This student-led research project analyzes the impact that the conversion of a computer lab to a flexible classroom space had on informal use of the space not during class time. Studies have been conducted on the benefits of informal learning settings, but there are few studies on how the physical space itself can support the informal learning process. Research surrounding learning spaces in libraries have emphasized use of collaboration and flexible spaces, but all studies were conducted to inform space design decisions rather than assess the impact of those design decisions. This study investigates the unintended benefits of a new flexible classroom through a post-occupancy space analysis.
A large public research university in the Midwest made the decision to convert the space to a flexible classroom to support active learning and more-experimental pedagogies. Prior to this redesign, student engineering design teams mainly used the room for individual Computer Aided Design work, due to its proximity to the student team project center before renovations. The room consisted of a traditional computer lab design with tightly-packed horizontal rows of computers. The new flexible classroom design includes more open space with tables allowing for group seating and increased interaction. The new layout features affordances that facilitate collaboration, such as reconfigurable furniture, movable whiteboards and monitors around the perimeter of the space. The monitors can be connected to a university engineering computer or a personal laptop. We hope to explore the additional impact of the conversion of the space from a computer lab to a flexible classroom by looking outside of the intended purpose of a classroom. Specifically, we aim to understand 1) How was the room used aside from classes? 2) During out of class usage, how were the classroom affordances used? 3) How has the change from a computer lab to a flexible classroom impacted those who used it before the renovation?
To observe how the room is used, researchers observed the use of the rooms from 9:00 a.m. to midnight during both class instruction and informal use for one full week in early April. During non-class time, researchers recorded the size of groups and the utilization of the room’s affordances, including technology use and furniture configurations. Small group interviews were conducted with members of student engineering design teams, and with the University’s information technology department to supplement the observational study and compare the current usage to how the students used the space before renovations.
Preliminary analysis shows the space no longer affords the same activities it did as a computer lab. The interviews concluded that students use was impacted by the lack of computers. The observations show the usage shifted to majority group work versus the original independent use of the room. Although the affordances of the room were altered, the room still saw large usage from students for all observed hours, every day of the week. Implications of this study can be to give further support for classrooms designed for active learning pedagogies, as they encourage positive activities in and out of class.
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