This is the first of eight articles that will focus on exploring 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.
This article will focus on the first of the eight techniques, “Teaching Rooms With Low Frequency Rates” and I will go through the information gathering and investigation process I typically go through as part of the Teaching Space Utilisation Survey and Consultancy service that Education Space Consultancy offers in order to understand why some certain rooms have low frequency rates.
For the rest of this article I will presume that you a) have “actual” teaching space utilisation data over at least a week and b) you know how to calculate room frequency rate and how to find those rooms with the lowest and highest frequency rates. If you would like to collect teaching space utilisation data, Education Space Consultancy provides a professional, experienced and affordable service for doing so therefore please don’t hesitate to get in contact to discuss the different options.
If you have the data, but are unsure how determine which rooms have the lowest frequency rates, then first of take a look at the “8 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Teaching Space Utilisation Data” article for more information and if you subscribe to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter you can use the freely available Teaching Space Utilisation Data Analysis Tool to automatically create a range of data analysis tables, including rooms with the lowest and highest frequency rates.
I am happy to offer free advice and help, so please don’t hesitate to get in contact if you would like some assistance with any of this.
Now you know that some rooms have low frequency rates, what next? A low room frequency rate will be down to the demand for this room and the issues that affect this demand. Therefore each of the following 7 points focus on what I believe to be the key 7 issues affecting the demand on teaching spaces, resulting in low frequency rates.
A teaching room’s availability is a fundamental aspect of the frequency rate calculation, if the room isn’t available on certain days or times, then the room will not be used resulting in a low frequency rate.
For those rooms with the lowest frequency rates you need to determine whether they are each available for every hour throughout the survey week or are there days/times that they are unavailable? You want to look for differences, so if these and all other rooms aren’t available on a Wednesday afternoon – this won’t be an indicator for why some rooms have lower frequency rates than others.
The first step is to check when these rooms are actually being used and determine whether they are only being used on certain days/times. Then discus these findings with the timetabling team/person – are there reasons for this? Why was this room used then and not at any other point during the survey week? Is this day/time specifically requested by a department? If so, why?
Departments may only use rooms for on certain days/times, without the timetabling team/person necessarily knowing why. Therefore also check with those that use the room and ask them why they booked the room at this day/time. My advice is to do both, as this help to ensure you have the full picture.
At this point also check to see whether this room was booked more than it was used – if not, then check with the timetabling team to see whether demand fluctuates depending on the week (you may have surveyed a week with low demand) . If this is the case, find out why, what is the reason for these fluctuations? (You are looking to see if they can be avoided).If there are timetable bookings that weren’t attended, then again these need to be investigated. The best place to start with these, would be with the person or department that booked them – why are these activities booked and not used? I will touch on this again in a later article and extra information on the topic of rooms booked and not used, can be found here.
A teaching room’s access restriction can be one of the main reasons for a low frequency rate, as this will directly affect the potential demand for bookings.
You are looking for any access differences that may restrict the potential demand – is the room a department only room (not all departments can use it)? Is access to the room restricted to certain staff? Is access to the room restricted to certain students (i.e. post grad students only)? Are there other concerns, such as a lack of disability access or provisions that are preventing access?
As with availability, best place to start is by asking the timetable team/person however again it would also be worth checking with the potential users of this room in case there are reasons that the timetable team/person are unaware of. I would advise consulting with the academic staff, as they will be the actual users of the room and will therefore have the best understanding over whether access is an issue.
Location can have drastic effect on a room’s frequency rate as if a room is located away from the main teaching area its demand is likely to suffer. For example, a satellite site with less teaching than the main site will therefore have less demand for teaching rooms. Also, a room located in a hard to find building/area is likely to be less popular due to concerns regarding students/staff finding the room.
The best place to start is to actually go find the room, only using the site and building signage. Were you able to find the room? If so, was it easy to find the room? Is it located away from other teaching rooms? Is it located away from the main users of this type of space? (For example an art studio, a 15 minute walk away from the Arts department is unlikely to be popular with staff or students!)
If you believe location may be an issue, discuss this with the timetabling team/person as well as the potential users of this room. Again I would advise consulting with the academic staff, for the same reasons.
- Space Type
The space type of a teaching room usually has a significant influence of the frequency rate and it all relates to the demand vs the availability of this space type. For example, if this space types availability (i.e. total hours during survey week) far exceeds that of the demand for this space type (i.e. number of classes that require the facilities this space has available) then on average the rooms of this space type will have a low frequency rate. Typically the space types with the lowest frequency rates are specialist teaching spaces, such as specialist laboratories, as these types of spaces can only be used for very specific tasks. Therefore the demand for this space is comparatively much lower than the non-specialists space.
To find out whether the space type effects the frequency rate, it would be worth calculating your frequency rate by space type take a look at article “8 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Teaching Space Utilisation Data” for more information. Then also consider the other 6 factors discussed in this article, do they also effect the demand and availability of this room compared to other rooms of the same space type? If so, what is the demand and availability for this room?
