Today we welcome to the Mosaic Blog our Mosaic Initiative Post-Doc Researcher, Merve Basdogan. Merve recently defended her PhD in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. In this first blog of the new year, Merve shares her personal academic journey to becoming an Educational Technologist who researches the importance of space design.
An Academic Origin Story
“I was born in Turkey and grew up with five sisters who made my first social network. As a child, I remember watching the cartoon “Inspector Gadget” with my elder siblings and being fascinated how the character can turn his body into almost anything. This cyborg man (i.e., I did not know this term back then) can extend his arms and legs in any direction, transform his body into any shape, fly and move at unusual speeds, and turn his hands and feet into limitless tools. I think since an early age, I have always enjoyed thinking and dreaming about technology, its boundaries, and how it can transform daily lives.
I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Computer Education and Instructional Technology (CEIT) Education at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. In choosing this program, I had mixed thoughts about what exactly an educational technologist or instructional designer does since the graduates of the programs work in very different professions. In my second year at college, I attended a poster design competition organized and run by the CEIT students in Turkey annually. The theme was “What is being an educational technologist?” Today, I searched for that poster nearly three hours in my archived local folders, e-mail history, and old USB sticks from 2009. And I found it! It was so funny to see that I described an educational technologist as Inspector Gadget who can design and use multiple pedagogies, evaluate a variety of curriculums, and develop multimedia materials. In other words, I imagined an educational designer as someone who solves mysterious educational problems (such as student engagement) with diverse techniques and fit to any context.
Since 2009, I have been asking the same questions and my answers have been changing based on my experiences in the field. To bring a scientific interpretation to this this question, my colleagues and I carried out a job posting analysis and tried to understand who an educational technologist is by comparing four other job titles. The study was published in the Journal of Qualitative Report in 2020.
Becoming a Learning Space Design Researcher
In addition to my “educational technologist” self, I also define myself as a learning space design researcher. For me, being a researcher is a kind of freedom space in which you can decide the topic you want to explore, the method that you want to use, and the scholars who you want to read their works and collaborate with. The travels to conferences in various lovely cities are also the cherry on the cake that allow you to meet with new people and expand your research skills and network.
After moving from Turkey to the USA for my doctoral education, I better understood the significance of mobility in academia. Stepping outside of my comfort zone and attempting to adopt to countless differences are some of the unique opportunities that contributed to my researcher identity. This physical and social mobility contributed significantly to my researcher identity development process through continuous knowledge reconstruction and self-reflection.
Mosaic Initiative Post Doc
Currently, I am a postdoctoral research associate at Indiana University in the Mosaic Initiative. In this position, I collaborate with Dr. Tracey Birdwell to better understand teaching and learning within innovative learning spaces. Indiana University’s seven campuses and buildings are our researchers’ landscape where we create and develop different classroom designs, collect data, and try to discover the best learning environments that provide effective and equitable learning opportunities for all people.
This post-doc position has been an extremely fascinating opportunity for me to contemplate on the notion of “learning space.“ For example, I realized that space is not only a container in which we live but also an alive entity. It has cultural, social, political, psychological, and historical aspects. In other words, the learning space “serves as a tool of thought and of action” (Lefebvre, 1991). When I enter a classroom, I can identify not only the institutional and disciplinary culture but also the represented pedagogical values. The technological resources, the location and types of the furniture, the orientation of the tables and chairs, the size of the windows, light, heat, acoustics, and so on… They will all tell you something if you wear your researcher eyeglasses.
Working with Mosaic Faculty Fellows is also another pleasant part of my postdoctoral job in the Mosaic Initiative. Helping faculty how to utilize both physical and digital spaces for diverse curricular purposes has been a good two-way thinking practice for me. I can observe faculty’s knowledge reconstruction and reflection processes as well as get their perspectives related to designing learning spaces for an unknown future. For example, over the past summer, The Mosaic Initiative held a Design Symposium on the design of future outdoor classrooms. The prototype outdoor classrooms drawn by faculty showed that their needs, expectations, and concerns are diverse for the future higher education students with changing identities and learning preferences.
Learning Space Researcher
In one of the recent studies, Dr. Birdwell and I investigated spatial understandings of Mosaic Faculty Fellows by analyzing their reflective portfolios written between 2018-2020. Our motivation was to explore how “space” is consciously or unconsciously experienced by faculty in active learning classrooms. It was interesting to find out that four different space forms, including: (1) perceived space, (2) conceived space. (3) lived space, and (4) cultivated space, emerged from faculty narratives. With this study, we hoped to bring a philosophical debate to the active learning classroom design literature. It is currently under review, and we believe that the novel concept of cultivated space might have important implications for faculty development programs on innovative learning spaces in higher education.
To sum up, like all other built environments, classrooms preserve values and meanings about the educational thought and practice. As a learning space researcher, I believe that learning space development requires a nomadic mind. Re-engagement with my understandings and assumptions of curriculum, knowledge, and pedagogy results in innovative learning and space design. The most challenging and satisfying moments in my work lie in these deconstruction and historical reflection activities.”
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