Reflecting on the inclusivity and accessibility of a learning space for textiles education

Abstract

The aim of this reflection was to investigate the extent to which one of my teaching spaces is inclusive and accessible for my students that will be using it. With inclusivity and accessibility being increasingly discussed within a university setting, it felt important to look at the spaces I use when teaching my workshops to determine whether they were up to standard or if they could do with improvements. I chose a space that I use a lot within my workshops to take a look at due to it also being widely used by other members of staff within my department. I decided I
wanted to look at the positives and negatives of the space by walking it and mind mapping my initial thoughts to then look at relevant academic literature to pull together and evaluate my thoughts and findings.


Published on 13th march 2020 | Written by Emily Medcalf | Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

 

“Space matters. Most of us have home environments that not only meet our most basic needs but also suit our lifestyle and taste. The physical environment affects how we feel when we, or others, are in our home” (Teuber 2013, cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 49).

This is a relevant point made about our environments. Our homes are built to our needs and preferences. These factors contribute to how we feel in our environments and if we are comfortable. Teuber (2013) goes on to explain that factors such as lighting, colour of paint and the type of furniture can influence the overall feel of the space and how functional is it. “Why should a classroom space be any different? The classroom environment is not neutral – it communicates what students will be doing in the classroom and what’s important” (Teuber 2013, cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 49). I believe that this is the attitude that should be adopted by teaching staff. The classroom reflects the importance of the students learning as well as being confortable and fit for purpose.

I currently work as a textiles technician on the BA (Hons) Fashion Textiles: Print course. I work specifically within the digital print lab where I work with MIMAKI fabric and dye sublimation printers, which allows me to print student work. As well as this I also hold workshops with my students. These include helping them understand the process of printing, setting up their files, experimental drawing and how to create a repeat print.

The Learning Space is situated at the heart of our department, located between our studios. This room is used for one to one tutorials, group tutorials/crits, visual learning workshops as well as practical workshops such as drawing and draping. Below, is an video of the Learning Space to give a visual image of the environment within this piece. I have also mind mapped some of the initial pro’s and con’s that I felt were associated with this space which came from my initial video I filmed.

 

Medcalf mind map of learning space

Positive aspects of the learning space

“A classroom can support collaboration, reflective thinking, peer mentoring, lectures, group projects, and more” (Teuber 2013, cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 49).

    • The learning space can be used for many different sessions making it a multifunctional space. This includes the use of a computer and a screen to be able to display work/videos etc. for the students to see and use within their sessions. It is also laid out in a way that is socially friendly as everyone is facing inwards in a circle, promoting group sessions and discussions.

“Students reading, writing, reflecting, or working independently benefit from a quiet space so that they can concentrate and do their best work. Some students just prefer to work alone” (Teuber 2013, cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 53).

    • The room is quiet and secluded for any students who need a quiet space to work or just want to get out of the busy and loud studio environment for a while. It is also great when having tutorials and crits as the room stays quiet.

“Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity” (Hedge, 2018).

    • The learning space has lots of natural light coming through the double window at the back of the room, making the use of synthetic lighting less of a necessity.

Negative aspects of the learning space

“Adjustable height and flip flop tables allow for flexible use of space. Flip-top tables can be easily stored when not in use to provide for more open space. Adjustable height tables allow students to be comfortable no matter if they prefer to stand or sit” (Teuber 2013, cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 58).

    • The tables in the Learning Space are only one height, which makes it difficult for disabled students to have access and be comfortable. Having them one height could also hold back sessions when there is movement as different heights of tables could benefit them. The tables are also not easily moved or stored, meaning that when more active sessions are taking place it is hard to move around the room, making the session difficult, especially for any students who have disabilities. Following on from this, the chairs in the Learning Space are also not very inclusive. There is only one type of chair, which may not be appropriate for all students. Alternative seating that can be
      easily stored such as stools could be helpful when more space is needed, however consideration for comfort when sitting for a long period of time also needs to be taken into consideration.

“From one class to the next, sometimes during the same class period, classrooms need change. Thus they should fluidly adapt to different teaching and learning preferences” (Steelcase Education 2013: cited in Bayse et al, 2013: 52).

    • The Learning Space is not easily change or fluidly adaptable, meaning that even though we have hold different sessions in there, the room is not exactly fit for purpose.

