UBC Undergraduate Research

Outdoor Public Spaces for Teaching : An Analysis of UBC Rito, Brjen; Tse, Bentley; Yeung, Christa


The increasing population of student, staff, and faculty members at universities has placed pressure on planners to densify campuses often at the sacrifice of many outdoor public spaces on campus grounds. Outdoor public spaces serve many purposes, including leisure, and space for social gathering. Studies have been done on the role of outdoor public spaces in teaching, however few studies focus on post-secondary education. Our study looks at the pedagogical role of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver Campus’ outdoor public spaces and seeks to identify the features and characteristics that make them effective for course-based teaching. Our primary research method was to conduct semi-structured interviews with UBC professors. We obtained our interviewee contacts through a snowball recruitment method, eventually contacting and recruiting twelve instructors across several academic disciplines. Due to time constraints, our study reflects responses from seven professors. Four professors were interviewed in person, two were interviewed through email, and one provided teaching material that we analysed through content analysis. Gathering the data from the interviews, we analyzed responses grouped by general categories to find key themes, paying particular attention to what made different public outdoor spaces effective or ineffective in teaching. Through our analysis, we found that professors viewed spaces with social, historical, or place-based importance as the most important spaces for teaching. These spaces provided accessible, valuable examples of curriculum concepts and theories for professors to teach to students. Examples of these types of spaces include the Musqueam Pole at the eastern entrance of campus which serves as a reminder of UBCs relation with the Musqueam people. Second, we found that informality of space was important for creating effective outdoor teaching space. Outdoor public spaces that were informal fostered better discussion atmosphere between the professor and the students, as well as between students themselves. The informality of outdoor space served as a good contrast to the rigid classroom environment. In terms of physical characteristics of spaces, professors found that proximity to classroom was important. Public outdoor spaces that were more than five minutes away from the classroom were seen as not feasible spaces for teaching. In terms of infrastructure and furniture in outdoor public spaces, professors recommended that seating would be helpful for longer sessions and small rain shelters could be valuable for note-taking. However, too much furniture and infrastructure development could take away from the informality of the space that professors desire in these outdoor teaching spaces. In conclusion, we believe that outdoor public spaces at UBC are important teaching spaces for professors. We found over 30 outdoor public spaces and green spaces that were identified by professors as important teaching spaces across campus. Through our semi-structured interviews, we found that professors value the intangible aspects of outdoor spaces, and thus any upgrade and development on infrastructure to these outdoor public spaces and green spaces must be done sensitively to protect and highlight this. As such, universities like UBC should be prioritizing the protection of outdoor public spaces over densification. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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