Engagement: learning to be affected 



THINK: Engagement can be broadly defined as a pedagogical encounter with something other than the self. This encounter may be with a human, it may be with a plant, animal or environment, or it may be an encounter with a film, an artwork, a book, or an idea.  What is crucial to engagement is its materiality: the body's time and place within which a pedagogical encounter occurs. Ingold (2000) refers to this as an ‘education of attention’, also common to many Indigenous peoples, which involves a sensory apprenticeship and attunement to the cultural landscape that surround us. Deleuze (1995, p. 165) similarly describes this as an ‘education of the senses’, in which the process of learning establishes the ‘bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind’. This active form of engagement as a deep correspondence between self and environment is different from passive interactions with a device or apparatus that simply captures our attention momentarily.   


When a learner is genuinely immersed within a multi-sensory space, the distance between human and environment can be diminished or even erased. This kind of close encounter with the environment offers an intimacy with other beings through direct sensations which are crucial to learning. The 'experience of the learning self' emerges at those pedagogical pivot points which are 'the times and places of knowledge in the making' (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 2). These pivot points are what Winnicott (1971) refers to as 'transitional spaces': potential spaces that are activated when learners engage with immersive environments in playful and noncompliant ways. This means that we can never really know in advance how or why someone will come to learn (Deleuze, 1995, p. 165). Rather, the very possibilities for learning are activated by experimentations with the pedagogical affordances and constraints of a learning environment at a certain place and time. This is what Ellsworth describes as the 'paradox at the heart of pedagogy' (2005, p. 54).