Teaching room functionality can often be a cause of low frequency rate which is missed, typically because it is the users that are affected by a room’s poor functionality and this issue isn’t always communicated back to those responsible for managing and/or booking the room.
A room that doesn’t provide the functionality required by staff and students will typically be avoided when requesting room bookings, therefore limiting the demand for this room. The room may be available every hour of the week, in an ideal location, open to everyone, a space type with high demand and in a great condition – however still has a low frequency rate because the room’s functionality doesn’t meet that of what the users want.
I advise first of all asking the timetabling team/person as well as key academic staff who could use this room for their teaching. Are there any functionality issues resulting in this room not being used? If so, what are they? If there are issues with the functionality the potential users of the teaching spaces are usually more than happy to tell you about them, however the aim is to understand the physical issues that are causing the functionality problems. For example, the students not being able to see the AV from the back of the room may be due to poor lighting, or broken blinds causing glare or simply due to the student having to be seated too far away. If you don’t know why though, you won’t be able to solve the issue.
If any functionality issues are raised, I therefore also strongly advise that you also go and view the room from a student and staff perspective to ensure you clearly understand the problem. Stand at the front of the room and consider whether the lectern is a good height? Can you see all the desk spaces? Is the equipment easy to use? What are the acoustics like? What is the temperature like? What are the light levels like? Can you adjust the lighting? Write on the board and turn on the AV, then sit at the back of the room –Can you see what is written on the board? Can you see what is shown on the AV? Are the chairs and table comfortable? Ideally take someone with you and see if you can hear them clearly from the back of the room. The aim is to test the room from a learning perspective, creating an objective picture of the rooms functionality issues, by doing this you can then look to solve these issues and thereby improve the demand for this teaching space.
Similarly to functionality, room condition can cause a room to have a low frequency rate despite all other factors providing an environment where the room should have a high frequency rate. If the room is in poor condition, it may well cause the room to be undesirable and cause staff to actively avoid being timetabled into this room.
Therefore again, discuss this with timetabling team/person – are they aware of any condition issues that result in this room being poorly used? Talk to the potential users of this room, again I would specifically focus on the academic staff as they will be the people who actually use this room and are therefore effected by the rooms condition. Is the room’s condition effecting whether they use this room? Again, “the room looking horrible” is not so helpful, so try and find out why they have this feeling – why is the room horrible? What about it makes it horrible? What could be done to improve it? You are looking for physical issues with the room that you can highlight and look to resolve.
If any condition concerns are raised, then again I strongly advise you go to the room and consider the condition of the room yourself. Concentrate on the issues that have been raised, but again as with functionality try and objectively consider all the different aspects of the room that affect its condition. For example is the carpet/paint/walls stained/marked/chipped? Is the furniture marked/chipped/broken? Does all the lighting work? Is the writing board marked/stained/chipped? Does the AV screen work? Is it marked/stained? Do the blinds work? Are any broken? As with functionality the aim is to create an objective picture of the room and understand the condition issues and causes that effect the room, by doing this you can then come up with solutions for solving these issues.
- Room Equipment
Room equipment or the lack of, as with functionality and condition, can result in a low frequency rate despite all the other factors pointing towards this room providing a learning environment that should have a high frequency rate. If all the users demand a seminar room with a whiteboard, but this seminar room has a chalkboard, then this room will be avoided where eve r possible.
This can be straight forward to determine, depending on the information you have within the timetabling software. Therefore first of all consult with the timetabling team/person and confirm whether teaching rooms have equipment tagged against them in the software and whether users provide equipment requirements when requesting a room. If the answer is yes to both, then the timetable will be able to show you whether a lack of equipment is affecting the demand.
If the timetable doesn’t include this information then I would advise finding out what equipment this room contains and consulting with the potential users of this room, again I would specifically focus on the academic staff. Is there extra equipment that they require in order to teach? Is so, what equipment do they require?
In most circumstances, the reasons for very low frequency rates are a combination of these considerations or an extreme of one or two. Therefore I advise that each of these 7 points are carefully considered when analysing the teaching rooms with low frequency rates, as there may well be more than one issue with a room that results in a low frequency rate. Only solving one issue when there are several, may well result in very little improvement and a waste of resources if the remaining issues are significant.
Understanding why these rooms have low frequency rates, provides the extra layer of evidence that is required for making actionable recommendations for improving the utilisation of the teaching space. Therefore ensuring you have the full picture of the causes for each room will ensure that any recommendations made will bring the results you are looking for.
Teaching Space Utilisation Surveys is a topic that I am very enthusiastic about and see it as a fantastic service for improving the availability of space within an institution. Education Space Consultancy is always looking to work with institutions to help them improve their space availability and save estate costs, therefore please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me if you are potentially interested in this type of service.
I hope you have found the article useful and interesting, remember to sign up to Education Space Consultancy newsletter to gain free access to the Teaching Space Utilisation Data Analysis Tool that will enable you to instantly analyse you teaching space utilisation data.
All the best