ONLINE LEARNING: USING A SPACE METAPHOR TO EVALUATE DESIGN AND LEARNING
Pennsylvania State University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Conference name: 10th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2017
Location: Seville, Spain
Increased attention is being paid to the notion of learning spaces or built environments  and their impact on student learning outcomes as well as interactions within the space. The perspective that space can shape social practices and interactions  suggests that the built physical environment can mediate the nature of interactions, the use of the space, as well as the experiences of the space . However, while research is increasingly focused on how physical learning spaces can be designed to enhance and support learning , less attention has focused on applying and evaluating a learning spaces approach to formal online education. Research in this area has focused primarily on examining learners’ perceptions or enactments of the university space  and theoretical conceptions of space and being in the context of mobile and online technologies . In this paper, the notion of built space is applied to a formal online environment to examine how different designed “spaces” support interactions and perceptions of space.
This study focused on one completely online graduate course. The topic of the course is learning theories and is offered primarily via the learning management system Canvas. Students engage in a variety of activities including discussion board postings, collaborative projects using web 2.0 tools such as the Google suite of tools, and blogs.
The main research questions of this study include: What kinds of interactions are typical of the different learning “spaces” that students inhabit? And, What are student perceptions of such spaces?
A combination of social network analyses and discourse analyses are used to examine the first research question, while student surveys and interviews are used to examine response to the second question.
Results indicate that each tool corresponds to a specific built space. Discussion boards can be likened most closely to the physical space of a lecture hall, while the Google suite of tools best corresponds to an informal coffee room where conversations ensue over different times. The social network analyses indicate, however, that interactions on the discussion boards are detailed and thoughtful, much like that expected in a lecture hall, while the informal interactions tend to be more superficial and off-the-cuff. Further details will be provided in the presentation, including details of student surveys.
Given the increasing number of online courses and spaces for learning it is important to understand the ways in which different tools influence interaction and relationships within diferent learning spaces. This paper contributes by focusing on the implementation of certain designed online spaces and the interactions and experiences of students within those spaces, as recommended by .
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Keywords: Online learning, learning spaces, qualitative research.