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Ep 19: Universal Design for Classroom Spaces with Virginia Tech

The classroom is the essential component across every school from K-12 to higher education. So why is it that physical space is often overlooked as being a central player in the learning experience?


If you’re a parent to a child with a disability, then you know that their environment can make all the difference!


In today’s episode, we’re interviewing Dr. Elif Tural and Dr. David Kniola, experts in the field of universal design and its various applications in educational settings and beyond.


They share what universal design actually is, common barriers to learning in typical classrooms, and important aspects to consider when designing equitable spaces. Listen in to hear how universal design can benefit both neurodivergent populations and entire communities as a whole!

Also, don’t miss the very end where we cover some simple design solutions that can be implemented in classrooms right away!



In this episode, you’ll learn...

  • [15:24] Defining universal design and purposeful learning spaces

  • [18:53] Common barriers to learning in typical educational settings

  • [22:13] Important aspects to consider in universal design and wayfinding

  • [26:47] The process of designing equitable spaces and why they benefit the whole

  • [33:42] Simple design solutions that can be implemented in classrooms right away





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Links mentioned in this episode…

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About Dr. Elif Tural

Dr. Elif Tural is an educator, researcher, and associate professor of interior design and Virginia Tech. She works with individuals from an environment behavior framework with the goal of determining how design can improve the health and well-being of users.


About Dr. David Kniola

Dr. David Kniola comes from a long history of educators. His research is focused on how we use space in education, the built environment and its influence on different aspects of human behavior, and a number of interdisciplinary projects.




Transcript for "Ep 19: Universal Design for Classroom Spaces with Virginia Tech"


[00:00:03] Gwen: If you have an appreciation for honest and sometimes irreverent conversations about parenting and walking alongside neurodivergent humans, you are in the right place. I'm Gwen. [00:00:13][9.9]

[00:00:14] Kristen: And I'm Kristen, and together we have decades of experience parenting fiercely amazing, neurodivergent humans, as well as teaching, writing, advocating, and consulting. All of this has provided us with an endless supply of stories of inspiring failures and heartbreaking wins. [00:00:30][16.5]

[00:00:32] Gwen: Welcome to You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We promise to come at you each episode as our true selves, sharing the hilarity and delight in the midst of the heart of our journeys. You'll also hear directly from our kids at the end of each episode. [00:00:46][13.9]

[00:00:47] Kristen: Most importantly, we hope to remind you of your immense value as a human outside of the caretaking role you play. So grab a cozy blanket and a beverage and go hide in a closet nearest you. [00:00:57][10.3]

[00:01:04] Gwen: Hidey hoe, friend. Again, this is it. This is the point of the episode that we always feel like we epically fail. I never know how to begin these episodes. [00:01:16][11.8]

[00:01:16] Kristen: We don't know what to say. [00:01:17][0.9]

[00:01:18] Gwen: No, I could say, oh, three deer just ran by in my backyard. And there's a black chickadee on the bird feeder. But I feel like I talk about bird so much. [00:01:27][9.1]

[00:01:29] Kristen: Yeah. [00:01:29][0.0]

[00:01:29] Gwen: What else should we say? [00:01:30][0.8]

[00:01:30] Kristen: It's awkward trying to figure out how to start, but now that we're in it, we're good. [00:01:34][3.8]

[00:01:35] Gwen: Here we are. [00:01:35][0.3]

[00:01:35] Kristen: So how are you? [00:01:36][0.5]

[00:01:37] Gwen: I am so, so great. [00:01:38][1.5]

[00:01:39] Kristen: You've had some changes happening in your life. Tell us a little bit about what's going on with you. [00:01:43][3.9]

[00:01:44] Gwen: Well, I just wrapped up my third week at a new job, which, when I say a job in the past eight years, that's meant me working for myself, inventing new ideas to change the world that don't make any money. [00:01:57][12.9]

[00:01:58] Kristen: And also. Produce a lot of anxiety in the people close to you because we're like, oh, here we go. Oh, God, here we go. Where are we? [00:02:05][7.6]

[00:02:06] Gwen: What are we doing now? What I'm doing now. I feel like I finally have the capacity to look for a job that pays money where I'm not my own boss. And so I've been on the hunt for the ideal fit, which has been exhausting and a little depressing because I've been out of the 9 to 5 for so long. But I firmly believe that arrows present themselves, that if you follow them, it feels seamless. And this was one of those arrows. And so I just finished my third week with a local organization here for West Michigan, working with the down syndrome community, which perhaps if I wrote out my dream job, would have been with the down syndrome community because they hold my heart. I have two nieces and a nephew who have Down's Syndrome, and it's a community that I've always just felt a lot of love for. And I'm the development director, so I am in charge of some of our big events as well as all things fundraising, and I am pinching myself every single day. Not only that, I'm making money. That is real. And I have a boss. [00:03:22][76.2]

