Contemporary learning spaces, often termed ‘new generation learning environments’ (NGLEs), have been developed in schools and universities in a number of countries during the past decade (OECD, 2013). However, critical analysis of the learning environments research literature suggests that little rigorous assessment or evaluation of their educative value exists.
The ‘Evaluation of 21st Century Learning Environments’ (E21LE) project will help address this gap through the development and testing of three complementary multi-disciplinary evaluation strategies for learning environments.
As stated by Cleveland & Fisher (2014), the literature clearly indicates that:
… approaches to evaluations that attempt to assess the effectiveness of physical learning environments in supporting pedagogical activities are in their infancy and require further development (p. 24) … Across all educational sectors, it appears that new building evaluation methodologies are required if a deeper understanding is to be attained regarding how effectively learning environments can support the educational programs and practices of the twenty-first century (p. 25).
Cleveland, B., & Fisher, K. (2014). The evaluation of physical learning environments: a critical review of the literature. Learning Environments Research, 17(1), 1-28. doi: 10.1007/s10984-013-9149-3
OECD. (2013). Innovative learning environments, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. OECD Publishing.
Informed by a multi-disciplinary perspective derived from the fields of education, architecture, human geography and environmental psychology, the project aims to develop approaches to evaluation that can inform both the design and use of NGLEs for the purpose of supporting:
- The ‘inhabitation’ of curriculum and space by students and teachers
- Connections between pedagogies and the design of physical and virtual spaces
- The alignment/convergence/productive entanglement of the many factors that influence students’ educational experiences and learning outcomes
The key objective of the project is to develop a suite of complementary multi-disciplinary strategies for the evaluation of learning environments.
As the project is set largely within the Australian context, a number of local issues have come to the fore to shape the project’s objectives and design. These issues include:
- The Australian Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution (BER) Scheme, which from early 2009 distributed $16.2 billion to fund 24,382 building and infrastructure projects in 9,526 schools nationwide (DEEWR, 2010).
- The rampant development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the integration of such technologies into educational settings – including the realised and potential impacts of the Australian Federal Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) initiative.
- The increasing popularity of ‘knowledge-age’ pedagogies (e.g. personalised/student-directed) that have been informed by theories of constructivism
- The development of ‘evidence-based design’ in the health sector (e.g. facility research and evaluation that has informed hospital design)
- The rise of ‘big data’ as a means to collecting evidence that can aid (policy) decision making
- The increasing recognition that multi-disciplinary research can support insight into ‘wicked problems’ (such as found at the confluence of space, pedagogy, curriculum, ICT, student well-being and inclusivity, teacher professional learning, comfort, sustainability, and cost/affordability)
- The influence (rightly or wrongly) of ‘exemplar’ facilities that may not have been formally evaluated, or empirically researched, but are leading thinking about educational facility design
The project will focus on the intersection between people and the built and virtual designed environment. Both affective (i.e. beliefs/values/attitudes to teaching and learning, student engagement) and effective (i.e. academic performance, attendance etc.) variables will be investigated in the human/educational domain.
The target audience for the project includes:
- Education bodies:
- School communities (school leaders, teachers, students and parents)
- School systems (e.g. state education departments)
- School funding bodies
- People and organisations involved in the school facility procurement chain:
- Project/construction managers
- ICT industry
The research will be set mainly within secondary school settings, but is likely to include ‘tracking’ into post-secondary education settings, such as universities. Field-based research will occur across multiple sites and be differentiated by socio-economic, socio-cultural, gender, curriculum frameworks and international comparisons.
Overarching Research Questions
What indicators should be used to measure the ‘performance’ or ’educative value’ of learning environments?
How can we determine which learning environments best support 21st century pedagogies?
How can we evaluate which secondary school learning environments best prepare students for post-secondary education?
How can socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts be taken into account when making such assessments?
How can student ‘learning outcomes’ be measured in relation to learning environments?
How can student engagement (behavioural, affective, cognitive) be measured in relation to learning environments?
How can teacher behaviours and practices be measured in relation to learning environments and their places of work?
How can the influence of the physical and virtual environment be assessed, or evaluated, amidst other factors that may influence student and teacher behaviour, practice, engagement and learning outcomes, such as school climate, community expectation, socio-economic and socio-cultural context etc.?
What are expert predictions on future pedagogies in secondary and post-secondary education settings?
What are the implications of these pedagogies for the design and inhabitation of learning environments – both physical and virtual?