An Ethnographic Study of Everyday Interactions in Innovative Learning Spaces

Pantidi, Nadia (2013). An Ethnographic Study of Everyday Interactions in Innovative Learning Spaces. PhD thesis The Open University.



For the last 10 years universities and colleges in the UK have generated significant investment in designing innovative learning spaces. These spaces have been created to accommodate a student-centered pedagogical approach that is intended to promote formal and informal learning activities, collaboration and socializing by means of flexible technological infrastructure and architectural design.

Various assessments have already been realized to investigate the outcomes of this investment and the impact of those spaces on learning. Yet, there is a persevering need to better understand the role of the technological infrastructure and the architectural design in innovative learning spaces as a lived experience by those who use and inhabit them; and to establish whether they are used as anticipated. This work takes up on this challenge and investigates three innovative learning spaces through an ethnographic approach that, following the analytic orientation of Suchman’s situated action, considers and juxtaposes anticipated versus actual use. More specifically, this work addresses the following research questions:
• How do people interact with the architectural and technological infrastructure and with each other in innovative learning spaces on an everyday basis?
• How do everyday interactions compare with those envisioned by the designers and managers of these spaces?
• How do we account for the differences between actual and anticipated use of the spaces?
• How can spaces be designed or recover from breakdowns so that actual and anticipated use (re) align?

By addressing those questions, the present work contributes to an empirically-grounded understanding of how innovative learning spaces are being used and appropriated compared to the envisioned usage. The analysis reveals tensions between actual and anticipated use, the situated nature of flexible design, as well as the complex and contested processes through which interactions in innovative learning spaces are accomplished, adapted or superseded.
The findings suggest a set of critical factors that account for the tensions between desired and actual use of such spaces. Issues of legibility, legitimacy and sense of ownership and appropriation supersede the existing views and guidelines of adaptable design as presented in the current literature and can be used to inform the design and evaluation of innovative learning spaces.

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