[00:03:23] Kristen: And a place to go. [00:03:23][0.6]

[00:03:24] Gwen: A place to go, and an awesome goal and a proper office. And it's all it's all just fabulous. Not to mention, I work out of a building that has 12 non-profits, all disability focused sharing space, and the Special Olympics of Michigan is our anchor tenant or our anchor landlord, I should say. [00:03:46][21.8]

[00:03:46] Kristen: And it is the Down Syndrome Association. By the way, you failed to mention the name of the organization. [00:03:51][5.2]

[00:03:52] Gwen: I know, I just didn't know if the Down Syndrome Association wants me to be associated with them because we're a little spicy on this podcast. [00:04:02][9.7]

[00:04:03] Kristen: Yeah. [00:04:03][0.0]

[00:04:04] Gwen: So anyway, so that's what's new with me. And it's a huge transition and I barely have time to think, let alone speak to Kristen. [00:04:13][9.0]

[00:04:14] Kristen: Yeah. I mean, we have to find ways to Marcopolo each other at like ten at night or six in the morning. It's crazy, I miss you. [00:04:22][7.3]

[00:04:22] Gwen: I know, I'm sorry. I do feel like I'm coming up for air enough that I remember that you are in my life. [00:04:28][5.8]

[00:04:29] Kristen: Oh, good. Well, thank God for that. Yeah. No. [00:04:31][2.7]

[00:04:32] Gwen: What's happening with you? [00:04:33][0.9]

[00:04:34] Kristen: You know, I'm feeling a lot better than I was post holiday. I'm kind of coming out of my funk. Graham and Greg just took the trailer and went down to Texas for a week, which was. Mind blowingly wonderful for me because I was home alone, except for Hayden, who was working, so I didn't see him very much. To have that alone time was just phenomenal. What's really cool, and kind of goes along with our episode today about universal design, is that we've been trying to figure out how to get Graham out and about in the world, because he just really loves to be home. He feels really good at home. And what we found was, even though we're very. Love to camp, love to be outdoors kind of family that's never been Graham's jam. But this trailer is like a bedroom on wheels. And so we can take him on, like, a week long trip somewhere. And he's perfectly happy because that part where he's living stays the same, so everything else can change. And he feels really good about it. So I just want to encourage our listeners like, no, get a camper, find a movable bedroom and you just might get your kid outdoors. Oh my gosh, he can see the trail from the camper. [00:05:46][72.4]

[00:05:47] Gwen: Right? He doesn't have to be on it. [00:05:49][1.9]

[00:05:49] Kristen: Yeah, he went on a ten minute walk on the beach and sat on a log and we were like, it's oh, God. Then he went back to the trailer. So anyway, that's my that's my great news today. [00:06:02][12.4]

[00:06:02] Gwen: They had a successful week. [00:06:03][0.6]

[00:06:03] Kristen: Very successful. And then he took the plane home by himself for the first time ever. And he he was so proud of himself and felt so good. It's been really cool to see. So that's my good news for the week. [00:06:16][12.8]

[00:06:17] Gwen: Do you want to make that your Graham-ism? Because that's a lot of good Graham-ism right there. [00:06:20][3.5]

[00:06:21] Kristen: It's a Graham-ism. Hit us with a Rylan-ism. [00:06:22][0.4]

[00:06:23] Gwen: Rylan success lately has been in basketball which those words I didn't think would ever come out of my mouth like an organized sport, has never been even on our radar to even try to force. He's been on teams in the past as like the helper, and they put them in in the last minute of the game, and that was sweet when he was younger, but in high school? No. So he is on a Special Olympics basketball team and it's unified, which means that half of the players have disabilities and half of them do not. And so those who do not act as partners, and then Rylan and his other teammates are the athletes. And it has been such a blessing for my son. Not only has his amazing coach, Lisa taught him how to dribble below his head, but he catches the ball. He runs Kristen and like, sprints up and down the court without any Pokemon incentive. He is on a team. He has a text throughout with his teammates. He played in three games last weekend and are you ready for this? He scored a winning shot with one second to go. [00:07:48][84.9]

[00:07:48] Kristen: Oh my gosh. [00:07:49][0.5]

[00:07:50] Gwen: And it was like the world just went up in flames. His teammates were jumping on him, which he said I couldn't breathe mom and my chest hurt, but I just dealt with it because I was so happy. They were so excited. I was jumping out of my chair. I mean, I probably peed my pants. Oh, my sister in law was next to me. We were crying. I mean, she and then he got off the court. He goes, oh man, I can't wait for my game next week, mom. [00:08:19][29.5]

[00:08:20] Kristen: Oh. [00:08:20][0.0]

[00:08:21] Gwen: So it's it's like a game changer for him. The confidence is aweinspiring. Wow. And it's beautiful. You know he's playing with kids with all different abilities. Teammates who have Down's syndrome which ties directly into the work I'm doing now. So it's all just real pretty. [00:08:38][17.3]

