Classroom design from a student perspective

Close up of a school building with the words, middle school.What is the optimal classroom environment for students? Why not ask them? Designing Classrooms for Learning reports on a project that included student opinions about classroom design for learning about science. The project included a survey where students compared their “ideal” design with current design. 

The study concludes that lighting, desk layout, places to put belongings and the layout of materials in the classroom all have an effect on student learning. “Student morale and learning can be affected greatly by the physical structure of the classroom, and that the involvement of students in the environment creating process can increase their motivation as well as empower them and develop a sense of community”. 

According to the findings, something as simple as desk layout can make a big difference. Most teachers of adults have known this for some time. They take the time to rearrange rows of previously aligned tables and chairs into circular layout or into small group layout.

Given that every student learns differently, instructors need to provide multiple avenues for learning. This links with the theory of humans having different intelligences. You can read more on education, learning and universal design for learning, on this website. 

Universal Design Improves Access Compliance

An old red bus on the street.What can you do to improve compliance with disability access standards when they are misunderstood, seen as too hard to implement, and where buildings are in a serious state of disrepair? This was the challenge set by Australia’s overseas aid program in Sri Lanka. The aim of this project was to find a way to educate built environment professionals in Sri Lanka about complying with disability access regulations. Rather than take a text book approach to explaining the standards, the training group decided to take a universal design approach. That meant focusing on the reasons why certain designs were needed, not just the need to apply the standard.

In her paper on this project, Penny Galbraith details the particular issues Sri Lanka faces. Major heritage sites, assets in complete disrepair, obsolete infrastructure, and transport conveyance designs from previous centuries all contribute to the complexities. “Universal design was the ideal starting point, not least because of its emphasis on users, but also that it allows for acknowledging and embracing cultural factors which is very important given ethnic tension in Sri Lanka”. 

An interesting application of the principles of universal design. It shows that reducing barriers in the built environment is reliant on understanding why, not just how to comply. The title of the paper is, A Practitioner’s Universal Design Approach Making a Difference to Distressed Assets in Sri Lanka

The paper is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

Design Council Inclusive Environments CPD

header page for the Design Council CPD course showing a montage of pictures.Inclusion is everybody’s business. By definition it isn’t a fringe activity. Inclusion requires everyone to be involved. In the built environment that means people involved in commissioning places and spaces as well as the trades and certifiers. So it goes beyond access codes and leaving it to access consultants. To help, the Design Council has a free interactive online Inclusive Environments CPD training course. It is about raising awareness of population diversity and why we should be designing more fairly and sustainably. There is also a searchable resource hub that has relevant information and discussion on this subject.  

Critical Design for Universal Design

Four pictures of workshop outcomes explained in the article.What happens if architecture, interior design, engineering and product design students spend a week together to investigate the design of the built environment? The answer is in a paper by Anne Britt Torkildsby. A week of critical design workshops provoked reflection, awareness, empathy and action among the next generation of designers involved in the built environment. By turning design upside down and deliberately creating designs that were impossible or difficult to use, the students learned to take multiple perspectives. The paper provides details of the workshops and the processes, and the outcomes for the students and their designs. The picture shows four of the designs discussed in the article.

Editor’s note: I liked the narrow doorway with a sticky floor that made entry difficult. The designs went on exhibition and others could experience first hand the difficulties and frustration people with different disabilities might have with a design.

The title of the paper isEmpathy Enabled by Critical Design – A New Tool in the Universal Design Toolbox. The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Captioning helps knowledge retention

A video screen showing captioned text at the bottom.A new study found that students are happy to use captions when learning new information. By testing two groups the researchers found a significant improvement in outcomes by those who had videos with captions vs. videos without captions. Instructors are encouraged to either source educational videos with captions already embedded, or get help from their institution to do it. Or even better, learn how to caption their own instructional videos. The title of the article is, Captioning Online Course Videos: An Investigation into Knowledge Retention and Student Perception.

Access the article via ResearchGate and request a copy of the paper. With more teaching and learning happening online, this is one technique that can benefit all. Captions are not just for people who are hard of hearing. 

A similar study on the benefits of closed captions for learning was carried out by Oregon State University. They surveyed more than 2000 students in 15 institutions and found more than half said captions help by improving comprehension. The most common reasons for using captions were: to help them focus, retain information and overcome poor audio quality of the videos. Transcripts are often used as study guides and to find and retain information. 

Gaining client acceptance of UD thinking

aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawingsAlthough architects might propose universal design principles in designs, it seems that Australia is not the only country where clients are ambivalent at best and resistant at worst in terms of inclusive thinking. In Clients’ Approach to Universal Design – A Slow Change? Sidse Grangaard of the Danish Building Research Institute reports on the research into why clients are not interested in going beyond basic building regulations. It would seem the design and construction industries share much in common across the globe. A useful research project. The full paper is available from the link.

Abstract: When new buildings do not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations, the main reason is often attributed to a lack of knowledge and prioritization. It is the experience of architectural firms that clients decide their own focus on accessibility during the design process, and also whether the level of accessibility should be higher than that stipulated in the Danish Building Regulations. Post-occupancy evaluations point out that when the client is particularly conscious of, or ambitious about, accessibility/Universal Design (UD), the result is a building with an extensive level of accessibility. Thus, the client is a key figure for the project and the level of ambition. Based on interviews with 15 Danish clients, this paper presents a characterisation of their conception of Universal Design. It is significant that, as a concept, UD has not gained currency among the clients that let their ambition level be defined by the Danish Building Regulations. In order to capture differences between clients, a description of the client’s conception of users and designs is based on an analytical framework about the concepts of particular, universal, market and equality. The analysis shows that three conceptions about accessibility/UD can be characterized among the clients: 1) accessibility by design, 2) broad accessibility 3) added value. Above all, the findings show that a development is going on towards UD, although slowly.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Valuing disability in higher education

