Ensuring each teaching room is used as effectively as possible, involves understanding both the frequency and occupancy rate for this space. A previous article (Why Do Teaching Rooms Have Low Frequency Rates? – Teaching Space Utilisation Data Analysis) considered the factors that effect the frequency rates individual spaces/rooms have on low frequency rates, this article is going to look at the other side of the coin – occupancy rates.
I look specifically at the different reasons for why individual teaching rooms can have a low occupancy rate, providing a starting point for investigating and understanding why, so you can form an actionable plan for improving the occupancy and space utilisation for your teaching rooms.
This article is the second in the series looking at the data analysis methods highlighted in the “8 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Teaching Space Utilisation Data” article. If you haven’t had a chance to read this, it’s worth checking it out as these eight techniques will really help you to get the most out of your teaching space. Also, by subscribing to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter you can access the freely available Education Space Consultancy Teaching Space Utilisation Data Tool. This tool automatically completes several of the data analysis methods for you, once you have added your core data.
Ok, so when considering a low occupancy rate for an individual space the overarching reason is that the demand for this space does not match its provision – i.e. the classes/activities using this space are smaller than capacity. However, alone this doesn’t tell you much and you will need more information in order to take action in improving the occupancy rate for this space. Therefore, here are some of the key reasons for a low occupancy rate that upon investigation will provide you with the evidence you need to improve the utilisation of your teaching spaces.
Who can access and use an individual teaching space can certainly have a significant impact upon the occupancy rate for a teaching space. If a room is only available to a sub section of teaching activities then this is the only demand that this space can accommodate. Consequentially, if a teaching space is only available for teaching activities where the class sizes are comparatively lower – the occupancy rate will certainly suffer.
Therefore the first step is to find out whether the space(s) identified have restricted access. Is access to the space(s) restricted to individual departments? Is access to the space(s) restricted to certain staff? Is access to the space(s) restricted to certain students (i.e. post grad students only)?
The simplest and most effective place to start this investigation is with the timetabling team(s) who are responsible for the space(s) identified. If a space is a “department only” teaching space, then it is also worth investigating this with the department to ensure you fully understand what access restrictions there are i.e. are all students able to use this room? Are all staff? Can teaching take place in this room all week? – You are looking for all the factors that affect the potential demand for this space and therefore help to explain its low occupancy rate.
Then once you understand what teaching activities are permitted to use this space, collect the timetable data for the representative teaching activities and compare the class sizes against the space(s) capacity. Does the teaching space size reflect the demand (i.e. teaching activity class sizes)? If not, then access is very likely to be an issue.
If the teaching space does reflect timetable demand does , then also compare the timetable class sizes to the actual class sizes you recorded during the space utilisation survey – is there a significant difference? If so – then investigate why this is. I will go into this in more detail in a later article in this series, but the key issue here is that if the timetable has a class size of 50 but the actual attendance is 10, a room with a capacity of 50 will always be provided due to the timetable team having to assume 50 will attend. In many cases this difference may be due to issues within the timetable processes that once resolved will create more accurate timetable requests. This will allow you and the timetable team to reinvestigate and action changes to the space available for these activities, improving your occupancy rate and utilisation of space.
The location of the space, as with access, can limit the potential demand. If a teaching room is located on a satellite campus or in a location a significant distance (i.e. + 10 mins walk) away from the main teaching area, the demand for this space will be limited to those teaching activities that can take place at this location.
This again effects the occupancy rate, as if the demand for teaching space (i.e. teaching activity class sizes) is comparatively smaller than the teaching space capacity – then the room, when in use, will typically be poorly used (i.e. low occupancy rate). This may not be noticeable if just considering the overall demand, as there may well be an overall demand for this type and size of space.
Therefore the first step, in this case, is to consider and investigate whether the location of the space(s) is affecting the potential demand. Is the space on a satellite campus? Is it located away from the main teaching area?
As with investigating access, the timetabling team will most likely be able to answer these questions and if location is likely to be a factor effecting demand, they may well be able to provide you with an export of those activities that can use this space – as they may well have parameters built into the timetabling process that factors the space location and therefore limits the demand to a sub section of teaching activities. If not, then it would be worth investigating with the departments that do use this space to find out which teaching activities can use this space.
Once you have the complete list of activities that can use this space, as with investigating access, compare the class sizes against the teaching space capacity to determine whether this space is a suitable size. If not, then the location of this space is likely to be one of contributory factors resulting in a low occupancy rate.
The type of space, as with the other factors mentioned in this article, will have an effect upon the demand for this space (unless all of your space is the same space type). This could therefore also be a contributory factor resulting in a space having a low occupancy rate. For example, if you have a specialist computer science lab with a capacity of 100 that is only available for computer science lab sessions which have a maximum class size of 50 – then at best, this room will only ever be half used, when in use.
So again, you are looking to see whether the space type effects demand and if so, how?
Best place to start – as with practically everything teaching space related – is the timetable team. Is the space labelled as a specific space type? If so, what is the demand for this space type? As with the previous points the timetable team may well be able to provide you an export of those activities that could use this space. If not, then again it would be worth investigating with the departments that are timetabled into this space to ensure you fully understand the potential demand – Before actioning changes, always check with the users of the space to ensure you have all the information!
As pointed out in the example at the start of this section if the class sizes using this space are comparatively smaller that room capacity, then this is likely to be a contributory factor for the low occupancy rate and indicates a smaller version of the same space type would help to improve the occupancy rate for the institution. Again, its always worth also comparing the timetable and actual class sizes to make sure there isn’t a difference. If there is, investigate why – see Location for more info.
In all three of these considerations we are looking for the factors that affect supply and demand. Supply being the number of teaching spaces available and demand being the activities that require teaching rooms. If there is an imbalance, not only will frequency suffer but as shown, occupancy can also.
The trick is to look at all the factors that could cause an imbalance in the demand vs supply and investigate which of these are causing the low occupancy rate. If you have a room or rooms with low occupancy rate – consider whether there is a demand for a room of this space type, in this location that is accessible by those that can use it. It may well be a combination of these factors, or it may be just one, either way by investigating each you will create a picture of the causes that will enable you to then have informed discussions with the room stakeholders on how to improve the utilisation of this space – i.e. action.
Action, is the end goal – and to get there you must ensure you clearly understand why the identified spaces have low occupancy, without this any action taken may well cause additional problems not only to the space utilisation, but also to staff and students. How you decide upon the action that you should take, is another discussion that I have touched on previously and will continue to do so over the coming months.
The key factor is ensuring you understand everything that effects the usage of this room, therefore investigating the space usage with all the different users is strongly advised as typically one source will not hold all the information you require.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it useful. Remember to subscribe to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter and you can download for free, the Education Space Consultancy Teaching Space Utilisation Data Tool as well as be sent a fortnightly newsletter with lots of free information and news.
If you currently don’t carry out teaching space utilisation surveys at your institution or do but currently manage them internally or with another company, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me to discuss how Education Space Consultancy can offer you a professional, reliable and client focussed teaching space utilisation service that will provide you with the information you require, when you need it, at an affordable price. Also, remember to take a look at the Teaching Space Utilisation Survey and Consultancy page for more information on how Education Space Consultancy can help you gather this information and help you improve your institutions teaching space utilisation
Next week I will be posting another article in this series, this time looking at Space Type Analysis so remember to look out for this or sign up to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter to be sent a link to this article via the fortnightly newsletter.
All the best