Could we use space utilisation data to support wellbeing?
As students frequent and move about the campus, the spaces in which they study, learn and relax can have an impact on their wellbeing.
Student wellbeing is a key priority for the Higher Education (HE) sector. The Stepchange framework, created by Universities UK, calls on all universities to make wellbeing a strategic priority which is “foundational to all aspects of university life, for all students and all staff.” We know, as discussed in a recent Jisc blog post, that good data governance provides the foundation to build new wellbeing support systems that can respond to the needs of students – helping more people more quickly while maximising the use of available resources.
As well as the usual suspects that universities can use to collect engagement data, such as the VLE, library systems and access to learning spaces, could universities use space utilisation data to, enhance and improve the spaces (formal and informal) on campus to deliver a better student experience and support wellbeing?
Could we use data from how spaces and when spaces are being used to deliver a better student experience and maximise student wellbeing.
Currently universities will use manual and automated methods to measure space utilisation. Often this data is used to for self-assessment reports and proposals for expansion. Few are analysing that data in real time and presenting the information to students.
We know that measuring usage of space, tables and desks can be fraught with ethical concerns. It is critical when measuring space usage that the university is transparent about what it is doing, how it is doing it and why.
The importance of space
You can imagine the scenario when a student who is facing challenges on their course, and decides to visit the campus, expecting to find space to study, but the library is busy, the study areas are noisy and even the café is closed. This disappointment can lead to annoyance. This small negative experience could potentially impact on the wellbeing of the student. They are probably not alone, as other students (and staff) are equally frustrated and disappointed. If they had known about the current (and predicted future) utilisation of that space, they may have made different plans. They could have left earlier, or arrived later.
Using data on spaces to support wellbeing
Analysing the data on space utilisation could provide a valuable insight into ensuring that when students need space to study that space is available, and can support wellbeing.
Universities could use the data to ensure that when space is unavailable, for example for cleaning, so that this is done at the best possible time, for the minimal impact on student wellbeing.
Space isn’t the answer
Of course, when it comes to improving student wellbeing, just having data about the spaces students use is most certainly not going to be enough. Data on how students interact with online systems and services, the resources they engage with, all provide a wealth of engagement data. We know that engagement is one measure that universities can look at to understand if there is a story behind a student’s dis-engagement with the university and work to improve that student’s wellbeing.
As Jisc’s Andrew Cormack and Jim Keane said in their recent blog post on data governance,
If their new university does not use data intelligently to improve their day-to-day experience, students could be disappointed, which reflects badly on the institution.
Universities should reflect on all the data they collect, and decide what the data can tell them about the student experience, and importantly what interventions they need to make to positively impact on student wellbeing. Running out of coffee isn’t the end of the world, but combine many small negative impacts on the student experience, students will not be happy and wellbeing could suffer as a result.
Read Jisc’s framework and code of practice for data-supported wellbeing – which outlines how to promote ethical, effective, and legally compliant processes that help HE organisations manage risk and resources.