Dr. Erica DeFrain, Assistant Professor at University Libraries, and Dr. Miyoung Hong, Assistant Professor of Interior Design, have teamed up with six Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) students from the College of Architecture to study the use of informal learning spaces across the University of Nebraska - Lincoln campus. This mixed-methods, interdisciplinary research study will compare students’ learning needs and behaviors at Love Library, the Nebraska Union, the College of Business, and the College of Nursing. The project is an extension of an earlier study conducted by DeFrain and Hong, and funded by the UNL Research Council’s Maude Hammond Fling Faculty Research Fellowship, that focused on the Adele Hall Learning Commons. DeFrain said, “In that study we learned what was important about the Adele Hall Learning Commons, but needed to understand the ‘pull’ factors for other similar spaces on campus. Conducting this comparative analysis will help us to identify the unique attributes for each of the sites, and understand how to best support the students who use them and their learning needs.”
For their investigation, DeFrain and Hong are combining observation, survey, and focus group methods to gather qualitative and quantitative data from each of the sites. The survey instrument, designed according to the American Institute of Architect’s Post-Occupancy Evaluation best practices, asks students to assess the physical design aspects, such as spatial design, furnishings, and indoor environmental quality (IEQ), reflect on their own productivity and needs, and provide standard demographic data. During Fall 2018, the UCARE students focused on the College of Business and Love Library South, documenting 120 hours of observations and gathering over 300 student surveys from the two sites. Beginning in January 2019, they will switch to collecting these data from the College of Nursing and the Nebraska Union.
DeFrain said, “The people who create and oversee informal learning spaces have their own intentions for them, and it’s enlightening to see how students are actually matching or mismatching those intentions. For example, many of our campus spaces are being built to support active, collaborative learning, but when we asked students what they were working on in those spaces, they most often were there for independent study, and our observational data support that.”
The project has provided numerous opportunities to share and discuss findings, and DeFrain and Hong are excited to continue their research collaboration once this study concludes. They presented a poster on the first stage of the research at the 2018 International Association of University Libraries conference in Oslo, Norway; will present full findings at the 2019 Architecture Research Centers Consortium conference in Toronto, Canada; and aim to submit an article for review by the end of this year. The UCARE students will also share their work at the 2019 UNL Spring Research Fair, and are hopeful their proposals for the National Council for Undergraduate Research will be accepted for presentation at next spring’s conference in Kennesaw, Georgia.