One of the last projects we were tasked with in year 2 of the MAET program was our Research 101 project. This project got us familiar with different research methodologies, how to conduct our own research study, and data analytics. While working as a part of a group, we had to craft an original research question (based on existing research and data), design a means by which we could collect data, analyze the data we collected and then prepare a presentation of our findings.
The Research Question
My group, comprised of Kate Boyd, Sara Trowbridge, Katie Dahmer, Megan Dreffs and myself, all converged on the idea of studying ideal learning spaces in schools. We were interested in this topic, because we wanted to know what type of environment we needed to create in our own classrooms to help our students be most successful.
Our original research question was some vague, lofty, convolutedly worded question about ideal learning spaces and impact on student achievement. I know what you’re thinking – sounds interesting – and it was, until we realized that even if we had 5 years to work on that question, we still wouldn’t be scratching more than the surface. We didn’t have 5 years, we had about 2 weeks to get this project done.
Given the constraints, namely constructing and disseminating the project in a two week window, we had to modify our research question and identify a research methodology that was more reasonable for our context. Easier said than done.
After way too many iterations, we were still having trouble crafting a meaningful research question that was reasonable for our context – until we realized something – the purpose of this project was not to find a concrete answer to our research question. In fact, the purpose was not really about the results at all. Yes, we all wanted to take away something we could implement into our classrooms, but this project was about the art of the research and seeing where that would take us.
Ultimately, we were able to boil down our research question to this: What do teachers perceive as the elements that make up the ideal learning space in today’s environment?
Now that we had a research question, we had to do a little bit of pre-research to see what information was already out there on our topic. We found that there is a lot of information about ideal learning spaces, but a lot of it is speculatory about what those spaces may look like in the future. We found that there is research to suggest the learning space does have an impact on student achievement, but it was difficult to find research that specifically addressed our question. We were, however, able to use the research we found to inform our own scope of inquiry, which ultimately proved to be useful. We were able to pull several characteristics of ideal learning spaces mentioned in our pre-research and use those as a springboard for our own data collection.
Because we had a short amount of time to formulate our research question, design our experiment, collect and analyze our data, and present our findings, we decided to opt for a qualitative research method. We designed a survey – that we sent out to our PLNs via Facebook, Twitter and direct contact – asking teachers what characteristics they thought to be most important to crafting an ideal learning space for students. Our survey had 12 characteristics, represented by checkboxes, and each respondents was asked to select their top 5 elements. We then collected a lot of demographic data on our respondents that we thought might be interesting as we analyze our data – type of school they work at, type of community that school is in, grade levels and subjects taught, years of teaching experience, etc.
Given the limitations of our study, we thought the survey method would be best for collecting the most data in the shortest amount of time. We kept most questions as pre-coded options, to make the data easier to analyze once received. We also limited the number of selections respondents could make, to help inform us of key elements in learning spaces – not just nice things to have.
- Create a survey using Google Forms
- Send out survey to PLNs using Facebook, Twitter and direct contact (text messages)
- Monitor data collection
- Analyze data
All of the data we collected was automatically compiled into Google Sheets via the Google Form. This allowed us to have our data broken down, but Google Forms also provided us with some quick charts and graphs to show us our current trends. Unfortunately, we had a few respondents submit duplicate responses (one of them submitted like 15 times) and that was going to skew our data. We were able to remove these duplicate responses from our Google Sheets analysis, but our Google Forms quick charts were no longer accurate.
From there, we decided to analyze our data based on categories. It was easy to see what the top elements of ideal learning environments were in our overall data, but we wanted to know if any of our demographic information may impact those choices. Each group member took on one category to analyze further – I had type of community.
What I found, was that it didn’t matter if the school was in an urban, rural or suburban community, the top 3 elements for ideal learning spaces were exactly the same (in order as well). The top 3 elements were access to technology, collaborative seating arrangements (such as pods), and lighting.
Upon further analysis, we discovered that these top 3 elements were the same across the board – no matter how you approached the sample. There were a few outliers and some data that caused us to stop and wonder, but for the most part, our data was incredibly consistent. This could be because our choices were originally rooted in research, or because teachers perceptions are all very similar.
Limitations and Future Direction
We were limited by a few things – first the way we formatted our survey. Our survey required participants to select five preconstructed options, but as one of our respondents pointed out, they didn’t have five options to choose. Our elements were also best suited towards general education classes and did not consider many of the sciences or their classroom needs.
Another limitation was not defining the terms we were using. As an MAET student, I believe that technology is anything not organic to the learning environment, but we were working under the assumption that our respondents would be categorizing technology as computers, and other high tech devices. I also noticed that many of my colleagues differed on their conception of our school community. Several respondents categorized my campus as urban, while others categorized it as urban.
A third limitation was the sample we collected from. Though we collected 277 responses, we noticed that our sample was predominately females, from public elementary schools in midwestern suburban communities who had between 1 and 5 years of teaching experience. We wonder if our data would have changed with a greater variety of participants.
From the results of our survey, we saw that access to technology, collaborative seating arrangements and lighting were perceived as the key elements to creating an ideal learning space for students. We believe that for further study, it would be beneficial to test students in various learning environments to determine which of these variables is most important and in what context those variables produce increased student achievement. This would be a long-term study that would need to sample a variety of students in several ages, communities, schools and locations.
Implications to MY Practice
Each of my group members and I went into this project hoping to take away something useful that we could implement into our own classrooms – and I think we accomplished that. I have, through this study, identified three key elements to an ideal learning space. I understand that access to technology is important, I understand that pods are important (which is good to know, because I was planning on scrapping the pods this year) and I know that something as trivial as lighting is crucial to the learning environment for students. I will be using all of this information to inform the way that I construct my learning space for the upcoming school year in the hopes that my classroom is the most conducive to student success as possible.
To see our fully analyzed project, view the research on Google Slides.
DISCLAIMER: The results from this survey SHOULD NOT be taken as fact. This was a “test” project, with a small sample size, and with no formal affiliation to a research organization.