A young man stands between library book shelves. He has a large book open in his hands.The philosophical perspective of this paper could be applied in other areas of life, not just higher education. Benjamin Ostiguy applies the concept of “Deep Ecology” to argue that everyone and everything has an intrinsic value, but that many societies only measure value by how it contributes to the economy. Students with disability are still considered as “outliers” and as persons who must “transcend” their perceived impairments if they are to belong. Ostiguy argues that valuing disability can lead to the “identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times”. The title of the paper is, The Inherent Value of Disability in Higher Education.  10 points to consider based on Deep Ecology thinking are:
1. Employ accessible and inclusive pedagogies, methods, technologies, and research instruments;
2. Avoid adherence to rigid standards and traditional practices absent of “intrinsic value” or unrelated to “fundamental goals”;
3. Before adopting a new or trendy technology, method, or instrument, first consider if SWDs will find it accessible and inclusive;
4. Recognize and value the diverse identities, perspectives, strengths, and challenges represented among college SWDs; cultivate an awareness of intersectional oppressions (e.g., ableism and homophobia);
5. Understand that SWDs are a heterogeneous demographic with identities, priorities, expectations, opinions, and access requirements differing within
and among specific disability “types”. Note that perspectives on disability vary and evolve, so what is deemed appropriate or supportive may/will
vary by generation, culture/ethnicity (e.g., international students), and social/historical context;
6. Employ the concept of universal design in all aspects of your work, including teaching, assessment, research, and service;
7. Develop research questions that account for SWDs and accurately represent/address their perspectives, needs, and sense of dignity;
8. When faced with apparent pedagogic/epistemological dilemmas, err on the side of accessibility and inclusion;
9. Speak out against campus policies, procedures, and traditions that are not universally inclusive, or otherwise stigmatize SWDs;
10. Reject the idea that a student’s value to a campus or academic discipline is proportional with their apparent potential to contribute toward the economy and the upward distribution of wealth.

Abstract: Evidence suggests that college students with disabilities (SWDs) continue to encounter attitudinal and physical barriers while institutions endeavor to offer reasonable supports—mainly in the form of accommodations and modifications. In practice, disability is largely treated as something external and ancillary, with most colleges administering measured allowances, but otherwise managing to avoid change. However, as we proceed into the 21st century, very little seems assured, least of all the status quo. Under the dominant neoliberal regime, virtually everything and everyone is valued in proportion with their perceived economic utility. No longer is higher education widely embraced as a public good. Instead, there is increased scrutiny of the academe with an eye for “value added”, and the returns students can expect with regard to careers and earning potential. Viewed through this narrow hegemonic lens, SWDs must assimilate or transcend their perceived impairments if they are to belong. In this commentary, I introduce key concepts from the environmental philosophy/theory of Deep Ecology to the scholarship of disability in higher education and assert that disability in academe has an “intrinsic value”, irrespective of expected economic utility. I conclude by discussing ways that the deep valuing of disability can lead to the identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times.

UD and public health

Nordic School Pub HealthEvastina Bjork from the Nordic School of Public Health discusses the concept of UD from the perspective of health and wellness in this article. She traces the work done in Norway that precedes the landmark document, Norway Universally Designed 2025” and how it relates to health benefits. Training courses in applying the concepts of UD for professionals were devised and continue to be revised and adapted to keep pace with new learning and updated evidence. Although an academic paper, the discussion about education and training, and application of UD in the health and wellness field is a refreshing perspective.

Universal Design, Architects and CPD

Tyoung people sit at a table which has a large sheet of paper and writing implements. They appear to be discussing something.aking a universal design approach to architectural practice requires a change in attitudes in architectural education. Continuing professional development (CPD) is one way to achieve this. A joint project by the University of Limerick and the IDeA Center at Buffalo resulted in some recommendations and guidelines to help. These were derived from engagement with Irish and international professionals, educators and client bodies. “One of the most important findings of the research is a demonstrated need for new CPD in UD that moves beyond a focus on interpreting regulation and accessibility. It was found that CPD in UD can have a broader value than just helping professionals meet regulatory requirements – it can also provide information and resources that increase design agency, or the intervention in wider societal structures with the aim of benefiting others”. The title of the article is, “A Review of Universal Design in Professional Architectural Education: Recommendations and Guidelines”.

Abstract: There is a growing understanding of the widespread societal benefits of a universal design (UD). To achieve these benefits, architectural professionals must have the knowledge and skills to implement UD in practice. This paper investigates UD in the context of recent architectural education. It traces changing attitudes in the culture of architectural education, and the evolving perception of UD as an important aspect of architectural practice. Specifically, continuous professional development (CPD) can advance knowledge of UD within a human-centred design paradigm. An overview of courses and resources available to architectural professionals in a number of countries in Europe and the USA is provided. Specific recommendations and guidelines are presented that were derived from a process of engagement with Irish and international architectural professionals, architectural educators and client bodies through online survey, workshops, interviews and CPD prototypes.  

Teaching and learning UD in real time

Student's model of the housing site showing topography and buildingsCork County Council in Ireland has provided an excellent opportunity for second year architecture students to get some hands on practice and expand their design thinking. In Kevin Busby and Jim Harrison’s paper, Universal Design in Architectural Education – Community Liaison on ‘Live Projects‘, they report on imaginative examples of student responses to the challenges of integrating age-friendly features in housing. They also report on the learning gained from observing students and finding out the main design difficulties they found in the process. Illustrations demonstrate some of the ideas. Good to see students operating in the real world and making a difference.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.