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1 Access of students with learning disabilities/challenges to higher education: Issues and solutions Dr. Carla Di Giorgio UPEI Faculty of Education May 20, 2009

2 Community Partners: Dr. Audrey Penner, Holland College Joanne McCabe, UPEI Webster Centre- Accessibility Services LD Association of PEI

3 Research questions 1. What are the barriers to students with learning disabilities/challenges in post-secondary secondary programs in PEI? 2. What successful practices have helped students? 3. How do educators at community college and university view their role as teachers of students with learning challenges? 4. What practices might improve the experiences of students?

4 Literature review Adults with learning disabilities and difficulties have been studied in university and community college settings in the United States, but few studies have explored factors specific to Canadian populations. (Educational Policy Institute, 2006; Vogel and Holt, 2003).

5 "Learning Disabilities" refer to: a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.

6 Learning disabilities range in severity and may interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following: oral language (e.g. listening, speaking, understanding); reading (e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word recognition, comprehension); written language (e.g. spelling and written expression); and mathematics (e.g. computation, problem solving). may also involve difficulties with organizational skills, social perception, social interaction and perspective taking.

7 Factors affecting post-secondary secondary success: level of academic achievement in the school system low self-esteem esteem lack of occupational goals gender age literacy poverty in some cases health issues, including mental health issues such as anxiety, depression

8 Leads to? negative experiences in school systems lead to lack of confidence in pursuing areas of learning which are challenging. students not having realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses in pursuing post-secondary secondary programs leads to unrealistic goals (Reiff, 1997).

9 Very little research has explored teaching and other related educational practices that help adult learners reach their potential in accessing and succeeding in these settings (Butler, 2003; Towler, Wallace and Smith, 2000).

10 Assessment practices and the transition from secondary school to post-secondary secondary need to be improved to allow for better access for students, and better sharing of information with students and educators (Ross-Gordon et al, 2003; Goupil et al, 2002).

11 Direct teaching practices, mentoring, strategy instruction, and organizational skills have been found to help students and educators adapt their learning and teaching to better educate not only those students with learning disabilities but all participants in programs (Deford, 2006).

12 Several specific programs exist in American universities which address students with learning disabilities, but these practices need to be available to adults in basic education and community college settings as well (Covington, 2004).

13 In Canada: Accessibility services in many universities allow students to attend regular classes while providing supports such as assistive technology and adapted testing to students. Community colleges as well offer assessment, counselling and accommodations for students with learning difficulties. Associations such as the Learning Disabilities Associations in each province advocate for students and inform them of available services and occupational opportunities. BUT there is a lack of integration between these various systems (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, 2007).

14 Research aims of this study: collect and connect knowledge on barriers facing students with learning difficulties and their instructors provide educators with useful strategies for improving access and success for students. connect learning difficulties to other life needs and issues

15 Stages 1. Interviews with students at UPEI and Holland College 2. Interviews with instructors and professors at UPEI and Holland College 3. Interviews with adults not in school 4. Workshops with instructors/students at both institutions and at the LD Assoc. 5. Develop recommendations and disseminate

16 Stage 1: Interviews UPEI students with LD: 8 UPEI professors: 8 Holland College students with LD/ learning challenges: 7 Holland College instructors: 7 Non-students: 1

17 Interviews 1. For students: what are the positive and negative experiences you have had as a person with a learning challenge? 2. For instructors: What is it like to have a student with learning challenges in your class? How have you adapted your teaching for this?

18 Results: University students Many rely on the Accessibility Services office and this experience has supported them greatly However, many students still do not like to ask professors for extra support They want to be assessed like other students Extreme determination to be self-sufficientsufficient Rely on support from family and friends Limited social life

19 Anxiety My anxiety isn t going to go away because I can read a little better. Especially when it comes to an exam and there s somebody watching every move you re making I don t have anxiety anywhere else in my life. But when it comes to my schooling, I have huge anxiety. Like if I m getting a test back, my heart s beating. Even after the test is back and I know I did okay, I still have anxiety and it takes me a while to calm down.

20 Embarrassment There s a few that I met in class, some people I ve seen there dropping off books and stuff. Some people are really shy about it really shy. Like one girl I met so I said to her in class, So it was a pretty bad scan, wasn t it? and her face just dropped and she was like, what do you mean? I guess I caught her off-guard.

21 Limited social life I don t know- I m not too into the social scene. Like, I like to keep on top of my work and stuff. Most weekends I do schoolwork and watch TV because I m tired from working on schoolwork.

22 University professors Difference between LD and ACE students Adaptations are taken care of by Accessibility Services Variance in ownership taken by professors Adaptation of teaching? Variance in personal contact with students with LD Personal experience Professional standards

23 Lack of knowledge One was that they wouldn t give me my accessibilities. They wouldn t allow me to write my tests in a separate place or to use the technology. So I said, fine. I won t take your course. And the other one, it was mostly her lack of knowledge about learning disabilities. I told her I had one, and she- I think she thought I was blind or something because I said learning disability. So I was just kind of annoyed with her that she wouldn t take the time to know that like blindness isn t a learning disability.

