, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1-22
Date: 26 Feb 2010

Pictures are necessary but not sufficient: Using a range of visual methods to engage users about school design

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Abstract

It has been argued by both educationalists and social researchers that visual methods are particularly appropriate for the investigation of people’s experiences of the school environment. The current and expected building work taking place in British schools provides an opportunity for exploration of methods, as well as a need to establish ways to achieve this involvement of a range of school users, including students. This article describes a consultation that was undertaken in a UK secondary school as part of a participatory design process centred on the rebuilding of the school. A range of visual methods, based on photographs and maps, was used to investigate the views of a diverse sample of school users, including students, teachers, technical and support staff and the wider community. Reported here is the experience of using these tools, considering the success of different visually-based methods in engaging a broad cross section of the school community and revealing useful information. Using a range of visual methods allows a complex, but coherent, understanding of the particular school environment to be constructed and developed. It is further argued that such a range of visual and spatial methods is needed to develop appropriate understanding. The study, therefore, contributes to knowledge about specific visual research methods, appreciation of the relationship between tools, and a general methodological understanding of visual methods’ utility for developing understanding of the learning environment.