[00:08:39] Kristen: Wow. So happy for you. That's been a really long journey for you and for Rylan. Very exciting news. [00:08:46][6.5]

[00:08:47] Gwen: Thanks. All right, so let's move into our episode, shall we? [00:08:50][3.5]

[00:08:51] Kristen: Yes. Very excited for our guests today. [00:08:53][2.2]

[00:08:54] Gwen: Okay, friends. So we are more than excited to bring to you a topic today that is near and dear to our hearts, and one that you don't hear about very often unless you obsess over it the way that I do. We have two guests with us today who are kind enough to give us their time, and who we consider are experts in this field of space design, universal design. How do we use space as a teacher? How do we consider space in a way that's inclusive and creates a sense of belonging for all humans? And we're going to let them share with us some research that they've done and just bring insight into a topic that we think is really important. So without further ado, I want to introduce Doctor Elif Tural, who is an associate professor of interior design at Virginia Tech. And then with her we have Doctor David Kniola, who is an assistant professor in the School of Education, namely in education, research and evaluation. So why don't we start with you, Elif? Tell us a little bit about yourself. The work you do, who your people are in the world. Hit it. [00:10:07][73.6]

[00:10:08] Dr. Elif Tural: Okay. Thank you so much for having us. We are excited to be here. So I'm an educator. I'm a researcher. I'm a designer. My background is in architecture and interior design and planning and a little bit of graphic design as well. So I kind of touch on this scale of design with my research. I work with individuals from an environment behavior framework. So my goal is to look into how design can improve health and well-being of users. So that's kind of my niche, and I've been doing it for some time. Right now I work with university students, I work with older adults, I work with people with special needs. So this is where I come in in this study. [00:10:52][44.0]

[00:10:54] Gwen: Awesome. And tell us a little bit about you and where you are in the world. Your family. [00:10:58][3.8]

[00:10:59] Dr. Elif Tural: Well, I mean, right now I'm in Blacksburg. I jump around originally, I'm from Turkey. I came two years to go to school. I did my PhD at Arizona State. I taught over a little bit in the design program. Then I did my postdoc in Oregon. I started teaching that. I stayed there a couple of years. Then I jumped into Virginia Tech. So this is my home for the past seven years, and I'm happy to be here. [00:11:26][26.8]

[00:11:27] Gwen: Wonderful. [00:11:27][0.0]

[00:11:28] Dr. Elif Tural: Along with my family. Two kids, one dog, one cat, I was burnt. I was also an educator. [00:11:33][5.4]

[00:11:34] Gwen: Thank you. Elif. All right. How about you, David? [00:11:37][2.4]

[00:11:38] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah, likewise. I'm really happy to be with the two of you today. This is a really exciting topic for us as well. And, you know, as we get into this a little bit more, I think that you'll see that this is something that, is an emerging area of research for us. But my story is that education is what I would say is probably my family's business. My mom was an elementary school teacher. My dad was a high school teacher. They have a sister who is, or was a middle school teacher, and lots of uncles and aunts that have been anything from athletic directors to superintendents to principals. Somehow I was the only one who ended up in higher education. But, it's still still part of the family lineage, I guess. So I'm an educator at heart. This is what I'm most passionate about is teaching, and I pride myself on on that. And as far as research goes, I've got a number of streams of research. One of them is and understanding how we use space in education, the built environment and its influence on different aspects of human behavior, the number of projects that are interdisciplinary. And Elif and I run a few of these together, but we have colleagues across the university that are doing interdisciplinary research in this space. So it's a really exciting area for us. [00:13:03][85.0]

[00:13:04] Gwen: And out of curiosity, is Virginia Tech in particular a school that's really on the cutting edge of being interested in this topic? Or do you feel like that's happening in universities around the country or for that matter, around the world? [00:13:17][12.7]

[00:13:18] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah, really good question. I think where Virginia Tech is unique is that we have an infrastructure that facilitates interdisciplinary approaches. Probably Elif and I aren't working together at other universities, but we have unless we have like a chance encounter. But we have we have groups at this university that facilitate these kinds of interactions, facilitate connections with, external stakeholders, industry partners, and are really trying to to find ways to the push the envelope, the push the edge of research. And the way that that happens is through interdisciplinary research. [00:13:59][41.9]

[00:14:00] Gwen: Yeah, absolutely. That's fantastic. [00:14:02][1.8]

[00:14:03] Kristen: David, when you when you say interdisciplinary research, do you also mean community participatory research? So are you involving your end user from design through implementation of your study? [00:14:16][12.5]

[00:14:16] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah, absolutely. You know, as we talk more about the specific project that Elif and I have been involved with, I think that that will that will sort of bubble up a bit that we were intentional and, and being collaborative with, with our participants. And it's, it's a, it's a unique way of doing research. Oftentimes, researchers distance themselves from their participants and take more of a traditional science approach, that, you know, you try to remove yourself from, from the research and, and you're looking in there is a number of researchers that have a different approach where they involve participants and are more collaborative. [00:14:55][38.9]

