• Data Gathering Tools

    It’s important to collect data using a variety of different methods in order to get the best understanding of your users and their needs. Below you will find a list of common methods used for space, service, and technology planning. Each method is coupled with an overview of the method and, where possible, sample instruments and guides. Refer to the Needs Assessment Guiding Principles to help you develop the best approach to collecting data and learning about your users.

    Research Questions

    Before you embark on a needs assessment project, you need to determine your research questions.

    Trends and Reports

    As part of needs assessment it is valuable to learn about trends in teaching and learning both at your institutional level and across higher education in general. These trends provide insight into dynamics such as students’ use of technology, trends in pedagogy, and campus priorities.

    Usage Data

    If you are renovating a new space or designing a completely new space, there might be data already gathered at your space’s organization that will be valuable for helping you make decisions. For example, it can be useful to gather data about (1) computer usage, (2) transactions at a service point, and (3) existing building use (gate counts, head counts, etc.)

    • Suma is an open source mobile space assessment tool created by the NCSU Libraries. It can be used to collect, aggregate, and interactively analyze real-time data about the usage of physical space and services.
    • NCSU Group Study Room Usage Report – An example report highlighting patterns in group study room usage (2008-2010)

    Observation

    Formal observation of users is an inexpensive method for discovering more about learners’ behaviors and uses of existing spaces.

    Interviews

    Interviews can provide invaluable insight into the behaviors, attitudes, and preferences of a space’s current or potential users.

    Photo Interviews / Photo Diary

    The photo interview or photo diary is a qualitative research method in which the researcher gives the interviewee a camera and a list of prompts for taking photos. The images are then used as a catalyst for discussion during the interview. This method can be used to learn about students’ work practices, life experiences as members of a campus community, and their behaviors in and preferences for different learning spaces.

    Focus Groups

    Focus groups can be used to understand participants’ work habits, types of assignments, gaps in existing spaces and services, and more.

    Surveys

    Surveys can provide a breadth of information about your users’ preferences and behaviors pertaining to existing learning spaces and technologies, which can inform decisions for planning a new space.