Developing Research Methods for Analyzing Learning Spaces That Can Inform Institutional Missions of Learning and Engagement

Journal Cover
Published August 22, 2014
By Jos Boys, Angelina Wilson, and Clare Melhuish
Planning Types: Campus Planning

This report was produced by the research team awarded the M. Perry Chapman Prize for 2013–2014.

As the recipients of the 2012–2013 Perry Chapman Prize show in their report, Research on Learning Design: Present State, Future Directions, the study of learning spaces in tertiary education is an emerging field in which the key issues are to “establish a body of knowledge that will guide the design, remodel, and use of new and existing learning spaces” and “evaluate these learning spaces by developing research to determine whether and how they fulfill their purposes.”

This report aims to produce complementary work by addressing the larger context of the university campus and students’ perceptions and experiences of their learning at the tertiary level more generally. Rather than starting from environmental psychology or behaviorist models, it explores the value of applying contemporary approaches from the social sciences to learning space design, an approach increasingly being developed. This, however, is not just a matter of applying a different research method; it also concerns the underlying problem of how we conceptualize relationships between material space and its occupation both generally and specifically in relationship to learning. In fact, over the last few years, theorists across many disciplines that deal with material space—such as geography, anthropology, and science and technology studies—have been critically examining precisely this issue of rethinking how to conceptualize the interrelationships between space, people, artifacts, and activities.