[00:14:57] Kristen: That's great. [00:14:57][0.2]

[00:14:58] Dr. Elif Tural: One thing I can add to that is from a Virginia Tech perspective, I think our university is putting a lot more emphasis on health and well-being lately, and it's also for like everyone. So for different user groups as well. And also community engaged research, for example, on part of what we call a hog health consortium. So there's a lot of investment from the university and also aims for health and wellbeing. [00:15:23][24.9]

[00:15:24] Gwen: That's wonderful. That's very encouraging to hear for somebody who has kids that will go into college someday. So I'll keep Virginia Tech on my radar. So we'd love to dive into the project. And the way that we learned about this project is through some relationships that I'm forming at Steelcase, which is a company. It's a worldwide company, but they're based here in Grand Rapids, and they take us into the work that they did with the two of you and just said, you absolutely have to talk to David and Elif about the work and the research that they did. So thank you for doing that. Would you start by just letting us know what lead Virginia Tech can use specifically to research purposeful learning spaces, and maybe even before that, describe to our listeners what that means. Purposeful use of space. What does that concept mean in pertaining to the work that you do. [00:16:22][57.2]

[00:16:22] Kristen: And how it impacts that neurodivergent population? Yeah, yeah, sure. [00:16:26][4.2]

[00:16:28] Dr. Elif Tural: David, would you like to take on the purposeful part. And I can talk more about the Steelcase part. [00:16:32][4.2]

[00:16:33] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah. Well, I was going to I was going to actually start with, with that, that piece of it. And both Elif and I have had, several projects that originated with, with Steelcase. In this particular instance, the Steelcase education came to us and said, hey, we have a lot of users of our product who are interested in this topic, and we don't really know much about it. Would you be interested in doing a study? And it sounded like it was in our areas of interest? It was a new topic. There's not a lot of research out there that's specific to neurodiversity and in classroom spaces, but, especially with with design, with interior design. So it seemed like a natural for us. It was an extension of some of the work that we were already doing. So Steelcase came to us and said, hey, what would you be interested in this? And it was, you know, no question. For us, this is this is a really interesting topic, one that frankly, I hadn't thought about. And, you know, I think that we saw this as as a way that we could explore a new topic that would be a value not just to Steelcase, but to to the education community. [00:17:49][75.4]

[00:17:50] Gwen: Right. [00:17:50][0.0]

[00:17:51] Dr. Elif Tural: Yeah. If I can add to that, we have a longstanding relationship at my inter design program as well. I have collaborated with Still Case for my design studios, so we worked on a project based learning spaces, higher education context and looked into acoustics. So I also involve my students in these studies because it's also important in terms of like fostering empathy on future design professionals as well. [00:18:14][23.1]

[00:18:15] Gwen: And would you just define for our listeners like what is universal design? What is the point of thinking about it and talking about it as it relates to our neurodivergent population, which we believe relates to everyone in the end run? So if you could just describe kind of simply what that means. [00:18:35][20.3]

[00:18:36] Dr. Elif Tural: Then the simplest way, it's actually like designing for all. It's designing for everyone that is creating inclusive and equitable spaces so that everyone benefits and has the opportunity to participate, to be engaged in the environment that they're in. [00:18:53][16.4]

[00:18:53] Kristen: So when you were when you were working with the participants, what were some of the barriers to learning that they were able to describe to you in a typical educational setting? [00:19:05][11.1]

[00:19:06] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah. It's, first and foremost, the learning spaces, are cold and not just from a temperature standpoint, but that they don't feel connected to others. They've adapted. The students have found ways to to adapt to the learning spaces, recognizing their unique needs, but that there are there are things that can be done in those spaces to, to encourage students to work together. I think almost to a student that we that we interviewed, they recognize that they have a unique strength that they can add to the learning environment, and they want to be able to share that strength with others. Now, that wasn't the focus of our of our study to uncover what those strengths were, but they all wanted to have a learning space that saw them as bringing something new, something extra, something important to that learning environment, finding ways to connect with other students, to collaborate, to share their own unique perspectives. And so that took on an element in the designs that that we came up with. And trying to find ways that students can collaborate with each other, you know, being able to make eye contact, you know, especially in higher education, chairs are always set up to face the front of the classroom, very few rooms. And this is changing. We, you know, any new building redesigns? It is changing. But for most, most lecture halls, their classes are set up in a way that all seats face forward and they're very close together. The students that we talked to wanted something different. They wanted to be able to engage with others, with being able to make eye contact with the instructor, with the professor, with their classmates, with any screens in the room. So there are a lot of those, those types of connections that came out in our interviews. [00:21:02][116.1]

