Between the end of semester 1 and start of semester 2, we surveyed staff who had been timetabled into a PC lab at some point during the 2016/17 academic year to find out their opinion of PC labs as learning spaces, including the types of activity undertaken within the labs, lecturers’ reasons for choosing a PC lab, how well SHU’s labs meet their current requirements, and how SHU’s labs could be enhanced to support other ways of working.
Of the 703 staff identified, 197 responded to the survey (36%, though this figure does not account for staff listed as PC lab users because they were part of a module team but weren’t actually using the room themselves). The survey showed, as would be expected, that most staff book PC labs because they need rooms where students can work on PCs and access the internet, however a more interesting finding was that, while the majority of PC labs are equipped to provide one PC per student, around 15% of respondents stated that they are using the labs for collaborative work, such as problem-based learning and group projects. However, these respondents also stated that the layout of the labs can restrict the effectiveness of these rooms for this type of work, such as by limiting the ability for groups to cluster together or by the lack of usable table space for non-PC activities. In general, though, the PC labs are used as spaces where students can actively work on a PC for a significant proportion of the session, with 58% stating that students were actively using the PC for at least 36 minutes of every hour.
While 63.7% of respondents rated the current PC labs as either very good (47.4%) or excellent (16.3%) at meeting their current teaching requirements, there were clear indications that staff are interested in, or actively looking for, ways to support alternative pedagogies and activities within the labs. While 98% of respondents want to continue using the labs as spaces where they can present, access general and specialist software and demonstrate PC-based techniques and skills, over 60% want the capability for students to discreetly watch videos and listen to audio, while 62% want to use the rooms for groupwork and 34% want to be able to mix digital working with analogue activities such as using whiteboards.
The findings from this survey, particularly around the growing requirement for learning spaces where groups of students can work collaboratively, informed the development of the Active Learning Classroom in Owen 223. This room has been refurbished to enable groups of students to work together on a shared PC and screen and later share what they have been doing with the entire class. An evaluation of this room will help us further understand how this particular type of space can facilitate a different type of learning to the standard classroom or fixed PC lab.
A summary report of the findings is available to download, and the results of this survey and any future research will be used to inform future PC labs developments at SHU.