With a few weeks of term one completed it’s been high time to gather some of our new student’s early impressions of their open learning spaces. I headed for Hub 3; It’s home to about 55 year 4-8 students.
I was interested in a couple of points; Firstly, what they identified as the main differences between their new learning hub space and the spaces they used to learn in; and secondly what they thought the impact of the space would have on their learning.
The amount of space came up quickly in student’s responses to the first question. They talked of the learning hubs being “open and big”, and they spoke of coming from schools that felt “really squashed” and of classrooms being “quite tight and under pressure”. “At my old class we had set places- you sit here, you sit here, you sit here. But here it’s nice and comfortable.”
This idea of comfort cropped up regularly; One suggested that, “On the first day of school when I stepped into the class I felt really comfortable and there were a lot of students there which made me more comfortable.” This notion of our learning spaces being comfortable is a common thread. As adults, where do we choose to learn? Will we make sure we’re comfortable first? I remember hearing Stephen Heppell suggest that if you ask children to bring in from home the seat that they’d prefer to sit on when reading, none of them would bring in an old wooden kitchen chair. Instead they’d bring bean bags, the couch, an arm chair, or their bed.
The students talked of choice in terms of having some selection over where they learned:
“I sometimes prefer some places to others. Sometimes I like the places with the light. Sometimes I prefer places that are a bit quieter. It depends on what work I'm doing. If it's really hard work sometimes I just go to a quiet place.”
“I just usually go anywhere. I don't really mind how loud, or how much people are talking. Sometimes I need a quiet space so I go to a quiet room". “Who makes that decision?” "Me".
“It's more open. Everything was set (at my old school) and there wasn't much choice. Here there are more people to help you. More people that know more information about what you're learning about.”
This theme of the people produced the most dialogue. More often than not students talked about their relationship with other learners. This is where the new students felt was the real impact of the learning hubs.
“The hubs are much bigger and you get to learn with more kids. Older kids can help you learn instead of just kids your own age.”
“If you’re in the pit, it’s a lot more useful to sit with other people so they can help you.”
“It makes me feel like I can ask more people without being told we've got to do this.”
“I feel I can ask more people, there are so many more people to ask”
“You get to see other people's ways of learning and I think you get a big choice, big opportunity to see if they're learning is quite good, you could use it, could choose to make it your way of learning.”
“Well it makes a difference because you can sit with people who are suitable to your learning environment, like they're helpful, and they'll listen to your questions.”
“Sometimes the teacher chooses where we go but I’m alright with that because everywhere we go there are people that can help you, friends everywhere.”
As a means of evaluating a learning space’s success gaining student voice in terms of satisfaction is a powerful tool. It’s one of a number of evaluative methods that can help to analyse the effectiveness of learning spaces identified by Bligh & Pearshouse (2011). Other methods include an outcomes model looking at evaluating changes in learning outcomes, a scenario provision model which looks at the relationship between the provision of the space in relation to judgements of activities within it, and a brand model evaluating spaces’ contribution to institutional image. No one evaluative model is going to give us all the answers that we’re after, So it’s a matter of triangulating models to gain a fuller picture.
The analysis tools that Bligh & Pearshouse are looking at are very much based on the higher education sector but there are some key concepts that are the same across all contexts. One point that they make about the satisfaction model is that there are many other factors that influence student satisfaction above and beyond properties of space. Also that “students may lack the confidence to project their ‘voice’ with regard to spatial experiences, and may need support to do so” (p. 9).
When I look back at what our students said about their learning space- the comfort, the choice and the relationships, it seems clear that they are able to project their ‘voice’. In fact, and as somewhat of a surprise, one group ended by suggesting that in fact the space doesn't matter, it's the people in it. Space they added “is an additional bonus.”
Student voice is an important voice and it’s one that we will return to over the course of the year.
Bligh, V., & Pearshouse, I. (2011). Doing Learning Space Evaluations. In A. Boddington & J. Boys (Eds.), Re-Shaping learning: A Critical Reader: The future of learning spaces in post-compulsory education. Rotterdam: Sense.