Shared Spaces and Community-Driven Research

Shared Spaces and Community-Driven Research

Opening Space Evaluation Connects Classrooms

Open education offers a way to create a shared set of tools, procedures, and resources to support learners. Open resources work most effectively when they leverage widely accessible, inexpensive, and highly customizable methods that encourage adaptation and ideation across the user community. As more and more educators connect their curricula to considerations of space design, architects and designers need to do more to make learning about the role of space relevant and accessible to everyone. Architecture and design students learn about space and building performance, but it is increasingly relevant to biology and environmental science programs. Generating physical measurements from the environment also yields excellent datasets for discussing the physical properties of materials and how they are used to create both sensors and buildings. The data also presents a chance to practice mathematical statistical analysis. The broad relevance of studying physical, built environments makes such a project a rich anchoring context that can be connected with (and between) many academic disciplines. That means OERs that support space evaluation can unlock authentic project opportunities across any institution or school.

Democratizing Access to Disrupt Marginalization

Post-occupancy evaluation (POE) equipment and professional services are expensive. Cost barriers are just one of a number of mechanisms used to push historically marginalized groups into lower quality and harmful environments. These same resource barriers reproduce disparities in representation within the architectural profession.

However, the rise in popularity over recent years of maker education and do-it-yourself (DIY) communities brought with it a greater diversity of effective open-source tools for space. Open source software is a category of programs written by people who have made the inner workings available for anyone to use, modify or improve without cost. With cheap, off-the-shelf hardware and customizable open source software to run it, students can study their environments themselves.

These readily available tools are especially powerful as a means to empower students to engage in community-driven science – an application of science that emphasizes locality and engagement of community stakeholders, with special attention to engaging stakeholders from historically marginalized groups. The portability, customizability, and scalability of open source tools positions them as an opportunity to promote community-driven science by avoiding common barriers to participation like cost and ease of use. Recent work has shown these kinds of community-focused study designs can target issues salient to historically marginalized communities, such as air quality (King, 2015) and stream restoration (Ballard, Dixon & Harris, 2017).

Hackable Space Measuring Tools

At Gould Evans, we are working to build capacity within schools in the Kansas City metropolitan area to use open source tools and DIY hardware to study built environments. We are partnering with schools through the Real World Learning initiative, led by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, to connect students to the questions and methods we explore in a professional design practice. In the process, students develop critical skills and content knowledge while developing more experience with career opportunities in the community. When classes generate space designs or evaluation data, researchers at our firm can combine their work with findings from across the Real World Learning network to generate insights about the future of space design and performance across facilities and communities.

To develop these DIY measurement tools, we started with some basic hardware parts to build our sensor array. The sensors are directly monitored with an Arduino Uno microcontroller, and we wired 3 environmental sensors to the Arduino directly. Links to all the hardware are below, and here is our wiring diagram:

I connected the sensors using jumper wires, and created a semi-permanent setup with perfboard. However, students can easily create this circuit on a prototyping breadboard. Here’s what each approach looks like:

Once the students have built their apparatus, they can upload the code I’ve compiled to collect data in the microcontroller and send it to a computer. On a laptop or Raspberry pi, we run another program to retrieve the data and create a dataset they can analyze.

The Power of Together

Turning to open source tools for space evaluations is exciting for the lower cost options it offers, but the open method also enables entirely new methods for research that are simply not possible in closed paradigms. Student groups will be able to contribute their datasets back to Gould Evans researchers to connect their work to other student groups across the country. Our goal is to build a network of classes using, improving, and customizing the open resources to apply the tools to problems in their communities. The research team at Gould Evans can also begin to look at larger questions about space design, performance, and equity across communities.

We can connect groups working on related projects to conduct peer mentoring, project review, and collaboration. We can share data for comparisons, and let students test hypotheses with novel data. The interdisciplinary nature of the project also lets groups share improved methods for future applications, like when a computer science class takes our starting code and adds capabilities or improves reliability. The Gould Evans team can take the students’ revised code and share it with other classes to use in future semesters, improving student capacity for research overtime – and probably providing future computer science students with plenty of bug reports, as well. The distributed nature of open science brings students into dialogue with their communities and collaborators across the world.

I confirm all photos (x2) and figures (x2) included here were taken/created by me (Michael C Ralph).

This article has been reproduced from OER and Beyond blog using a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 license. © 2022 Michael C Ralph.



Ballard, H.L., Dixon, C.G. and Harris, E.M. (2017). Youth-focused citizen science: Examining the role of environmental science learning and agency for conservation. Biological Conservation, 208, 65-75.

King, K. E. (2015). Chicago residents’ perceptions of air quality: objective pollution, the built environment, and neighborhood stigma theory. Population and environment37(1), 1-21.

Author Bio

Michael C. Ralph is a PhD student in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Kansas and Lead Researcher for Gould Evans. He uses his background as both a K-12 biology teacher and higher education instructor to connect research to issues of practice and experience in classrooms. His focus is on the equitable application of quantitative methods as a tool for improved teaching and dismantling barriers to success for historically marginalized groups.