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Student use of an open learning space in mathematics

Learning and Teaching Conference 2016, Sheffield Hallam University (24/06/2016). With Hannah Bartholomew, Claire Cornock, Mike Robinson and Jeff Waldock.


Suitably-designed open learning space facilitates staff-student and peer interaction by supporting new patterns of social and intellectual behaviour (Oblinger, 2005); providing spaces where faculty and students can 'run into' each other increases engagement and learning (Hunley and Schaller, 2009). Working in close proximity to friends or peers to create a sense of community, for co-support and for someone to take a break with was a key learning preference expressed by learners (Harrop and Turpin, 2013). Incorporating a disciplinary focus in the design helps learners identify with that discipline and feel they belong to a professional community; this, together with a managed peer-support network, helps create a partnership learning community within which student engagement can flourish (Boys, 2011; Healey et al., 2014).

Maths at Sheffield Hallam moved in 2015 to a new staff-student shared learning space. This is a large, open student work area surrounded by staff offices. We have been investigating how students use the space and how this contributes to the community of staff and student mathematicians in our subject group. Data collection has included regular observations of use of the space, analysis of student timetables and a questionnaire to investigate the effect of timetable gaps on use of the space, and interviews with students whose study has been split between the new space and our old location, to investigate how they use the space and what changes have been made to their study between the two locations.

This talk will describe the design of the learning space and what we do to encourage its use, and discuss the initial findings of the research undertaken, focusing on how students make use of the space.


Boys, J. (2011). Towards creative learning spaces: Re-thinking the architecture of post-compulsory education. Routledge.
Harrop, D. and Turpin, B. (2013). A study exploring learners' informal learning space behaviours, attitudes, and preferences. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 19(1). pp. 58-77.
Healey, M., Flint, A. and Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. The Higher Education Academy.
Hunley, S. and Schaller, M. (2009). Assessment: the Key to Creating Spaces that Promote Learning. Educause review, 44(2), pp. 26-35.
Oblinger, D. G. (2005). Leading the Transition from Classroom to Learning Spaces: the Convergence of Technology, Pedagogy, and Space can Lead to Exciting New Models of Campus Interaction. Educause quarterly, 1, pp. 14-18.