After a lot of exploration and instruction, we formed groups based on a question we all wanted to research. This allowed for multiple groups to undertake different types of research methodology–and then present on their findings and how they conducted their research methodology.
Develop Research Question: We first began by discussing and exploring the question that brought us all together. We wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page with a clear understanding of what we would be researching. We decided to change our question based on our context and time constraint (in Galway for 4 weeks). By studying the enactment of learning spaces and how it shapes student engagement, we would be able to study the process and decision making of the learning spaces within our program.
Choose a Study: We then had to decide on a research methodology. We chose a Qualitative Case Study because we felt that type of study lends itself to learning spaces. A qualitative study is defined as: exploratory research used to gain an understanding of underlying reason, opinions, and motivations. The data will then provide insights into the problem or help develop ideas for potential quantitative research. This study really sounded perfect for our group given our modified question and situation. We decided we could study a group of eleven students studying in the third year of the program. We would look for overarching ideas, the decision making processes of the learning space (from the instructors and students), and the reasoning and motivation behind their physical and instructional space.
Research: After reading Willingham’s book, we put our new researching skills to the test! We all spent a lot of time reading articles and other studies about learning spaces–using Willingham’s methods: flip it, strip it, trace it, analyze it and decide! Our research led us down many different paths and we realized how complicated learning spaces are–there are physical attributes, non physical attributes, and instructional designs/decisions that are made. There is also not one learning space that fits all–and that is why being knowledgeable about learning spaces is so important.
Collect Data: When it came time to conduct our study, we chose which collection methods were best for a qualitative study. We decided on field note observations as one of our ways to collect data. Field notes describe the observations of what is happening between people or in a place. The data collected is then analyzed to identify and categorize common themes in relation to a research problem. Our field notes consisted of time stamps, observations and then subjective reflections. We went into the year three room to observation for 20-30 minutes at a time and each of us visited the room twice and with a partner. We received permission from the instructors and the students we were observing were not given any information.
We also sent out anonymous surveys to the year three students we were observing. After our field notes were complete, we sent the surveys which were created using Google Forms. We wanted to collect data from the participants of the study to see what their opinions of learning spaces were. The questions were as follows:
- What is your ideal learning space?
- How do you believe the learning space in your room affects your engagement?
- Did you and your classmates have any input on the learning space?
- What do you see as affecting your engagement in class?
Our last method of collecting data was interviewing the instructors of the class we were observing. We wanted to understand their decision-making when creating and developing their learning space. We asked the following questions:
- What do you think about first when it comes to creating engaging lessons?
- How does your environment affect your choices?
- What does your ideal learning space look like?
- How is your teaching style benefited/hindered by your learning space?
- When you design your learning space what questions do you ask yourself?
Analyze the Data: After we analyzed the data, we were stuck when we had to generalize themes. We were not sure how to combine the data and/or come up with numeric data. Our professor explained to us that we would need to read through the qualitative data we collected and find themes that were prevalent through all three of our data collection methods (field notes, surveys and interviews).
After a lot of analyzing and discussion, we came up with two common themes that reoccurred throughout our data collection.
The first theme we noticed and unanimously agreed on was the flexible learning environment. It was obvious that the instructors had developed a learning space that allowed students to work in whatever way or space necessary. Check out some of the data we lifting from our data below:
The second theme that was prevalent was how the instructional design chosen by the instructors developed the learning space. It was clear across all of the data collected that the instructors had control over their delivery of instruction and they chose many different methods in doing so. Whole group, small groups, student led, and partner “speed dating” are just a few of the instructional designs we were able to witness in the short time spent in their rooms. Check out some of the data we lifting from our data below:
Reflection: Overall, my experience conducting a our study was very interesting–it was the first qualitative research project I have participated in! I learned that there is a LOT that goes into carrying out a study. Our study was constricted to a very small amount of time, and I could see how getting definite results would take much, much longer.
- It was helpful to immerse ourselves in the environment we were observing
- We were not restricted by numeric data/statistics–rather common themes
- The qualitative study was more in depth in terms of the analysis of the subjects and the environment–we looked at students as a whole rather than who is making progress vs who is not (I was happy to not have our results be subjective)
- We had limited time to observe and analyze the data
- Small group of students being observed
- Our participants were in a new space, with new students and new instructors
- We would have preferred to do a comparative study but could not do so properly with the time