Learning Services (at Edge Hill University) have been interested in using ethnographic techniques for some time now to gather more meaningful information about how students are interacting with our learning spaces (and don’t worry…we still keep stats on how many people are coming in and out of the building as well!)
We were originally inspired by research undertaken by Bryony Ramsden for her PhD and she kindly signposted us to the extensive research on this topic in the States.
Our Learning Spaces team regularly use activity counts, non-participant observations, scribble sheets (and more!) to give us a better insight into how students are using our learning spaces and this type of activity is now embedded in our practice.
After reading up on the ERIAL project and The Library Study at Fresno State we decided to try using student diary mapping to give us an additional viewpoint – direct from the students themselves. We did try this technique with a small group of students last academic year and what did we learn…? Well – mainly that students need more incentive than ‘your views will help us shape the future of your learning spaces’ and so this year we tried a different approach…
In a nutshell we recruited 10 students and paid them for their time. Students were asked to undertake three complementary activities:
- To write down all activities (related to learning!) undertaken in two days from the moment they woke up to the moment they went to bed. We wanted details of the activity, but also any thoughts/feelings and any barriers they experienced
- To map out (to literally draw on maps of the building) their journeys within the University library learning spaces
- To take photographs of things that were important to them and vice versa i.e. photographs of anything that got on their nerves!
Students were also asked to take part in a semi-structured interview; our plan was to discuss their diaries in more detail, get them to reflect on their activities, probe them for more information. Basically to open up a dialogue.
It seems that we got the incentive right this time! Ten sets of diaries, maps and photographs have been submitted and we are half way through the conducting the interviews.
So what next…? Well, as well as working through all of the data we have gathered (there is a lot) the plan is to invite all the students who took part in the diary mapping to take part in ‘design work shop’. No idea what that will involve at this stage – but I picked up the idea from Paul-Jervis Heath following a really useful session at the i2c2 conference in March – so we’ll see how we get on…
I would love hear from fellow novices like me (or experts!) about your diary mapping, or other ethnographic techniques. Get in touch, or even better – write a blog post….
Customer Services Manager
Edge Hill University
Photo credit: Learning Services, Edge Hill University