During 2017/18 the University is undertaking a research project as part of the Transformative Learning Spaces (TLS) strand of the Student Experience Plan.
The research is being carried out in 3 phases – phase 1 of the project took place between September – December 2017, with Phases 2 and 3 taking place between January – July 2018.
Phase 1 of the TLS Research project aimed to evaluate the impact of furniture-based solutions on classroom interactions using the following research question. ‘What happens when furniture and decoration-based adjustments are made to flat-floor teaching rooms?’ A USW graduate intern, supported by a research group comprising staff from across USW, have operationalised the data collection aspect of this phase, and key findings have been highlighted in three areas:
Our research indicates that students enjoy sharing devices (laptops, phones, tablets) for group work and will often look at another student’s device on a neighbouring table.
Student voice interviews have specifically picked up on the benefits of having tables positioned as islands for interaction and group work instead of a traditional set up in rows. Students comment that ‘it doesn’t feel like a classroom when you come in here’.
Students feel more comfortable in their learning environment, and the use of informal breakout rooms encourages them to stay on campus during non-contact time. Being present in a flexible and adaptable environment that promotes learning, empowers students and gives them the focus needed to apply themselves to tasks. They become active participants in the learning process, reinforcing the ‘Students as Partners’ theme.
Our observations indicate that particular features of the pilot classrooms (e.g. layout, furniture) are conducive to creating a more student-centred approach to learning. The portable whiteboards are used frequently, with students writing on both sides of the board in groups simultaneously, discussing their answers and assessing the responses of other groups.
By establishing ground rules and building confidence, students start to feel they are able to change the furniture configuration to suit their needs. The learning space consequently becomes an environment that encourages learning, respectful discussion and empowerment.
Staff often sit at tables with students to facilitate a discussion or provide targeted assistance to individuals or groups of students. Adjacent breakout rooms are well used during both contact and non-contact time.
For our research, staff were invited to film a short video log after each of their sessions in the pilot classroom, to observe changes in practice, confidence and thought processes over time. Their reflections suggest that those who have engaged with the project are starting to change their practice and consider the learning environment when planning learning.
Staff confidence has increased and users are taking advantage of the flexibility afforded by the classrooms to facilitate student discussion and engagement. They are also thinking about how they can translate their new practices into other classrooms across the University.
Our observations demonstrate that the use of inspiring learning spaces facilitates social interaction and collaboration, encouraging a ‘learn anywhere’ approach.