The missing link; understanding and measuring teacher spatial competency in diverse learning environments

Year: 2019

Author: Leighton, Victoria

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

If considered at all, the physical classroom environment is visualised as a place of democracy where students are afforded equal opportunities to learn within a space by teachers given agency to implement their best teaching skills. In practice, research is finding evidence suggesting that this picture of parity is faulty.

Teachers are taught how to teach curriculum content and pedagogy, but rarely trained on how to use space to advance and support their teaching and maximise learning experiences for students. Understanding how teachers actively manipulate space to improve pedagogy, and devising systems to measure this transaction, remains one of the ‘missing links’.

This study, embedded in the ARC linkage project ILETC, focuses on the rarely-examined phenomenon known as ‘teacher spatial competency’ (TSC), recasting it as a separate and unique professional teaching skill that influences teacher agency, practice and impact. The use of a theoretical conceptual framework has been devised as a necessary frame of reference to understand and measure the relationship between the built environment and human behaviour. The first phase of research included the development of a specialist research app called ‘Class e(valuation)’. The app has been designed as a user-friendly tool that can be used in the classroom to collect data on classroom attributes and TSC activity. The second phase of research moves from theory to application. It considers the development, trial and refinements of the proposed framework and Class e(valuation) app to provide baseline data for TSC.

This paper explores ways to measure the impact of space on a teacher’s professional practice. The theory suggests that educational settings are places that shape what people do, how they engage with one another, and how they consequently contribute to the construction and deconstruction of teacher identities. This implies that the built environment allows for a future that can be purposefully constructed and manipulated to maximise teacher and student classroom experiences, whatever the space available to them to teach and learn. The ability to provide empirical and uncritical evidence of the influential factors that impact a teacher’s spatial practice suggests that they can be taught to hone their spatial skills to enhance learning. This approach puts the impact of a teacher’s spatial professional practice squarely in the centre of learning environment democratisation.