Pictures are necessary but not sufficient: Using a range of visual methods to engage users about school design

Pamela Woolner*, Jill Clark, Elaine Hall, Lucy Tiplady, Ulrike Thomas, Kate Wall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


It has been argued by both educationalists and social researchers that visual methods are particularly appropriate for the investigation of people's experiences of the school environment. The current and expected building work taking place in British schools provides an opportunity for exploration of methods, as well as a need to establish ways to achieve this involvement of a range of school users, including students. This article describes a consultation that was undertaken in a UK secondary school as part of a participatory design process centred on the rebuilding of the school. A range of visual methods, based on photographs and maps, was used to investigate the views of a diverse sample of school users, including students, teachers, technical and support staff and the wider community. Reported here is the experience of using these tools, considering the success of different visually-based methods in engaging a broad cross section of the school community and revealing useful information. Using a range of visual methods allows a complex, but coherent, understanding of the particular school environment to be constructed and developed. It is further argued that such a range of visual and spatial methods is needed to develop appropriate understanding. The study, therefore, contributes to knowledge about specific visual research methods, appreciation of the relationship between tools, and a general methodological understanding of visual methods' utility for developing understanding of the learning environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalLearning Environments Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Feb 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


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