Observation of User Activity Patterns in Open and Traditional Plan School Environments
Do the activities of teachers and students in flexible space differ from the activities of teachers and students in traditional space? The paper reports the results from an observation technique used to explore this question. It is part of a larger project evaluating the open building systems project of the Study of Educational Facilities of the Metropolitan Toronto School Board. This report deals with 2,900 observations of classrooms, teaching areas, kindergartens, libraries, and commons in twelve schools (four traditional plan schools, four open plan schools and four SEF schools). The observers recorded the number of people in the spaces, the kinds of groupings, the activities, the amount of movement, and the number of different types of tools being used. The results show that the activity patterns in open plan schools are quite distinct from traditional plan schools. On the whole, there is less structuring of spaces, teachers are more personal and informal with the students. Students work more often in small groups or alone and use a greater variety of tools. Differences in activity patterns were related to the socioeconomic status of the district and to the size of the schools. While part of the differences measured may be due to self-selection of teachers or a simple Hawthorne effect, some seems attributable to the nature of the physical space. Future extension of the study will attempt to establish relationships between activity patterns and behavioral outcomes.
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