Private and Public Learning Spaces

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How does the design of physical spaces, virtual experiences, and legal codes form the experience of the public and the private? How do people adapt to changes in the boundaries of private and public - or change the technology? What are the risks and beauty of the hyper-public life? How do we cultivate the freedom and diversity that privacy has maintained?

These questions formed the conversation at the first Hyper-Public symposium sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University on June 9-10, 2011. I had the opportunity to participate and gain valuable insight into how architects, legal scholars, and designers look at the future of spaces both physical and online. Throughout the symposium, I thought about the importance of bringing these conversations into the field of learning spaces. This entry provides food for thought on this topic.

What is the hyper-public life?
In today's connected world, user data is recorded and saved everywhere - online and even off-line. For example, online: Amazon uses past purchases to make recommendations, and Facebook uses profile information to individualize advertisements. 

From twitter: RT @zephoria: Never forget... when a social media site is free (Facebook), you're not the customer, you're the product - @zittrain #bigdata #hyperpublic

Everything we do online can be traced and displayed in this hyper-public forum. We once could separate our online and off-line activities, but those days will soon be over. For example, you could argue that off-line no longer exists: Apple's iPhone records user data based on GPS location while the phone supposedly is turned off (i.e. sleep mode), and public objects in networked cities are using identifiers such as our cellphones to record user data of our supposedly off-line activities (see David Bollier's blog entry on Adam Greenfield's thoughts). This reminds me of all of the movies I've seen over the years (e.g. Enemy of the State) that suggest that big brother can track our movements based on tracers found on our bodies. The tracers today are our digital devices.

How does the hyper-public life shape the design of learning spaces?
If you look at the majority of today's college classrooms, you will find two main items: (1) people (i.e. teachers and students); and (2) devices (i.e. laptop computers, tablets, and cellphones, or a combination of the three). To use these devices,
students ask network administrators for fast wireless network capabilities. Students want to stay connected. Because of this, hybrid courses are much easier to facilitate. Professors can invite students from anywhere in the world - as long as they have an Internet connection - to join class conversations. One of the great examples of this over the past few years has been David Wiley's open content courses. Privacy is no longer defined by the walls of the classroom. Any student in class can be engaged in a conversation outside of those walls. Or the opposite may be true: the professor may invite outside participants by encouraging a backchannel feed on Twitter during class discussions. The image on the right shows the backchannel feed during the fourth session of the symposium featuring (from left to right) Charles Nesson, Nicholas Negroponte and Martin Nowak. Projected in the image is Negroponte's mock-up for his new tablet computer to be used in his One Laptop per Child non-profit organization.

How does the design of learning spaces form the experience of the public and the private?
Jef Huang, Director of the Media x Design Laboratory at EPFL Switzerland, is working on the design of a hyper-public university in the desert of Ras Al Khaimah. His vision is similar to the Rolex Learning Center at EPFL Switzerland, presented in the following video:

Glass provides a low threshold of privacy. The space is more inviting and there are no clear boundaries provided by the space. This is in stark contrast to many brick buildings at a gated campus community. The push in education is to move towards openness and the hyper-public life. I see learning spaces soon following this trend. As scholars in the field of learning spaces, we must engage in conversations around public and private and design future spaces based on these conversations.

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