Every research project begins with the wish to address a pressing need, and then hopefully transits into a well-resourced active project. ILETC has been fortunate in making the journey from discussions between a few academics, to a successful grant, to the establishment of an extraordinarily skilled and enthusiastic team operating across a number of countries.
A vital component of making such research ‘happen’ is to logically and progressively build from what we know to what we must find out. Only then can our research effectively address the most pressing questions. ILETC has enjoyed the luxury of an initial ‘exploratory’ stage where the assumptions and beliefs carried into the project could be tested for their accuracy and relevance. For example, and in reference to ILETC’s focus, we assumed that ‘innovative learning environments’ actually existed in large numbers, and there was some common understanding of their construct and use. We assumed from anecdotal evidence that teachers were tending not to use these spaces as effectively as they could. We assumed that a traditional ‘teacher-centric’ teaching style was the predominant approach. We assumed that students were continuing to learn ‘superficially’ as opposed to engaging in the deep learning activities, characteristic
of decades of progressive educational theorising and governmental policy aspirations.
These were massive assumptions. We asked ourselves, ’what evidence exists to inform their accuracy?’. During the Phase 1 (exploratory) stage of ILETC, a range of approaches were used to test such assumptions. These included three systematic reviews of the literature, a suite of teacher workshops across Australia and New Zealand, a large survey of primary and secondary school principals, six research events run in Australasia, Europe, and North America, and a series of case studies involving more than 30
schools and other educational sites and 120 teachers, principals, architects and other educators. What this document is intended to do The ILETC team collectively set out to define our key terms. If we were to research independently but also within a team of 22 researchers, could we own (as much as is possible) a common understanding of our
key terms, and how they were defined? On the surface this appeared to be a reasonably simple task – ask for a literature review from each PhD candidate, and through negotiation conflate the answers. In practice, it proved far more challenging. Our multi-disciplinary team (spread across teachers, museum educators, statisticians, designers and architects) each carried their own conceptual understanding of terms such as spatial design, affordances, effective teaching, good learning, and many more. This immersion
into our common understanding of terms fostered complex team workshop discussions that addressed many research quandaries hidden in our project; for example: what constitutes evidence?, what actually is ‘pedagogy’?, how can we measure for effect?, and
how does one understand an individual’s ‘practice’?. Thus, this report lays out for the team, and interested partners in and consumers of our research, not only stipulative definitions of our key terms, but also how our team determined the critical epistemological foundation required for the next two phases of our project.