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New Learning Spaces: Method of Evaluation

Observation in evaluating learning spaces

Observation in evaluating learning spaces

This is a continuation of ideas being developed around the evaluation of learning spaces at City University London.

At City University London there is a need to better understand the effectiveness of new learning spaces that are being created. City University London is currently engaged in the redevelopment of its estate. A major part of this is the re-conceptualization of the Learning Spaces. The Learning Development Centre (LDC) is working closely with City’s Property and Facilities to ensure that pedagogical principles are considered in the redesigning of City University’s learning spaces.

Understanding the effectiveness of new learning spaces is crucial for two reasons: to evaluate the effectiveness of a space newly created and to prepare better for future learning spaces design and construction. As such, this formal evaluation will be a ‘post-occupancy evaluation’ of the space. It is this stage of the evaluation cycle that presents the greatest challenges in aligning the evaluation method with the rational and practical outcomes that drove design intent. However, it is also crucial as the formative model for a full design and evaluation process, and as a source of data for new informal and collaborative spaces (Lee, 2009 in Radcliffe et al, 2009).

At a broad level, it is important for educational developers and education researchers to better understand how lecturers and students relate to the new built environment and what this means for the exchange of knowledge. To this purpose, it is understood that efforts to develop more effective learning spaces need to be informed by the extensive research into environmental behaviour and psychology (Jamieson, 2007).

To this end, I am found that the observation method is a popular tool in evaluating new learning spaces (Radcliffe et al, 2009).  Observations are builds on the principle that for research into the use and effectiveness of the new learning spaces, it is best to observe what actually happens in the natural setting (Descomber, 2003) rather than to ask for thoughts retrospectively.

In line with the epistemology of participating observation, this study would enable the research team to participate in natural learning situations, enabling better understanding of the learning processes involved in the new spaces. The observations will take place in the natural learning spaces as the research team is interested in the effects of the environment on learning as it happens, rather than they happen under artificially created conditions. This allows the research team to record information as it happens and record critical incidents as they occur (Creswell, 2009).

The observation method has a number of characteristics which cannot be found in other education research methods and which are better suited in understanding the new learning spaces. These include:

  1. It directly records what the user does in the space, as distinct from what they say they do are their perception of the room.
  2. Observation is well matched with other research methods being applied in understanding the SLE and learning spaces. As it is more about the behaviour it complements well other research methods that rely mainly on sharing thoughts.
  3. When combined with contextual information, which will be the case here, observation can give significant insight on the effects of the learning space on behaviour.

We are continually working on developing our research methods for evaluating the learning spaces. Please do share your thoughts and experiences of evaluating learning spaces.

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