Post Occupancy evaluation of new learning spaces:Student's perceptions of inhabiting learning space.

Year: 2017

Author: Deed, Craig, Edwards, Debra, Morse, Marcus, Townsend, Rebecca

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

School and classroom spaces are traditionally collective and social in nature. Pedagogical considerations need to be situated alongside other architectural aspects in the inclusion of community, social, shared, networked and open space in contemporary schools (for example see Prain et al., 2015). Recent school design literature has focussed on teacher adaptation to new and emerging learning environments through innovative pedagogy. The generative nature of open space contemporary schools also means student experience of teaching and learning is being transformed (for example see Deed & Lesko, 2015).

Post-occupancy evaluations of new builds or redesigns must include student participatory reactions to inhabiting learning spaces. In this paper, we report on a study intended to identify key constructs that frame student perceptions, use, and consideration of learning space. A case study of a newly designed and built school in a regional rural setting is used to illustrate these constructs.
The study is situated within an interpretivist paradigm informed by the research questions, researchers' background and intended contribution of the research (Hatch, 2002). We recognise knowledge is constructed at the intersection of individuals and social / cultural context; mediated by language and shared meanings. The purpose of the study was to explore students' perceptions of learning in a contemporary open plan school and how teachers might facilitate effective learning based on these. In particular, the ways students learn and construct knowledge and meaning informed by individual, social, physical and temporal contexts. A case study design appropriately provides for the investigation, and in-depth description, of a contemporary phenomenon in a real-world setting (Yin, 2009). The primary methods of data collection were researcher observations, student surveys, student presentations and semi-structured interviews.
Analysis of the findings draws on Sfard's (1998) metaphor of participation and three concepts related to the evaluation of spatial engagement: the complex ecological nature of teaching, learning, and space; the influence of routine teaching practices on student learning processes; and spatially related learning choices made as students participate in learning practices.
Key findings indicated growth in time of student exercise of agency in the use and interpretation of different spaces. This resulted in multiple occupancy outside the original purposes envisioned for the space. While there was a school ethos of fostering student and teacher agency to think and act differently in the learning process, the interaction between space and learning as translational participation is of note. Students actively inhabited the different school spaces and considered how they were learning in relation to use of space and task demands. Students' ability to describe their perceptions of learning and knowledge as relational, socially constructed, and complex indicated the built and virtual spaces were not a mere backdrop, but an active variable in teaching and learning processes.