[00:21:04] Kristen: I love that, I love that. It was a strengths based approach and that you got that from the participants and also the concept of disability being environmental. We all would have a disability in a in a particular environment. I love to give the example that if I were in a room with engineers and I had to build something, I would definitely have a disability, right? So that somebody was able to articulate to you that they wanted an environment that didn't call out their deficits. Right. So many of our kids have to wear headphones and then, you know, they get teased for wearing headphones or their accommodations are made for them in particular, and it doesn't pull on their strength. So that's really cool. [00:21:46][42.6]

[00:21:47] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah, that was an intentional part of our research from the very beginning, Elif and I decided that we wanted to take that approach, that we weren't looking at this as a disability. We are looking at as a different ability, a special ability that these students were bringing to the classroom, to that learning environment. And we wanted to recognize that and try to figure out, like, what can we do through design that enhances those strengths? [00:22:12][24.9]

[00:22:13] Gwen: Yeah. Can you highlight some of those key components that you were considering at the beginning? You know, you mentioned coldness. So what plays into a space being feeling cold. Looking cold I know I have a son with autism who visual clutter. Just he's not set up for success. You know, he can't filter visual clutter. And so if your mind is jumbled when you walk into a classroom, which most classrooms are in, how do you expect them to focus and learn? So can you kind of highlight some of those aspects that you were considering? [00:22:50][37.2]

[00:22:52] Dr. Elif Tural: You are exactly to the point. Spatial organization is really important, a clear spatial designation for different not only functions, but also like sensory zones in the space at providing a smooth transition space from one to the other, or like they finding in the classroom clear labeling of things. Also even like things like lighting and acoustics, noise control in the classroom is such a big thing on a personal level. One of my kids has a hearing impairment and he don't look at it as a disability. It is a condition that needs to be maintained, like in a classroom. It's all about background noise. So those things like furniture types, the type of furniture, the comfort of it, but also the types of furniture that you provide in the classroom. So those are some of the things that we were looking into. [00:23:47][54.8]

[00:23:48] Kristen: Elif, when you say wayfinding. Can you explain a little bit about what that means and how that looks operationally when you when you put wayfinding in place? [00:23:58][10.2]

[00:23:58] Dr. Elif Tural: Sure. That's also something that we call space legibility. It's about how you read the classroom. When you enter the space, you want to be able to know what your options are, but you also want to be able to see how you are going to navigate in the classroom. That's what we call wayfinding. And there are different ways of doing that. And unlike your finishes in the classroom are part of it. That. Flooring changes or like color changes or the types of furniture that you. That they're all about like wayfinding in the classroom. [00:24:29][30.5]

[00:24:30] Kristen: So they're kind of signaling to the student are they are yes. You know that I'm entering it like you said, this transitions I'm entering a different space where there are different roles, and maybe something different is expected of me, or I can operate in a different way. Exactly. [00:24:44][13.5]

[00:24:45] Gwen: And those can be done in so many ways. Right, Elif? I know I work out of a space, the Special Olympics center for Michigan, and they're building this inclusive design center. And my son was brought in to do consulting around wayfinding. And he said, well, if I need to know where to go, I don't look up, I look down. So can you just put some directions on the floor? And as a result of that, they're putting signage above and along the baseboards of the entire building in different colors. And that's going to include an image for each zone of the building. And these are very simple ideas, right. But unless we include our stakeholders in those conversations, we're not going to think of it because it's not the typically functioning brain's way of thinking. So there's just really easy ways to do it. [00:25:36][51.2]

[00:25:37] Dr. Elif Tural: And we are not going to know that unless we actually include the users in the design process. That's why it's really important. And as you are saying, let them choose color coding different like types of visual signals in the space. And again, like we have to rely on the actual occupants to be able to know that information. [00:25:55][18.4]

[00:25:57] Gwen: Right. [00:25:57][0.0]

[00:25:58] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah, I think that's what's been really unique to our study is involving our participants in that way. These students that we interviewed are at a university, so they're college age. Many of them said that they didn't know that they were neuro atypical until they were in college. So they spent their entirety of education not really knowing. They knew they were different, but they didn't know how. And this was the first time that anybody's ever asked them, what's it like to be in a classroom space? So what we're starting to find and uncover through this research, we hope is going to be beneficial not just to academic and research communities, but to colleges and universities, high schools, K through 12 schools. [00:26:46][48.0]

[00:26:47] Gwen: Well and corporations to really I mean, any environment you can consider some of these things in your home. You can consider these things in your corporate setting and your employee break rooms. Universal design is just that, right? It is. It is universally applicable to any environment and benefits everyone. So I love that you are highlighting that. Can you talk us through the concept of design with not just for and why this is so important in your work, but how these designs started shaping or your process of research and interviewing these students. [00:27:22][35.1]

