An Architecture of Ownership: Students and teachers forging agentic identities in an innovative learning environment

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2017
Project end date: 
March 2019
Principal investigator(s): 
Noeline Wright and Rachel McNae
Research team members: 
4 staff members from Rototuna Junior High School and a research assistant (Waikato University)
Research partners: 
Rototuna Junior High School



This project examines how students and teachers in a newly built school, forge their identities within innovative physical, curriculum and relational innovative learning environment spaces to reflect modern learning needs. The Architecture of Ownership concept (Fletcher, 2008) is the unifying framework that will be used to understand how teachers and students at Rototuna Junior High School make sense of, and develop agency in this new school.


To examine the extent of the influence of various architectures of Innovative Learning Environments (relational, pedagogical, social and physical) on the ways in which students and teachers make sense of their identities and develop personal and/or collective agency as either teachers or students.

Why is this research important?

Historically, physical architecture has been a key focus when flexible learning spaces (FLS) are created, either in new schools or refurbishments in existing ones. However, this is only one aspect of such environments. Little attention appears to have been paid to other elements which shape and influence students’ and teachers’ experiences within these spaces. This project extends the work on Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) and centres on exploring the conditions under which teaching and learning can prosper in such an environment. We want to know if and how an ILE creates and/or fosters better synergies for learning through and about the Key Competencies (Ministry of Education, 2007) within a school created with future-focused and innovative design principles. We will explore some of the architectures (the physical, pedagogical, social and relational) operating within the school. At the same time, we will examine how the Key Competencies are explicitly expressed within teaching and learning relationships as experienced by our research participants. We anticipate that findings will allow our participants and other teachers and students to explore and take advantages of the new and different opportunities ILEs have to offer. This investigation will take place through examining how teachers and students forge their identities and take individual and/or collective ownership as they develop an environment to suit those getting used to new flexible learning spaces.

What we plan to do

We plan to work with a volunteer group of students and teachers who will act as co-researchers with us. They will create artefacts of their experiences that signal their perceptions of what it means to be a student or teacher in this newly built school. They will analyse and organise these artefacts in a private Google Drive folder in one of three categories (bonding, control, meaning) and choose from their collection, items to share with us as university researchers as illustrative of their thinking, practices, experiences, and understanding. These artefacts will act as stimuli for conversations/interviews. Teachers will also negotiate with us the criteria for an observation protocol, so that we can observe how they use and make sense of the new teaching spaces. We will take field notes, share emerging findings and collaborate with teachers and students as co-researchers and analyse the data according to Phillips’ (1990) three categories of bonding, control, and meaning as indicative of agentic identity formation.

Our partners

Strong and functional collaborative relationships already exist within the school leadership team and the University of Waikato research team. We have established relationships with the teachers and students in the 2016 pilot study which is exploring some of the research tools. Our project research partnership will involve a community of 20 students (4 at each year level) and 4 staff members from Rototuna Junior High School. A research assistant will also be part of our research partnership.


Contact Details

Dr Noeline Wright Associate                  Professor Rachel McNae                
07 8384500 ext 7861                              07 8384500 ext 7731