Knox, D. and Fincher, S. (2013). Why does place matter?. In: Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education. New York, USA: ACM, pp. 171-176. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2462476.2465595.
In this paper, through the use of two vignettes, we present a viewpoint on the concepts of `space' and `place' in an computing context. The first vignette is about a Technicians' Room, where the computer support staff and network infrastructure of a school are located. Although the room's purpose is to provide computing services and technical support to the school, five students are frequently in the room during their free time. The second vignette illustrates an apprenticeship scheme to train computer support engineers. By utilising existing literature, we develop a model to aid in the description of the kinds of learning that occur in these places and argue that, by better understanding the role of space and place, we can improve our understanding of practice in an academic context.
Much of the existing literature on space and practice originates from the fields of human geography, urban sociology and architecture. Seminal contributors to these fields including: Tuan (Tuan 1977), Edwards (Edwards and Usher 2003), Dourish (Harrison and Dourish 1996), and Hall (Hall 1990), and they provide useful terminology and applications for defining space and the interactions that occur within them.
For many of these writers, a 'space' is just a physical volume that provides the opportunity for human interactions to occur, whereas a 'place' is the lived-experience of those human interactions - that is, 'places' are 'spaces' that are invested with meaning, identity and practice.
Despite the large quantity of literature from other fields on the study of space, it has received limited attention and application in the fields of Higher Education and Computing Education. When research on place has been conducted, it is generally concerned with the physical design and perception of spaces. Addressing this research gap and obtaining a deeper understanding of students' use of physical and virtual spaces, will give us a richer picture of their engagement during their academic study. Understanding why students go to certain places rather than others, the practice that happens in these places and how spaces become associated with certain types of culture and activities, will better inform our pedagogical approach to teaching computing.