[00:27:23] Dr. David Kniola: I was going to start with the interviews. These were open ended interviews with students and just asking them questions around how did they experience the classroom spaces, what detracted from their learning? What enhances their learning? If they could design a classroom space, what would they include? What would be useful to them? Now we have to keep in mind the students that we interviewed were from a wide range of brain differences from anxiety, ADHD, autism. So there was a pretty, pretty wide range. Now, we didn't ask them specifically, what brain differences do you have? That was not part of the interview protocol. It just came up naturally and in conversations with the students. We just asked them, asked for participants who identified as being, neuro atypical or neurodiverse. So that's that's where our process started. [00:28:18][55.0]

[00:28:19] Gwen: Okay. [00:28:19][0.0]

[00:28:20] Dr. David Kniola: Was interviewing the students and then we took that information. And Elif can talk about the next phase with with the design work with her students. [00:28:29][9.0]

[00:28:31] Dr. Elif Tural: Sure. So yeah, we took the input from the students. We were also reviewing the literature from an educational and architecture and design side of things. And then you gathered all that information, analyzed it, and then a couple of my students developed design proposals for different scales of classrooms. So in those classrooms that looked into those design principles that we were just talking about, that spatial organization, different tactile zones, and then how we can incorporate those things. And then we took those designs back to the students that we initially interviewed on that and got their feedback on that to see what is working, what is not working, what can be improved, and what we actually don't know still. So that was our process in that sense. [00:29:19][48.3]

[00:29:21] Gwen: So coming from there, the one size fits all approaches to education design is definitely being challenged. Can you describe why this concept of equitable experiences benefits the whole? [00:29:34][13.5]

[00:29:36] Dr. Elif Tural: So our goal is to obviously just involve everyone in their educational process, regardless of their backgrounds or ability levels. And we know that everyone brings unique perspectives on talents and strengths to the classroom. So if you're designing an environment to actually respond to the needs of those individuals, everyone will benefit from that. It's going to enrich everyone's educational experience. It was environmental experience, everyone's lives. So that is more equitable. Design comes in. It's not one size fits all purpose. [00:30:10][34.4]

[00:30:12] Dr. David Kniola: Yeah. The one of the biggest takeaways is that this idea of universal design needs to be flexible, flexible for the students and an individual level. Students have different lighting requirements, different seating requirements, but also from a pedagogy standpoint and what the teacher or the professor needs to or wants to do in any given class. And that changes throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the year, depending on on what the subject is, we wanted to be able to have spaces that can be manipulated based on what sort of learning needed to occur at any given moment. Oftentimes, they're collaborative pedagogies. There are times when a student needs to sit alone and be by themselves and not be distracted. And this isn't just for students that we identify as having this quote unquote disability. This is for everyone. [00:31:09][56.8]

[00:31:10] Gwen: Right. [00:31:10][0.0]

[00:31:10] Dr. David Kniola: Everything comes when students need to go off into the corner and have a small group meeting, or they need to work individually, and they want to focus intensely on on something and not be distracted by others. There's times when the teacher needs to pull aside, a student or a small group and have a conversation. These sorts of, of designs that we came up with, while they're supporting this idea of neurodiversity in the classroom, there's benefits to everyone. [00:31:35][24.6]

[00:31:36] Kristen: Yeah. I think it's really interesting to think about even kind of spatial organization and how impactful that could be for our students that are neurodivergent. And to your point of it being equitable and why it benefits everyone. A lot of our kids have really brilliant, funny, interesting, unique perspectives on all kinds of topics in all kinds of subjects. And if they can't access the group because of their environment, then people don't get to benefit from that perspective. And when a classroom is set up to be didactic, where you've got the teacher in the front of the room and then all everybody's facing the teacher. I think for our kids that have executive functioning challenges, right, all the planning and organization and emotional regulation are so taxed, because when I think about my son Graham, in a classroom like that, or a Hayden for that matter, actually all three of my kids, they don't inherently know that they have to or can't pay attention to the teacher, take into account what's on the board, look to their neighbors to see, oh, everybody's actually working on their worksheet. Scan your worksheet so that you can be informed by what your teacher saying. Like, that's a lot of stuff going on at once. And if the room is set up so that you can't access all of those pieces of information, then my kids will just read a book because they can't take in all of that information. And so talk a little bit about how universal design impacts that issue of that barrier of like, overload on executive functioning. [00:33:13][97.1]

[00:33:14] Dr. Elif Tural: One of the things related to that is actually just providing that choice in the classroom and under flexibility. And one thing that we have found through our research and literature use is actually creating an escape space, or just by space in the classroom or in a separate space, is really important. When things get overwhelming, you need to just step back and that you just need that space. So that is also a way of actually tying those things together. [00:33:41][27.3]

