Engaging spaces: innovative learning environments, pedagogies and student engagement in the middle years of school
AuthorCleveland, Benjamin William
AffiliationFaculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsCleveland, B. W. (2011). Engaging spaces: innovative learning environments, pedagogies and student engagement in the middle years of school. PhD thesis, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2011 Dr. Benjamin William Cleveland
This interdisciplinary research project was conducted as part of an Australian Research Council Linkage project entitled Smart Green Schools. Calling principally on the disciplines of architecture, education and human geography, it investigates the relationships between innovative middle years’ learning environments, pedagogies and student engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris, 2004). The study is contextualized within current discourses about the influence of globalisation on education provision (Monahan, 2005), the construction of innovative building typologies for education (Burke & Grosvenor, 2008; Dudek, 2008) and middle years’ education reform (Pendergast & Bahr, 2005; Carrington, 2006). In the pursuit of new knowledge about how middle years’ learning environments may be designed and used to support contemporary approaches to teaching and learning, field-based qualitative research was conducted across three case study sites using multiple case study (Bryman, 2004), ethnographic (Hammersley, 1999) and participatory action research (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2007; Mattsson & Kemmis, 2007) methodologies. Data were collected using a variety of social research methods including participant observation (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007), semi-structured interviews (Kvale, 1996) and focus group forums (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2007). In addition, two design workshops were conducted. This data was analysed using a process of thematic narrative analysis (Riessman, 2008). Using a range of theoretical frameworks to interpret and discuss the data collected, the study initially investigated why schools wished to develop new socio-spatial contexts for learning and the processes by which they pursued these objectives. Later, the study focused on how pedagogical objectives influenced the design of the built environment and how the built environment subsequently influenced pedagogies. In evaluating the effectiveness of the changes made, the influence of new socio-spatial contexts for learning on student engagement was explored. The findings of the study indicated that the effectiveness of innovative learning environments was a product of how well the environment aligned with particular pedagogies, curricula, assessment practices, and social factors. Furthermore, effectiveness was associated with how well the environment supported a range of complex interactions (Law & Urry, 2004; Heylighten, Cuillers & Gershenson, 2007). Innovative learning environments functioned best when students were able to take ownership of their learning, work with some autonomy and interact directly and indirectly with peers, teachers, technologies and the physical environment. Regarding student engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld & Paris, 2004), a new sub-type of this construct - ‘geographical engagement’ - was found to be associated with students’ ownership and mastery of their environment and expressed by students in the ways they socially produce space (Soja, 1989; Lefebvre, 1991) to support their learning activities and by their ability to engage in learning with some autonomy. In response to current discourse about flexible learning environments (Woodman, 2011), it is suggested that reflexive, not flexible, learning environments are needed, as the utility of flexible spaces is limited by the environmental competencies of users. While flexibility suggests that spaces may respond to the needs of inhabitants, it suggests nothing about the role that space can play in informing teachers and students about how they might engage in particular learning activities. Reflexive spaces, on the other hand, suggest to users how they might participate in learning activities and enable them to fine tune learning settings to suit their pedagogical needs. In conclusion, it is suggested that not only can well designed innovative learning environments support middle years’ reform agendas, but that middle years’ reform agendas need to address changes to the built environment.
Keywordslearning environments; learning spaces; pedagogy; student engagement; interdisciplinary; constructivist; middle years; education reform
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