We first report descriptive statistics for the quantitative data to portray students’ experiences of physical learning spaces, ICT resources, and pedagogical practices. We then outline the five main categories identified in students’ open answers. Lastly, the frequency of mentions of each category and sub-category is discussed.
Assessment of current learning environments
In terms of physical learning environments (Table 1), a need for more spaces for self-study both alone (M = 3.12, SD = 1.33) and in groups (M = 3.04, SD = 1.29) was identified. Students considered that the physical spaces they experienced were suitable for learning (M = 3.98, SD = 1.15) and cozy (M = 3.88, SD = 1.20), although means for these factors were below 4, suggesting that improvements are still needed.
Regarding ICT in learning (Table 2), students indicated that the ICT provided by the university was suitable for learning (M = 3.98, SD = 1.16) and that the resources were sufficient (M = 3.81, SD = 1.22), although again there was some room for improvement. Means were lower for the flexibility of ICT (M = 3.42, SD = 1.11), especially use of personal ICT devices (M = 3.29, SD = 1.50).
From a pedagogical perspective (Table 3), item means were at around the mid-point. Teachers’ use of different pedagogical approaches was ranked the lowest (M = 3.36, SD = 1.13). In comparison, their readiness to organize learning situations that supported student learning had a slightly better rating (M = 3.78, SD = 1.09). Teachers’ ability to use different methods in order to keep students interested in the content was rated at a similar level as their support of student learning (M = 3.61, SD = 1.10).
Qualitative analysis: characteristics of preferred learning environments
The qualitative results indicated that the students’ perceptions can be grouped into five main categories related to the desired elements of the learning environment: campus, online, pedagogy, resources, and ICT in education. This categorization aligns with the learning environment descriptions of Manninen et al. (2007) and Radcliffe (2008), although more-detailed perspectives for the aspects preferred by students are provided in the current work. Specifically, the elements of the Pedagogy–Space–Technology description presented by Radcliffe (2008) were updated to better reflect students’ needs related to learning environments. These categories are described along with their sub-categories (see Fig. 1) and then the frequency of mentions of all categories is discussed.
The first main category, campus, was most-frequently mentioned, with 139 references by 91 respondents. This category contained the three sub-categories of environments, features, and services, with environments being the most mentioned. Responses in this category indicated the need for places where students can study in small groups with their peers, in pairs, or alone. Additionally, this category suggested a need for places to rest and just hang out and spend time with peers. These statements referred not to classrooms or lecture halls but to informal places for study or spending time within campus buildings:
Also, places for self-study should be developed. There is no room in the library, and if the computers won’t work, you have to go home. It would help [a lot] if there were more spaces for studying and learning.
It would be good for learning if there were areas for self-directed learning, quiet areas for studying alone, and areas for working in groups.
There could be more ‘corners’ for studying.
The second sub-category, features, focused on the learning spaces described above and other physical spaces on campus. Responses were typically short and focused on what the environments should be like. The features most commonly mentioned were comfortable and cozy, referring to places with good air quality and acoustics and that were ergonomic, spacious, warm, and aesthetically pleasing. This category contained several descriptions of what the physical spaces should be like to make them appealing and cozy:
Relaxing study areas, cozy places, quiet spaces, etc.
Buildings need to be in shape. For example, ventilation; temperature affects one’s vitality and, from there, one’s concentration and learning ability.
The third sub-category, services, focused on what should be provided by the universities. This category was smaller than the previous two and explored respondents’ desires related to a campus area that functioned well. The most-mentioned feature was the hope that campus buildings would be open for students at later hours or even at all hours. Respondents also mentioned the need for parking, gyms, cafeterias, etc. Altogether, the services identified were thought to make studying on campus more comfortable and easier:
[There should be] areas of working in groups with cafeteria services…
Self-study areas that are open 24/7, with computers, printers, chairs, couches, etc.
The second main category was resources which included two sub-categories (ICT and teaching). ICT referred to the availability of functioning technology. For example, these comments referred to the availability of computers with working Internet connection. Respondents assumed that the universities were responsible for providing ICT applications for learning. Comments referring to the BYOD approach were minimal, although respondents expressed a desire for more places where they could charge their personal ICT devices:
Multiple possibilities for using technology—for example, computers in computer labs need to be up to date with scanners, printers, etc.
Limited number of computers in the library makes studying much more challenging.
Responses in this category also indicated the importance of teaching for providing help and instructing students on how to use different technologies for learning. Respondents suggested that it was important to heighten students’ interest in studying and motivate them to independently explore the potential of different technologies:
In order for students to be able to take advantage of online environments, there should be instructions and support available at the beginning of their studies.
…[the] possibilities of technologies should be better explained to students in order to help them understand that they can use technologies spontaneously by themselves.
