Students’ and Teachers’ Lived Experience of Educational Design: A Case Study of Two Schools in Finland

Year: 2016

Author: Peterson, Anna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The natural and built environments of schools have a profound impact on our understanding of the world and our place within it. When billions of dollars are invested annually in public education infrastructure, it is essential to know how design affects the lives of students and teachers. Knowledge regarding the ways in which we inhabit educational design informs the dynamic potential of school architecture as pedagogy.The broad purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of educational design. Research questions included: (a) What can be learned from the experiences of architects and principals involved in the design of two exemplary public schools?, (b) How do students and teachers experience the design of these educational environments?, and (c) How can their experiences inform future educational design? A qualitative, phenomenological, case study methodology was chosen to investigate educational design from the perspectives of students, teachers, principals, and architects at two comprehensive schools (Grades 1–9) in Helsinki, Finland. Students and teachers took over 1600 photographs and self-selected 400 for discussion at individual photo-elicitation interviews. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with principals and architects. In the absence of theoretical frameworks of educational design widely accepted by both education and architecture, Christopher Alexander’s comprehensive understanding of form and context was integral to the analysis of the findings, which revealed a lack of congruency between the intended purpose(s) and users’ experiences of the design of their schools. This approach led to the development of a conceptual model to explore educational design from explicit/implicit design intentions, to a discussion of participants’ lived experiences of tensions (instances of fit and misfit) created by design choices, and, finally, to ways in which greater balance between school spaces and users experiences can be achieved. Participants' experiences regarding designing, living, and learning in educational facilities identified: (a) key insights regarding students’ and teachers’ experiences of inhabiting their schools, (b) the need for learning environment evaluations, especially from an educational and humanistic perspective, and (c) ways in which educators and architects can more effectively inhabit a shared vision of educational design. Education and school architecture are, as they have always been, dependent on one another for definition and expression. Understanding the interplay between educational stakeholders and the design and use of their schools has the potential to facilitate change, increase knowledge in the field, and diversify school design.