Measuring the Impact of School Design – Differently

To move beyond traditional measures of research impact, this post on the LSE Impact blog proposes a range of alternative indicators. So alongside H-Index, number of citations etc there are many more provocative and interesting suggestions eg: angry letters from powerful people; town hall meetings; place of publication. They’re problematic for sure, but each reveals something that meaningfully broadens ways to think about impact.

What if we were to do the same for school design?

That is – what are all the odd and useful ways we might come to know that school design has an impact on people? If we were forced to translate those into indicators, what would they be? Here’s an attempt. As much as anything it’s an attempt at showing how difficult (and possibly ridiculous) that task would be. See at the bottom of the page for a bit of a discussion on that.

But for now, without delving into the whole horrors of indicators in general, much less supporting their introduction, what else would you add to these tentative indications that someone is happy because of their school design?

  • Linger time (ie time before/after school; into and out of lessons)
  • Smiles on entrance
  • Students/teachers encouraging friends/colleagues to come and study/work at their institution
  • People making spaces their own eg with drawings, plants, signs, messages
  • People not employed to pick litter up, picking litter up
  • Please suggest more via the Comments box below or email us architectureandeducation  [at]  gmail.com and we’ll happily add them to the list here.
  • The following are from teacher friends responding via Facebook:
  • Absence of graffiti (thanks Sophie Thomas)
  • Taking care of fixtures, fittings and facilities generally (Fi Meadows thanks – Stuart Young too)
  • Teachers and students doing private work in the school’s public spaces (thanks again Fi Meadows)
  • Finding places they want to be (thanks Stuart Young)
  • Taking part in activities before or after school (Stuart Young again, thanks!)
  • Using the space for outside activities or events (school dances, community events, art shows, performances) (thanks Jamie Reuben)
  • I think wanting to impact the design or personalize the environment also indicates our commitment to it. (thanks once more Jamie Reuben!)
  • Following a one-way/queue system voluntarily (thanks Ed Martin)
  • There’s a primary school in Basingstoke where the TA, who was a brilliant designer, had constructed an Arctic-themed book corner with white silky walls and floor and the children spontaneously took their shoes off before they went inside without any instruction from adults, who were very surprised. (great, thanks Emma Dyer!)
  • Artwork put up around the school in communal spaces, positive comments from teachers and students about how it enhances the space. Students keen to get involved with assisting in putting up and changing displays. (lovely, thanks Georgina Dawson)
  • “No ushering needed” ie students go voluntarily into classes at changeover times. (thanks Danny Citrine!)

There are more in “Comments” below – thanks Kirk, Pamela Woolner and Emma Dyer

Discussion: I intended this as a playfully serious way to think about how we can know what people feel about particular spaces. Each indicator opens up different ways of thinking about what is important, for whom and why.

Writing it down has made it clearer just how:

  1. they all, already operate in schools to some extent in the way that ‘good’ teachers, for example, read complex situations and respond to how students are feeling or how any of us might have a ‘feel’ for a place that wouldn’t fit into one of the above
  2. they might be more useful as a heuristic to open up ways of thinking about how school space counts for people (but may not be countable)
  3. good things can happen without easy indicators of their having happened – Rory Olcayto makes an interesting and similar point in the editorial “Few Can Argue Against Good School Design” in the Architects’ Journal: “focusing on whether we can empirically measure and prove the positive impact architectural design can have misses the more obvious point.”
  4. it is nigh on impossible to construct condensed yes/no, present/absent signals that indicate unambiguously what humans feel. Many of the above are also indicative of ‘bad’ things for example students lingering or not wanting to go home can suggest problems there, likewise people can be inspired to make their spaces nicer because they’re horrible in the first place; signals are contextual, capital “I” Indicators aren’t allowed to be…
  5. indicators should come with bigger health warnings than they do
  6. given the awkwardness of such indicators, it might just be better to ask people. Hopefully, we’ll have an interview and post up here soon about Post-Occupancy Evaluation.
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Author: Adam Wood

Education researcher - school architecture. Blog: https://architectureandeducation.org

3 thoughts on “Measuring the Impact of School Design – Differently”

  1. High levels of agreement from students and teachers that the school space is appropriate for the learning and teaching activities that they want to do (not easy to measure…!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Echo (17 year old daughter) says that you can see, rather than measure whether students are relaxed or not, laughing, talking, not rushing about, but casual about what they do with their time together at break or lunch, enjoying each others’ company, not having specific plans about always being in a specific place when they have time away from lessons.

    Like

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