Responses in this sub-category also referred to the need for teachers with up-to-date pedagogical skills, the ability to create effective learning materials, and the capacity to take advantage of ICT when needed. These comments also highlighted the importance of not just having a sufficient number of teachers, but having teachers and professors who are readily available to provide support when needed:
More teaching resources are needed so that we can have the necessary number of high-quality teachers.
It is important that teachers can be reached easily when needed.
The third main category, online, involves the flexibility of studies and the need to consider the unique life situations of different students. Learning online, in one’s own way, and at one’s own pace were emphasized. The sub-category, distance, involves students’ desire for the opportunity to study online as much as possible. Within this sub-category, students suggested online lectures with recordings, online examinations, and opportunities to participate and collaborate online. These responses emphasized the appeal of being able to study without going to campus:
Students may be in very different situations: someone might have kids or a family, be working, be a distance student, etc. If there were more options for studying (for example, online), this would be easier and more convenient [for us].
[The] possibility for flexible ways to study, even distance teaching, so that when you want to, you can listen to parts of the lectures online in real time and then you would also be able to comment and participate.
The second sub-category, flexible, pertains to having an influence on how studying is accomplished (e.g., assessment types and ways of working during courses) and having the option to study alone. Additionally, responses indicated that students need to be able to manage their own study timetables, including when to study and for how long:
There must be options for studying that better consider the needs of different students (life situations, long distances to university, studying and working at the same time, etc.).
[The] possibilities for multiple ways of accomplishing courses [and having] more choices. More ways to show what one has learned [and] what one knows.
[The] best learning environment… takes students’ different needs and hopes into consideration and would accept it if, every now and then, the students won’t be able to physically attend [their classes].
The fourth main category, pedagogy, refers to ways of teaching and learning. The first sub-category, interactive, focuses on pedagogy that de-emphasizes lecturing and emphasizes more-interactive teaching and learning strategies. Comments focused on practices aligned with flexible and blended learning. Within this category, there was strong emphasis on face-to-face teaching, interactive teaching methods, and working in small groups. Additionally, support and guidance were suggested, with students taking a more-responsible role in the learning process. Nevertheless, within the responses, there were also mentions of preferring traditional lectures:
Adequately teaching online and in face-to-face situations.
Lectures need to be changed to something wherein students are more active, and the sessions use a more participatory approach.
Different teaching methods should be used with different group sizes, including working in small groups.
In another sub-category in the pedagogy category, authentic, students emphasized a pragmatic approach with more real-life examples. In particular, participants expressed hopes for more internship periods, connections to working life, and collaborations with research groups. Within this sub-category, there was also emphasis on having university researchers provide real examples of their research and work:
There should be more internship periods, especially at the beginning of [our] studies.
… it should be easy for students to be part of research groups’ work in the early phases of their studies.
[There should be] more collaborations between university and working life.
The last main category, ICT in education, involves supporting teaching and learning with different technologies. Responses focused mainly on the use of different online environments, especially the role of the LMS-like Moodle. The role of cloud services was considered to be smaller. Responses also emphasized the ease of use of different technologies for learning and indicated a preference for using fewer well-justified pedagogical technologies instead of multiple applications and tools simultaneously:
Online environments like Moodle need to be adjusted to be flexible, personalized, and easy to use.
There are a lot of discussions concerning online learning environments. Still, they are not yet used actively and systematically.
Moodle needs to be developed to be more compatible with OneDrive and other cloud services. Currently, using them at the same time is complicated.
Frequency of mentions of categories
The frequency of mentions of categories and sub-categories is listed in Table 4 which shows that the most- commonly mentioned sub-categories were campus (f = 139, n = 76) and resources (f = 122). These were followed by online (f = 100), pedagogy (f = 77), and ICT in education (f = 48). These results indicate the high importance of physical spaces as part of students’ preferred learning environments. Similarly, useful resources and flexible learning opportunities were considered crucial factors by students. The frequencies in parentheses (f) refer to the total number of mentions, whereas n refers to the number of respondents who mentioned the category. This variable indicates that one respondent could have mentioned one or more categories within his/her responses.
When considering the sub-categories, ICT (f = 76) was the most frequently-mentioned area under resources, indicating the need for ICT resources and support for using them. Features (f = 62) and environments (f = 60) in the campus category were also mentioned often, suggesting the need for comfortable self-study areas. Similarly, interactivity (f = 59) in the pedagogy category and distance (f = 54) in the online category were often mentioned, indicating the need to move away from lecturing to more-interactive approaches along with different and more- flexible online learning options. The smallest sub-categories were authenticity (n = 18) and services (n = 17). The remaining categories were mentioned 46 to 59 times.