Executive summary and recommendations

Overview

The purpose of the Reimagining Learning Spaces project was to conduct an empirical study that would result in findings to inform the design and use of physical school facilities and examine the ways in which these constructions influence pedagogy. The study focused on newly-established school libraries in Queensland, many of which had been established with funding from the Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution economic stimulus program.

To explore the field, the study sought multiple perspectives that included those of school students as well as teacher-librarians and other key school staff, addressing the following focus question:

  • How does the physical environment of school libraries influence pedagogic practices and learning outcomes?

Further research questions that guided the inquiry included:

  • What are the implications for teacher-librarians when transitioning into a new library learning space?
  • How do members of the school community (principals, teachers, teacher-librarians and students) experience the creation of a new school library learning space?
  • How do school students imagine the design and use of engaging library learning spaces?

An extensive review explored Australian and international literature based on the research questions, and focused on the following major areas:

Places:
Libraries as spaces and places of learning in schools
People:
Experiences of people learning in library space
Patterns:
Learning and pedagogic practices
Principles:
Designing spaces for learning

Approach

Using an innovative qualitative research design, Reimagining Learning Spaces investigated learner and teacher perspectives across three intersecting domains exploring:

Imagined spaces:
learners’ imaginative concepts of learning within engaging learning environments;
Emerging spaces:
experiences of teacher- librarians in the transition into new spaces for learning, and
Established spaces:
learners’ and teachers’ perceptions of ways in which the physical environment influences and shapes pedagogy

Seven schools that had recently benefitted from the BER program became the research sites at which data were collected from teacher-librarians, teachers, school leaders and students. With this range of participants, an appropriately diverse set of data collection tools was developed, including video interviews, drawings, and focus groups. Evocative narrative case studies (Simons 2009) were developed from the data, representing the voices of users of learning spaces.

Key findings

The study’s findings are presented in this report and complemented by an array of visual materials on the project web site http://reimaginingspaces.edu.au. The report includes:

  • a set of seven case studies that reveal nuanced experiences of designing and creating school libraries, based on the narrative of key stakeholders (teacher-librarians, teachers, students and principals)
  • thematic discussion of student imaginings of their ideal school library, based on drawings and narrative of students at the seven case study schools
  • critical analysis of the case study and student imaginings, focusing on implications for (re)designing school learning spaces and pedagogy, and responding to the study’s overarching research question

Recommendations

Creating and designing
Recommendation 1
That all members of schools’ communities, especially students, are given opportunities to participate in consultative, collaborative design processes.
Recommendation 2
That designs focus on creating school libraries as welcoming social spaces that enable students to spread out, be comfortable and have choices about where to learn by including:
  • student preferences for colour, playfulness and connections to nature;
  • mobile furnishings and glass partitioning that provide a variety of adaptable spaces and enable passive supervision;
  • physical spaces that variously allow for choices of seating that can accommodate privacy, quiet independent work, reading, group activity, and social interaction;
  • Entry ways, circulation desks, ramps and areas for displays of student work that reflect inclusive values. The diversity of people in the school community and learning is recognised and celebrated;
  • easy access to information and learning technology, and specialist support, that enable students to be creators and investigators.
Recommendation 3
That the process incorporates reflective practices and designing experiences for stakeholders, including students and teachers (e.g., journaling, blogging, photo galleries).
Recommendation 4
That designs for new school facilities are based on an alignment of Federal and State education policies with local expertise to achieve site specific solutions.
Recommendation 5
That spaces not be overdesigned, to allow for flexibility for user generated ideas and future possibilities
Transitioning - reimagining Pedagogy
Recommendation 6
That teacher-librarians and teachers communicate expectations and possibilities to students about how to use the new spaces, information literacy programs, social and reading activities
Recommendation 7
That teacher-librarians/professional associations/tertiary educators provide professional development for teachers prior to/during the school library designing process, continuing after library completion, to foster:
  • ‘new library readiness’;
  • innovative pedagogy;
  • collaboration with teacher-librarians;
Recommendation 8
That teachers develop, implement, evaluate and share authentic problem-solving, creative and critical thinking activities based around design and building projects occurring on the school site.
Recommendation 9
That collaboration between teacher-librarians and teachers extend beyond reading programs to include opportunities to develop student inquiry, creativity, and extended collaborative learning opportunities within curriculum programs. The library space can also extend learning beyond the classroom, for students to develop agency informally through out of class learning, and building community learning partnerships
Leadership
Recommendation 10
That the teacher-librarian be positioned as part of the leadership team for teaching and learning within the school, with special responsibility for (re)designing the library.
Recommendation 11
That the library is positioned within the learning culture of the whole school community as a learning commons.
Recommendation 12
That school leaders be supported and trained to lead school building design projects, to enhance pedagogical outcomes
Recommendation 13
That transition plans include both planning the physical transitions into new spaces and evaluation/post occupancy evaluation of the space, as well as cultural transitions that invite reimagined learning practices.
Policy
Recommendation 14
That sufficient lead-time be incorporated into plans for school infrastructure development to permit consultation with potential users of the facility.
Recommendation 15
That designs address the particular expectations and needs of school communities regarding the siting of buildings, design elements, floor plans and fixtures in designing new school facilities, to the extent possible within building regulations and economic constraints.
Recommendation 16
That Federal and State education policies allow for the needs, values and expectations of individual schools to be addressed in designing projects, by attending to voices of school community members and local knowledge of professional designers.
Recommendation 17
That the potential for libraries to be catalysts for creating community building culture is supported through collaborative discussion involving teachers, students and, where possible, the wider community, regarding on-going redesign and exploration within the space
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