“I’m not naughty, I’m autistic and I just get too much information” (The National Autistic Society, 2016).

    • The Learning Space can feel claustrophobic when the room is full and there is lots going on. Due to how little space there is and the room not being easily adjusted, this could cause distress for students who with autism as there will be too much information being shared within one space without any room for movement or breathing space.

“Use technologies in support of inclusive practice effectively. While they can make a positive difference to disabled students, they can also present extra barriers to learning where they have been thoughtlessly designed” (Adams and Brown, 2006: 187).

    • Even though there is a screen within the Learning Space for visual learning, it is not helpful due to how small it is. The screen presents more problems than being helpful due to students not being able to see what is being shown well, which would in turn create even more problems for any students with visual impairments. Following on from this an extra barrier is also the doorway and the door itself within the Learning Space. The doorway is very narrow and would be impossible for a wheelchair to gain access. The door itself is also very heavy and not easy to open due to having two handles – making this very difficult to access the room on a day-to-day basis, let alone for any
      students with any difficulties.

How to  make the space more inclusive

“I am disabled by the world around me, and if the world was more accessible I would be less disabled” (Scarlet 2014, cited in SCOPE, 2014).

This is a strong statement that was made by one of the interviewee’s in the SCOPE video and I couldn’t agree more. Making our spaces more inclusive and accessible within our university will help all our environments be a happier place to be and study. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) recognises that every student is an individual and that every student learns in an individual way. The aim is to create a learning environment that works for everyone by using why we learn, how we learn and what we learn to make learning more accessible.

With these factors in mind from the UDL as well as the above research and evaluation of my own learning space, I believe that there could be some helpful improvements made to ensure that this particular space along with other spaces within my department and the university in general can be made more inclusive for all our students. These include:

    • Take out all unnecessary items that are in the room to create as much space as possible to reduce the claustrophobic feeling and make the space easier to use for different sessions/workshops but also make it easier for student movement/access.
    • Replace tables with adjustable/flip flop tables for everyone to use but also to allow easier movement before, during and after sessions.
    • Replace chairs with more comfortable and accessible seating.
    • Make doorway more accessible in both size and use (making the door
      automatic could help with this)
    • Install a projector and bigger screen to allow visual sessions to be clearer for students.

Taking these simple points into consideration, the students should also have a say in how they would like learn. Giving them more assessable spaces opens up a way to allow them to help us design their own sessions and how they want to use their spaces within their work. I also believe that we as staff members should also be able to access more information and training to help us understand how to make our
environments more inclusive and accessible for all.

Conclusion

To conclude this reflection I have found that the current learning spaces that I work in are certainly not inclusive or accessible. Taking a step back and taking a wider look at one of my learning spaces, I was able to draw up both the positives and negatives of the environment. Doing this made me look at the space using a totally different mindset. What I would initially find to be fine to work in, I was now finding to be problematic. For example the space around the table was so little that access for a student with mobility issues would find it very difficult to gain access to this space for a session or workshop. I also found that using my researched literature gave my found problems much more depth. I was able to read about what others have encountered and also what is seen as an inclusive environment for teaching which helped in identifying my positives and finding solutions to my negatives.

I have also found that using SCOPE and The Universal Design for Learning model has further improved my understanding of how to make my work spaces much more inclusive for all of my students. With all this information and self-evaluation taking place within my work, I hope to be able to bring a more positive and inclusive feel to all my spaces that I find myself teaching in.


Emily biog


References

Adams, M. and Brown, S. (2006) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: Developing Curricular for Disabled Students. London: Routledge

De Montfort University. (2016) Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at De Montfort. (Accessed on 18.10.19)

Hedge, A. (2018) Natural Light is the Best Medicine for the Office.  (Accessed on 21.10.19)

SCOPE. (2004) What is the social model of disability?  (Accessed on 18.10.19)

Teuber, D. (2015) Redesigning Your Classroom. In Bayse, D., Grant, P., Hausman, S., and Johnston, T. (eds.) Get Active: Reimagining Learning Space for Student Success. International Society for Technology in Education

The National Autistic Society (2016) Autism TMI Virtual Reality Experience. (Accessed on 21.10.19)

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