Activity 4

Activity Four: Reflect on factors associated with diversity in your context.

1. Explore how Universal Design can be used in learning environments to ensure inclusiveness. Universal Design for Learning: A framework for access and equity.
Universal Design is an approach to make learning accessible for all students spanning broad range of diversity including various cultural groups, socioeconomic backgrounds and disability. Accessibility for learning is considered in wide areas, such as physical environment, for example wheel chair access to learning materials, for instance, subtitles on videos.
In product design, the principles of Universal Design reflects the approach, Inclusive Design. Inclusive Design aims to “design mainstream products and or services that are accessible to and usable by as many people as reasonably possible… without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.” Coleman Retrieved March April 2014) Designing for the small percentile of the population can lead to products that are accessible for many. An Inclusive Design example often discussed is the Oxo Good Grip kitchen utensils. The utensil range began when noticing a need for a better design of vegetable peeler for arthritic hands. As a result an ideal grip of a peeler for this user group, in fact gives a better grip for majority of users. Focusing the design for low percentile of the population can develop products that are more useful for a wider population.
The principles of Universal Design extend to teaching strategies. Designing teaching methods to accommodate the extremes of students in both capabilities, learning styles, cultural needs can result in a better learning environment for a wider group of students. This has been the experience at the School of Design in processes for catering to both Maori and Pacifica students. The benefits of implementing both formal and informal processes for pastoral care for these students have also extended to most students.
Further, taking into account various means of expression and engagement discussed in Universal Design offers a wider variety of assessment methods that suits different learners. A majority of students in product design tend to not enjoy reading and writing with a small number of them displaying dyslexia. Rather than the conventional reports, asking students to report their design in the forms of movies and multi media may give them a better media to express their ideas. This is a timely change, as more and more designers are asked to present their projects through movies in the fast changing landscape on the internet.
2. Describe an example of teaching and learning in your context where you believe that access to learning may be compromised or inequitable.
For the past two years, Product design programme has been enjoying a closer relationship with the Innovation Workspace. Students are given a small workshop space within the Innovation Workspace and are also able to be trained to use some larger machinery. In theory, this gives students more and access to better tools and machinery as well as a social dimension of students being able to work alongside staff working in the industry. However, the cultural differences between the education programme and commercial enterprise of Innovation Workspace has had to be brokered. For the students they often felt uncomfortable and out of place to walk into the Innovation Workspace to utilise the workshop. This hindered their projects especially in model making, prototyping and conceptualisation phases. Similarly, the Innovation Workspace staffs were weary of student accessing the facility for the safety reasons and students taking up their valuable time.
More recently a number of staff from the Innovation Workspace has been contracted to teach the product design courses. Teaching is often carried out in the Innovation Workspace environment, which allows students to become more familiar with the space and build a sense of belonging. At the same time, these staff have been expressed a clear protocol around the use of the space and a boundary for when they can be contracted to teach and when they carry out client work. These staffs have been instrumental in bridging the cultural differences between the educational programme and commercial entity. Further improvements are necessary in the areas including clarity in charging process for cost bearing machinery, machine licencing and supervision processes and internships. In time students will benefit from being immersed in the culture of design consultancy, which will help prepare them to be better work ready graduate.

3. Discuss what your learners might need to access the learning environment more fully, and what you can provide. Identify barriers and support needed.

Felder and Soloman’s learning styles and strategies were useful in identifying barriers for students. In general most design students are visual learners, rather than verbal or reader, writer learners. The limited diversity in this area of learning style allows for teaching to be similar across all students. However, a diversity of learning styles is found in the scale of Active to Reflective, Sensing to Intuitive and Sequential and Global learning styles. These learning styles offer a platform to investigate barriers for learning for students and the suitability of learning style for the design discipline.

Felder and Soloman

Active to Reflective.
Design requires students to flexibly shift between the two areas of active and reflective practice. Student benefits from “trying out” activities such as prototyping and pulling apart a product in question. On the other hand, students need to make plans and be reflective about their concepts. Students often find it difficult to gauge the right timing for when to be an active or reflective learner. Prompting students to move between the two scales of learning styles during the class and addressing these issues will be a good start for students to gaining a balance in the application of the two approaches in their design practice.

Sensing  to Intuitive + Sequential to Global
As a discipline, designers are required to be Intuitive and Global in the way they learn as well as in the way they carry out the design process. Design projects often deal with issues that are complex for sequential and sensing learning. For example, to design a surgical tool, designer cannot sequentially learn every aspect of medical science and surgical procedures. In stead, intuitive and global learning style is required to identify and collect the most relevant information to design the surgical tool. Buchannan (1992) calls this “sense making” where the designer is asked to make sense of a large topic to help solve the design problem.

The Global and Intuitive nature of design is also reflected in a number of design methods text books and prompts, such as 101 Design Methods (2013) and Ideo Method cards (2003). These methods and strategies deal with assessing “the big-picture” and act as prompts to enrich the design process. The methods and are not intended to be followed in sequence.

The expectation for students to process design content in Global and Intuitive learning style is a barrier for some students who lean towards the Sensing and Sequential learning styles. For instance, Sequential learners seem to feel overwhelmed to being given 101 Design methods and even when they know to apply the strategies as suitable, some students feel learning is incomplete without comprehending each of the methods. For these students, it may be beneficial for a lecturer to select a few methods that work well together for a specific design context to sequentially trial a few methods as a trial. This may help them understand the benefit of selecting a few methods and that they do not need to master all the methods.

In the similar way to Active and Reflective learning styles, design requires students to swing between Sensing learning style and Intuitive learning style. Sensing learning style is beneficial in the research phase where facts and established models can strengthen their design concept, however, Intuitive learning style is also necessary to establish possible relationships in their findings to develop concepts.

While it is beneficial for designers to be able to swing between the spectrums of learning styles to develop a innovative design intervention, some specialty areas of product design are better suited to those with specific learning preferences. For example sensing and sequential learners may be well suited to computer aided 3D graphic design where factual reasoning and sequential steps are useful. Identifying personal learning style and strength so that students can be matched with suitable areas of product design would help them carve their personal path in the discipline.


Buchanan, R. 1992. “Wicked problems in design thinking.” Design Issues no. 8 (2):5-21.

Coleman, R., Clarkson, J., Hosking, I., Waller, S. “Inclusive Design Toolkit”. Retrieved 04 April 2014

Gravel, J., Ralabate, P., Thomas, L., “Universal Design for Learning. A framework for access and equity” Lecture notes retrieved 04 April 2014

Ideo. 2003. Ideo Method Cards: 51 Ways to Inspire Design Palo Alto: Ideo.

Kumar, V. (2012) 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization: John Wiley and Sons, Inc
Soloman, B., & Felder, R. Index of Learning Styles Retrieved 04, April 2014 from


2 thoughts on “Activity 4

  1. Another fabulous post and a very insightful discussion about the concepts of universal design and access and equity with regard to the learning environment. Your example about Innovation workspace and the cultural challenges for learners integrating into this environment is excellent. It illustrates how huge gaps that may at first appear insurmountable can be resolved with a bit of creative re-arrangement.

    I like your discussion about the expectations for design students within the four ranges of learning styles. Did you take the questionnaire yourself to see where your strengths lie? What sort of strategies or tasks do you use to scaffold students to move between active prototyping and reflection on their work, for example, or to work sequentially through tasks with the end (big picture) in mind?

  2. Pingback: Constructing Courses to Enhance Learning: Theory of Design | MACHIKO LEARNS FLEXIBLE LEARNING

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