learners to develop and share their own unique voice – about how and what they want to learn and actually do learn.

Narrative Architecture and the Learning Space

Today, I heard the term Narrative Architecture for the first time.

From Latin, narrativus means telling a story. In mid 16th century architecture from Latin, architectura means the art or practice of designing and constructing building. Started from both of definitions, narrative architecture means an art of designing and constructing building to tell a story.

If novel, fiction, comic, and folktale tell the story by texts and picture. If painting and photograph tell the story by a great picture. If movie tells the story by moving picture and sounds. Architecture tells the stories without texts, but by geometrical form, space, and materials. Narrative could be translated into architectural form by envelope materials, route, event, rooms, and also smell, sound and light effects.

The essential question becomes, How can the educator create the learning spaces – real life and/or virtual – to elicit the positive power of narrative architecture? This would be a space where learners feel as though they can tell their stories as the producers of their own learning.

Narrative Architecture and Making Meaning

Meaning is not exclusively in the morphological properties of space themselves, nor in the cultural processes of its formation and interpretation, but in the dynamic network of spatial, social, intellectual and professional practices that embody and produce different kinds of social knowledge.

Learners (real life or online) working in collaborative learning spaces will interpret and form the learning space to have personal, and ultimately collective, meaning. They do so in all learning spaces.  Does the learning space create stories of boredom . . .  fear . .  . isolation?  Or does it create stories of engaged and passionate learning experiences?  Because I fully believe that since time spent in any learning space becomes a narrative architecture for the learners, educators should approach that space with intention, knowing that learners will draw from and create meaning in and about that space.

Interestingly, Henry Jenkins used the concept of Narrative Architecture in his ideas regarding interactive gaming.

The game space becomes a memory palace whose contents must be deciphered as the player tries to reconstruct the plot. Game spaces are designed to be rich with narrative potential, enabling the story-constructing activity of players.

This statement can be translated to – have meaning for learning spaces:

The learning space becomes a memory palace whose contents must be deciphered as the learner tries to reconstruct what he or she is attempting to learn. Learning spaces should be designed to be rich with narrative potential, enabling the story-constructing and sense-making activity of learners.

The how-to of creating this Narrative Architecture – whether in real life or online – becomes having the educators and learners co-create this space together – all being equal participants in the process.  The space then becomes part of the learning process – increasing the opportunity and potential for deep and indelible understanding of the learning process and content.

Photo: My 5th-6th students (a few years ago)  creating a blueprint of how the classroom should look.  The classroom was NOT set up for them prior to the beginning of the school year.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 16, 2010 at 12:18 am

One Response

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  1. BTW, I love what you’re doing here…and that you’ve referenced DesignShare in the process. Lovely entry!

    Christian Long

    August 16, 2010 at 1:56 am

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