[00:33:42] Gwen: I think back to when Rylan was in elementary school, they would have a taped spot in the back of the room that he could pace in. And the moment I said, oh, how great you're providing that space for him. But now I'm like, well, how horrible that the kids all knew. Well, this blue tape is because Rylan can't sit in his seat and he's allowed to pace back here, but he's not allowed to pace up front. And so I've learned so much about how accommodations can alienate, and how this concept of universal design has become so important to me because his accommodations so often alienated him from his peers. Well, he hated fluorescent lighting. Well, good luck, but I did get his teacher. I just brought in a boatload of lamps, and I said, just plug him in, please. And the kids loved. So trying to find these simple solutions, and I would love to be able to offer our listeners who are parents and educators and therapists, just some tangible ideas that they can take right now and do that aren't budget constraining, because outfitting your whole classroom, we understand, is is usually a district limitation. But there are ways that you can use what you have really mindfully. So do you have any just quick suggestions that you can offer that they can implement right away. [00:35:08][85.7]

[00:35:09] Dr. Elif Tural: But probably like the easiest one, which is not so easy to actually getting rid of the clutter in the classroom. And you're so right about lighting. It's electric lighting, but it's also like daylighting. Like having access to outdoors is also like really important to be able to just look outside. So those are the things that are actually like part of the classroom, but giving people the opportunity to do that. And then you're also right in the said, we don't want to single out everyone. So when we are designing, we are designing for everyone. So if you can create like a quiet, comfortable corner in the classroom that anyone can just kind of go back when they need to, that's going to benefit everyone, not only for people with like different ability levels or needs. So not sound like some simple solutions. [00:35:58][48.8]

[00:35:59] Gwen: Yeah, take all the primary colors off their walls and don't hang everyone's artwork all over your walls. [00:36:06][6.5]

[00:36:07] Kristen: Don't hang things that sway in the air conditioning planes dangling from the ceiling everywhere. I can't handle that. [00:36:15][8.9]

[00:36:16] Dr. Elif Tural: That's just the visual load. Even though, I mean, you don't realize it is actually accumulating on the over time. Yeah. [00:36:23][6.7]

[00:36:24] Dr. David Kniola: I think also having conversation with the teacher just to help them to recognize the unique needs. I would venture to guess most most teachers, and I can guarantee you 99% of professors don't understand the unique differences, especially when it comes to learning and how the classroom environment influences and effects in positive and negative ways. So having that conversation to say here, this is who I am. This is what would be helpful to me. And if there are things that I can do as a parent or a student to help you understand what would be useful to me, that will help me to be successful in your class, that that conversation would go a long way to help understand that dimming the lights might help, or to bring in lamps would be useful, or having tactile things that students can use for for stimming or, you know, being able to touch things and help them to focus so their little things. But maybe it starts with a conversation with the teacher. [00:37:27][63.1]

[00:37:28] Gwen: Yeah. Different seating options, right? We saw some chairs that rock just plastic chairs that rock and having options. And I do feel like classrooms are getting better about having those options and providing, you know, exercise balls to sit on and foot pedals to keep your feet busy and. I think these are pretty simple ideas that we can start incorporating into higher ed too, right? It's higher ed is no different. The needs aren't changing just because they're older. [00:38:03][34.0]

[00:38:04] Dr. David Kniola: Higher ed has a unique issue in that. As a teacher, we don't own that classroom. So in K-through-12, typically a teacher is in that one class for the entire day, maybe even high school moving around in higher ed. And every hour there's movement. And we don't have a lot of capabilities to bring things in, to change things. So as we start to redesign and develop spaces and build new buildings, then we can make considerations, right? [00:38:35][30.8]

[00:38:36] Kristen: Yeah. And I think even for higher ed to just like go outside, sit on the quad, do you know, get into that outside space. I think when I'm thinking about I'm kind of stuck on this wayfinding idea too, Elif. I love it. And I'm thinking about ways that you could. One of the things that was so hard for my son Graham in his educational career was group work, right. Huge focus on group work. Torturous for a lot of our neurodivergent kiddos. And so. Graham always really struggled with what he thought was bossy peers telling him what to do. He didn't understand the nuances of of group work and what people's roles were. And if you were able to set up a space that had some wayfinding and had some signage that helped it. If you're sitting in this seat, this is your role. If you're sitting in that seat, that's your role and maybe even some description on what that role is posted somewhere so that everybody could see it. Instead of trying to come up with a plan for one kid. Make sure everybody understands what their roles are, I think would be really helpful. I just know that a lot of families really struggle with group work on the IEPs and how to really accommodate our kids that that struggle with that dynamic. [00:39:54][78.2]

[00:39:56] Gwen: And I think being able to to think about how to tackle those struggles with the use of space isn't where most teachers would go. But there's such powerful ways to use space to tackle social and emotional struggles and learning environment. So I think it's, you know, I so appreciate the effort that you are putting into this because the use of space is so often neglected, and it really is another teacher in a space. So it's one that I just can't stop thinking about, ever. [00:40:34][37.6]

