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Where environment meets psychology.

Environmental Psychology in the Field — Supplemental

Teachers’ reactions to learning commons in secondary schools, Part II.

I can’t believe it is the end of September already! As promised, this month I will explore the rest of the results from my research at Schools A, B, and C – three secondary schools here in Victoria, British Columba, that recently adopted the learning commons model (or, in the case of School C, planned the renovation process). This set of findings is different from the one I blogged about last month. I asked teachers about broad physical design attributes germane to the learning commons model – which are working well for them? Which are not? Curious? Read on!

Need a re-cap? I recently studied the progress of three local secondary schools during renovations of their libraries to learning commons (refer to this past post, and last month’s post). I chose to focus on how these spaces impacted teachers’ collaboration with other teachers and with teacher librarians. There has been some positive feedback from students in other schools that have created learning commons (visit this great blog for one example: Learning the Now). So, the general expectation was that teachers at each school would also find the design of their new learning commons’ to be helpful in their professional efforts.

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The last two questions in my survey asked about which design features teachers thought had the most positive and negative impact on their job. Possible responses included: “More computers,” “More space for reading,” “More soft seating,” “More space for student interaction and group work,” “More opportunity for staff collaboration,” “None of these,” “No attribute of the learning commons has had a negative or null impact on my job,” or “Have not used the learning commons.” In the case of School C, the questions were worded to direct responses about the existing library (remember that Schools A and B have completed their renovations but that School C has not yet begun).

During the first round of data collection (a few months after renovations were complete), teachers at School A thought that having more space for students to read was having the greatest positive impact on their job. A few months later, during round 2, teachers reported that the additional space for student interaction and group work had the greatest positive impact on their job. These are interesting average responses, but note that they are about student behavior and not about teacher-to-teacher relations. 

Interestingly, during round 1, teachers stated that the added opportunities for staff collaboration afforded by the new learning commons were having the greatest negative impact on their job. Then, in round 2, they reported that none of the options provided in the item had the greatest negative impact on their job. Perhaps teachers had begun to feel more positively about the new space. To be sure, further study is required (as usual!).  

In contrast to School A, teachers at School B thought that having more opportunities for staff collaboration would have the greatest positive impact on their job (at the mid-renovation point). And that, on average, none of the attributes of the learning commons would have a negative or null impact on their job. At the post-renovation data collection phase, teachers at School B reported that the additional soft seating was having the greatest positive impact on their job, and that, on average, none of the options provided in the item was having a negative impact on their job. I believe this calls for a more specific suvey about the physical details of learning commons. 

For those working at School C (still in the pre-renovation stage), more soft seating was expected to have the greatest positive impact on teachers’ jobs. Surprisingly, teachers thought that, on average, more opportunities for staff collaboration would have the greatest negative impact on their job. Hmm.

Open-ended responses to these questions were also varied. Teachers at Schools A and C had a more negative attitude in general compared to those at School B. Some at School A said they missed having numerous books in the space, and that it takes more than a design change to foster collaboration among teachers, and between teachers and teacher librarians. Those at Schools A and C also stated that the learning commons felt cold and sparse (or that the proposed design would take away from the warmth of the current library). Open-ended comments from teachers at School B were more accepting of the learning commons model, praising the improved functionality and options for teaching and learning with technology. 

I realize this study wasn't altogether psychological. Its main focus was to inform a school district about the strengths and weakness of the learning commons model. But the differences between how teachers have reacted to this particular type of setting shows how careful researchers and administrators must be in assuming a positive outcome of a renovation – especially one with an expectation that occupants should alter how they use the space. New options for use should be considered with users before, during, and after physical alterations (and the field of environmental psychology has much to offer this task). Of course, whether this step is practical or possible for every project is another story.

In the case of School C, a great opportunity exists to work with teachers to ensure they get what they need from the learning commons, and perhaps avoid misuse of space in the completed setting. I look forward to continuing to think about these spaces and the particular issues that surround them. They have the potential to provide new avenues for teachers to interact, learn from each other, and teach well. It is just a matter of time!

 

Lindsay J. McCunn, MSc is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

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