What about us? Using participatory designing methods to engage teacher and student voice in the design of learning environments

Year: 2017

Author: Miller, Vanessa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The iterative process of participatory design and the involvement of key stakeholders in all stages of the design process is regarded as most effective for school environment design (Clark & Moss, 2011; Parnell et al., 2008, Willis, Bland, Hughes & Elliott Burns, 2013; Woolner, 2009). Teachers and their students, as end-users of learning environments are therefore well positioned to inform their design. Research has established significant benefits of participation in the designing process including demonstrated improvement in the design quality of the school (Woolner, 2009), and improved understanding about the use of a space and the teaching and learning practices that occur there (Blackmore, Bateman, Cloonan, Dixon, Loughlin, O'Mara & Senior, 2011). Despite the potential for genuine participation in the designing process leading to transformational change, teachers and their students are rarely consulted on the issue of school design (Woolner, 2009). This presentation examines how an innovative participatory designing process that integrated the participatory action research process (Zuber-Skerritt, 2001) supported by the Mosaic tools (Clark & Moss, 2001) and the VAST evaluative heuristic (Elliott Burns, 2011, 2016) can be used by design professionals and school communities to engage the underrepresented voice of teachers and their students in the learning environment design process. This study, and others, provides evidence of teachers' and students' unique capabilities as vernacular designers, and whose everyday lived experience of learning environments complements the expertise of professional designers.
Through a qualitative participatory action research design, three primary school teachers at an Australian P-12 Independent school engaged in a series of action research cycles with their students to transform an indoor or an outdoor space into an environment conducive to inquiry-based learning. The study adopted data collection methods associated with the Mosaic framework, including interviews, observations, photography, and reflective writing. Inductive data analysis and interpretation offered greater understanding about the participatory designing process and sought to answer seven sub-questions and the key research question; How can a participatory designing process support teachers in creating learning environments conducive to contemporary pedagogical approaches such as inquiry-based learning? The study's findings reveal the value of participatory action research, Mosaic, and the VAST heuristic as a framework to mediate encounters and to amplify the voice of teachers and their students in the learning environment designing process.