Using student perspectives in learning space design

Posted by matthew on Jun 13, 2012 in education, learning spaces

For the last few years I have become interested in finding meaningful ways to reintroduce student perspectives into the way we think about university teaching and learning.  It may seem totally obvious that we should think about how students experience their daily lives when we plan for and design curriculum, student support, educational technology and learning environments.  However after working in universities for a long time, I have noticed that important decisions are frequently made by senior management, administrators and teaching staff who are all prone to making one simple mistake.  They (and I include myself here) extrapolate their own experience as a learner — often decades in the past.  Not only are student lives different now than they were before.  Student experiences are very different depending on discipline, course load, cultural and social background, and all kinds of other factors that are very difficult to summarise.

In other words, while we think we understand the broad issues, at the level of an individual student the picture is complex, unpredictable and highly contingent.  What typically happens in the face of this is to survey students once in a while and pool all the data.  Of course this can help, but we end up with a lot of assumptions. I think we need much better ways to describe the everyday experiences of students.  One of those ways is to get students to work as co-researchers, giving us richer and deeper descriptions of their daily lives, providing more detailed evidence alongside what we already know (for example the Day Experience Method that Mike Arnold and I developed).

Since getting involved in the Spaces for Knowledge Generation project, I have started to work on ways to take some of the lessons we can learn from these methods and use them in the design of physical and virtual learning spaces.  This week an article I wrote with Kay Souter on this approach was published in the Journal of Learning Spaces, here:
Designing informal learning spaces using student perspectives

This is a brand new journal and I submitted the article there because I want to encourage more scholarly work in this area and there was previously no journal like it.  If you’re interested in learning spaces design, I hope you enjoy reading it.