Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Re-purposing" Back-to-School

Laundry detergent bottles, "repurposed" by Julian Lwin. Via Cool Hunting.

We're moved into the new apartment enough so that we have internet access but not enough that we can, say, get dressed over here. We have our priorities, after all. So, this brief status report.

But here is an attempt at some substance:

Also keeping me from posting lately are the meetings faculty have been attending as preparation for the fall semester. At one of those meetings, we heard a representative from the education branch of the Herman Miller company talk about spatial arrangements in educational environments and how those arrangements can actually give shape to the learning dynamic that takes place between/among students and teachers. The timing of the presentation was unfortunate for all concerned: it was the last one before our lunch, and we already were running late; and, given that the buildings we'd be applying these considerations to have yet to be built (we're in the midst of a fundraising campaign for the college)--or, in some cases, even designed--it all seemed a bit intangible to those in the room (approximately all of us) worried about next week. Finally, let's just say it was pretty easy to infer from the nifty writing pads and pens given to us that if the Herman Miller company didn't already have a contract with the college, it wanted to have it.

At any rate, it was during that presentation that the representative used the word "re-purposing" to describe the process of transforming a space. The word was new to me and my colleagues; as I wrote it down, I observed one of my colleagues writing down the exact same word. But my Google search for images for this post this morning implied to me that, as usual, I'm out of the trendy-neologisms loop.

Anyway. The point, you're asking. Here it is, for what it's worth: That the word, like many neologisms when you first hear them, sounds invented "just because" and not because they describe some something that heretofore had gone unsignified. Whatever work they do is a sort of shorthand, a quicker way of saying something that we've always been able to say, a sort of microwavable language (which I've mused about indirectly before). My colleague and I giggled at its artificiality when we first heard it: "She talks funny," is what we were thinking. But this morning, as I found myself thinking about my desire to rearrange my classroom from its eminently practical, Gradgrind rows into an inverted "U" and to revamp some writing assignments in order, I hope, to lead my students' writing into more unfamiliar intellectual realms, I realized that, yes, I too was "re-purposing." It sounded weird, maybe even too lofty, to use such a value-laden word as "purpose" when describing what is in its essence remodeling. When applied to Education, though, it speaks directly to what, I would hope, changing things around should address. Something more than just freshening things up a bit.

(Cross-posted at The Vocabulary Reclamation Project)


Camille said...

Oh Gawd! You capitalized "Education."

she says with a long long sigh. I am sure you were doing it ironically.


Camille said...

as for "repurposing" its been knocked around the "found/recycled art" circles for a long time. "Purpose" is okay by itself, but when it becomes a root- well, all I can say is "multi-purpose room" which used to hang above the door of my old elementary cafeteria door and carries with it smells of inustrial detergent, stale children, and years of old cafeteria food.

John B. said...

Thanks for coming by. I was thinking of "Education" conceptually, hence the capital letter. Lower-case "e" education I tend to think of as applied Education, if that makes sense.
Re "multi-purpose": hmm. The rooms we were shown pictures of tended to be those, though these were rooms in which multiple activities could and hopefully would take place simultaneously. But the "re-purposed" classrooms, though, also seemed to have a multi-purpose feel to them too: their concept was that by arranging chairs in various configurations--say, one group of 3, one of 4, in box and circle arrangements--students would have different sorts of interactions with other students and faculty. Without this turning into its own post-length comment, I'll just quickly say that, just as the setting of a novel has the potential to shape the narrative, so also do those various, varied configurations have the potential to shape how students engage with the subject at hand.

Conceptually, that makes sense to me. But were I actually to apply that in some way, it'll feel weird. So, the inverted-U will be a tentative step in that direction.

Yammer, yammer, yammer.

Winston said...

Doncha just love it when nouns get hijacked to become adjectives or verbs, and vice versa. My world of computers, networks, and technology reeks with etymological corruptions and constructs. Talk about "re-purposing"...

Herman Miller company has always had some leading edge fab ideas and marketing ploys. And to prove it, check their prices. Next year, every competitor will have the same thing for half the price. What you saw and heard sounds like "re-purposed" concepts from their business office group a number of years ago.

In education, I question the value of a fluid space and the "podding" described in your comment above. Fluidity removes the structure and discipline that so many students need today (uninformed opinion from an uninvolved observer). It may achieve other goals, but learning is likely not one of them.

The inverted-U always appeals to me, whether I'm student or instructor, because it creates the possibility of closer interaction between leader and all students. It provides more of an equal opportunity engagement.

Alas, even the U is inferior to the elevated throne behind bullet-proof glass, facing row upon row of kneeling benches for the proselytes.

dejavaboom said...

Will re-purposing just "sunset" in the next ten years, like so many other trends? (Also overheard at said in-service)

I need to blog over all this, too, as your reply above suggests you might also need to continue. What do you make of their "learning per square foot" angle? I'm still musing over that one. I don't know how shuffling furniture will alter that measurement.

We were shuffling furniture in the 80's with the ol' wooden chairs with desk arms. Who needs fancy furniture?