[00:40:35] Dr. David Kniola: It seems to be a hidden tool that that teachers can use, and it's for us. And you're talking seems so obvious that the classroom is the essential component across every school, K-12 higher education, that that physical space is where learning occurs. And it's so often overlooked as being a central player in the learning experience. [00:40:59][24.0]

[00:41:00] Gwen: The lobby, when you walk in, it's part of their learning space. This is how they start the day. It is how they are studying the regulatory system if they're walking into chaos. So thinking about it from the minute they see the front door of your building until they get into the classroom, is a whole nother area that can be thought of really mindfully. [00:41:21][20.7]

[00:41:22] Dr. Elif Tural: But and that's also like for the whole building, not only in the classroom. Acoustics is a really, really big thing. And not that it is also like an architectural design issue. The way you chose materials, how much you can absorb. So you just need soft surfaces. It's like in so many ways to control. Obviously all of the kids nowadays use the headphones. That's a powerful tool. But, you know, in workplaces but also in schools, there are also cases where they just eliminate the doors, like open spaces, open planning. That is not an ideal solution for everyone. There are certain contexts that you actually need to shut that classroom door so that you have them in active noise. So yeah, it's need a lot obviously on teacher so many different ways, but it's also about educating the designers and the architects in that sense. [00:42:17][54.2]

[00:42:18] Gwen: And involving stakeholders like you. Exactly like you did you know, if every teacher at the beginning of the year figured out how to survey their students on what their unique needs are, or talk to the parents before the school year starts. There's just ways to set up yourself and your students for success in that way. It just requires some intentionality. [00:42:38][20.0]

[00:42:39] Kristen: When I think about inclusion, which is always, well, not always, because I worked at a school that was a segregated setting, and there's a lot of benefits to that, too. But for inclusion to really work, especially in our current climate for education, which is fraught with a million problems and hanging on by a thread in a lot of ways, space can really be, as we're talking about another teacher, to ensure inclusion. When we think about evidence based programing and intervention, like Leap programs like Teach. So programs were developed for kids on the autism spectrum, but use the space and the peers as another teacher, right. Because a lot of our kids, we can't give them 1 to 1 support and a lot of them don't need it if the environment is set up correctly. So I think it plays into a lot of that, the types of intervention models that have already been developed and that educators who are focused on the neurodivergent already know about their population. So it's it's a really important piece to be thinking about space. Yeah. [00:43:51][71.9]

[00:43:52] Gwen: From all of our senses, every single sense should be considered like all this even talk about smell. But smell is another issue. [00:43:59][7.0]

[00:43:59] Kristen: Why do schools smell so bad? [00:44:01][1.8]

[00:44:02] Gwen: They just bleach every night. Please don't bleach like there are other ways get washable surfaces. And anyway, so smell is yet another sense. [00:44:12][9.7]

[00:44:12] Kristen: What is in that carpet at this point? I'd like to know. [00:44:15][2.8]

[00:44:16] Gwen: Yeah, maybe no carpet, maybe some, maybe not. [00:44:19][3.0]

[00:44:20] Dr. Elif Tural: Yeah, but we also need carpet for acoustic reasons. [00:44:23][3.4]

[00:44:24] Gwen: We do, we do? Yeah, lots of considerations. It's certainly not simple. It's not simple, but it's worth being intentional and putting a lot of consideration into. And so thank you for doing the work. And we're so glad that Virginia Tech is a place that's using collaboration. Kristen and I were both part of a program where we collaborated with an interdisciplinary approach to learning with therapists across the spectrum of all the senses and all the disciplines, and we found that to be so powerful and so beneficial. So we really appreciate organizations that use that approach. [00:45:06][42.5]

[00:45:08] Kristen: Thank you so much. [00:45:08][0.6]

[00:45:09] Dr. Elif Tural: Thank you so much for having us. It was a pleasure. And we are like so, so happy that we had the opportunity to talk with you about this. [00:45:17][7.3]

[00:45:18] Gwen: Thank you. We appreciate it and we hope to talk again in the future someday. [00:45:21][3.2]

[00:45:22] Dr. David Kniola: We're happy to do it. Thank you very much. [00:45:24][1.9]

[00:45:25] Gwen: Thanks, David. Thanks, Elif. [00:45:26][1.6]

[00:45:27] Gwen: Thanks for joining us for this episode of You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We sure appreciate it. If you'd subscribe to our show and your favorite podcast app. And if you want to win listener of the month, you can rate and review the show, preferably with five stars. [00:45:42][14.2]

[00:45:43] Kristen: If you'd like to stay up on all our happenings, resources and bonus material, join our newsletter at YouDon'tWantaHug.com. [00:45:48][5.3]

[00:45:50] Gwen: Remember, even the best caretakers make panic rooms out of their closets. No judgment here friends. So shoulders back, double chins up. We are all in this together.


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