The powerful impact of space on student learning at three universities: a design thinking, and scholarship of teaching and learning approach

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Date
2023
Authors
Power, Catherine (Katie)
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University College Cork
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Abstract
Learning spaces are a crucial component of the student journey through university education. This study investigates the impact of physical spaces on learning experiences at three universities: Munster Technological University, University College Cork, and University College London. The study employs a range of user-centric qualitative data collection methods (survey, observation, think-aloud, creative sticker choice and empathy mapping), and produces findings that I propose could be universally applicable in higher education settings. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Boyer, 1990) and Design Thinking (Brown, 2008) are brought together as a dual methodology for the exploration of learning spaces. Through this fusion, I introduce a Theory of Learning Places, whereby space is transformed into place through meaningful interactions as students and teachers engage in praxis. A conceptual framework underpins the study and three research questions explore the perceptions learners and teachers have about the spaces where they learn and teach; how these end-users (students) and key stakeholders (teachers) articulate the impact of spaces on the learning experience; and the opportunities that exist to develop new approaches in the use of spaces. This study adopted a qualitative research approach (social constructivism as a macro-paradigm), and with the adopted dual methodology of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Design Thinking, utilised novel approaches to data collection. The data were analysed through two rounds, firstly using an inductive analysis approach (Harry et al., 2005) and secondly by an ethnodrama persona explicitation role-play. The research themes identified were identity and belonging in spaces; social justice and human rights in respect of spaces; and empowerment of persons in spaces. These themes are broken into a spectrum of sub-themes to provide strategic foresight and guidance on how to incorporate the user experience in the design, planning and use of university learning spaces. I argue that students and teachers must be afforded a voice in the planning and design of learning spaces, to embed a people-centric research-informed approach to their use. A set of best practice guidelines are suggested for early and ongoing engagement with students and teachers in the creation and use of physical spaces.
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Keywords
University education , Educational facilities , Student experience , Learning spaces
Citation
Power, C. 2023. The powerful impact of space on student learning at three universities: a design thinking, and scholarship of teaching and learning approach. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.