Director of innovation, Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre of Innovation in Learning) explains Professor David Thornburg's terms cave, campfire, and watering hole, and the different functions of these spaces in your learning environment. Stephen describes how these functions can occur in a virtual space as well as a physical space.
Professor David Thornburg, about 25 years ago actually, came up with three very interesting terms to help us decode different functions that can be occurring in a learning environment. Those three terms are cave, campfire and watering hole.
I have found them very powerful, partly because the way he defines them really puts relationships at the heart of their definition. So, a cave for instance, to start with, is a reflective space, so if you look at a physical space, you’re looking at a space that’s free from stimulation, a space where a student can withdraw to slightly, but the relationship it sets up, is the student to their internal world, so it’s a one-to-self relationship, and some of the best learning can occur when students can move inside of themselves, block out the external world and think, hang on, what do I think about this? What is my opinion, or what is my imagination telling me? So that’s the cave.
A campfire, the relationship is one-to-many and it’s a space where expertise is delivered or broadcast out from the guru. There’s this picture of people gathering around the campfire with the guru talking and it’s a really powerful space and you can think in the physical learning environment that there might be certain points, broadcast points where an expert can share their expertise. In the watering hole, the relationship there is many-to-many, that is, everyone-to-everyone, or lots of people to lots of people. So the watering hole is a space that’s configured for people to bounce off each other in a very free form, improvised fashion. I’m trying to solve a problem so I talk to the person near me, we both go and talk to another group, we might go to a teacher, the teacher might come to us, we might just generally bounce off each other and improvise, so it’s a space for collaboration.
So a cave, a space for reflection, a campfire, a space for expertise and a watering hole, a space for collaboration. What I also find exciting about these three terms, is that they hold true and are intelligible in virtual space, just as well as in physical space. What’s a virtual cave? It’s a blog, a blog is a virtual cave. When you’re writing a blog post, you’re going internally, you’re reflecting. So we have virtual caves. A virtual campfire is flipped learning, so that students can access the expertise when they need it, they can have it on tap.
And then a virtual watering hole is a collaborative space, this is all of the Web 2.0 tools, it’s Edmodo, it’s Google Docs, it’s a whole bunch of collaborative online tools. So that critical question of affordances and constraints for these three spaces, you can look at them and say well, “Where in my learning environment, where do we have caves, campfires, and watering holes?, knowing that throughout the day, at different points, students will need them in different combinations, so let’s populate the space with these affordances so that the students can go to that space when they need it. But they’re like the lego bricks, or the components of spaces, it can be a very powerful way of scanning and asking ourselves, what functions do we want to be available to our students?