24 Professional resistance And they actually denied that (extra time on lab exam) because they said it was part of the (program) I don t know But the way I understood it was that with (program), you have to have a certain amount of respect for the time frame, and they just weren t going to accommodate that; they put it into their policy, I believe.

25 Equity? He said to me If I do it for you, I d have to do it for everybody else.

26 Role of professor I did have one that did become particularly clingy. She wa sin my office twice a week when I taught her, and then every week for the next two years. You know, just dropping by. Eventually I just had to step back a little and, not withdraw, but I didn t want to be feeling like her mother, and I expect from what she told me that she had a very abusive mother, psychologically, and certainly a very uncaring mother. So I didn t want to become like a substitute mother for her, because it s just so inappropriate. But at the same time, she d sometimes come in and just be crying and just need a hug- that s what she needed. And so that it s really hard to know where that line is drawn

27 Personal empathy I think it could have been different because in that time, my whole understanding of what a learning disability was- because I was doing all of this reading because of my (child)

28 Community College students Life experience Gender, family Determination Lack of identification of LD Negative experience of school Plans for future Need for support Health including mental health issues Large range of abilities and motives Medication effects

29 Tough life I got pregnant when I was sixteen; dropped out of school. Raising, I chose to stay home to raise my son. And as he got older, I decided to try upgrading but upgrading just wasn t doing it so I hadn t gone to school in eighteen years and since my son passed away in (month), I decided to try school again and I m liking it and it s good. Really rough, but-

30 Pass it on See, when I was pregnant for my daughter, I had a lot of prior, before I found out I was pregnant I had a surgery, and I had lots of medications, so they thought she was going to be brain dead when she was born, because of all of the medication. Come to find out she might have a learning disability from it and she might have thyroid problems from the medication when she gets older. So I contributed with the medication, but I know that with learning disabilities and stuff like that, it could be hereditary, I know there s something somewhere but I want to try to nip it in the bud, so I can help my kids so they can help their kids, you know what I mean?

31 Medication/motivation I wonder if it s medication, she just is unfocused. You can look at her some days and say, you know, are you thinking? Most of my other students, because we have a self- paced environment, if they hand me something to be corrected they immediately move into something else. (Student) always has to be prompted. Is it because you re unmotivated? And there s some of that too.

32 Student quote: mental health I have to get past the problem of getting into the workforce and staying there. And then with my bipolar it kinda throws me off, because if I miss any days then I lose the job. So it s like a Catch-22. So I have to work it out.

33 Family secrets No, not a thing, no. I kept it hush, hush. I kept it, because Well, mom, you never did it, why should I do it? So I never gave them that ammo. I always told them, I lied to them. I told them that I had my grade 12. Always did.

34 Community college instructors Plateaued learners Goals and abilities Curriculum vs. people Variety of programs Easy access Limits to time in program Self-paced learning Gender of teachers

35 Instructor quote People come in, have a lot of uh, some teachers call it garbage, I don t call it garbage. Some teachers say, Leave your garbage at the door but to me it s not, you get them as a, they re a unit and uh, you accept them as they are and if you have to take, you have to take their Our students are the ones that probbaly fell through the cracks in the school system and maybe they ve had brushes with the law. Maybe they re in debt So we have people that have a lot on their plate.

36 Themes and questions Ownership Stigma Assessment services School experience Role of the university and community college Outside influences Future opportunities Carryover into next generations

37 Assessment So usually, you know, quite often if they have been tested it s a relief. Sometimes to find out that there is something wrong as opposed to not knowing and not really wanting to look into it, but knowing deep down that there is something.

38 School experience Well it s funny it never got picked up in school, cause I struggled all along. And mom said that I fell into just the middle- you know, I wasn t overly smart, I wasn t failing they kicked me out (of resource)- I was doing too good. But I was struggling- my mom realized I was struggling and they just never, I wasn t struggling enough, I guess.

39 Discouragement I guess this would have been in about grade six, where she told me that I couldn t go to a university, that I d have to go to a college, cause of my reading problems and stuff. So then I just wanted to go to university.

40 Counselling Yeah I m the first one from my family to ever graduate. So I didn t have anyone to really give me guidance for university. So they had something called the first year advisement.

41 Future goals To her, I think she wants, with the interest situation, when they ve had addictions and mental health issues, then they want to go into that field and so she sees herself as a crisis counsellor and really doesn t have the concept to understand how much work that would be. They really feel that if you have the life experience, therefore you know how to deal with somebody else. So there s that unrealistic disconnect there She doesn t have that, okay, I could do the job, but if I could do the job I wouldn t be where I m at.

42 Recommendations Earlier assessment and identification in schools Connection between parents and children Integration of education and health, community care and support More technological support Closer look at teaching and personal support Length of time in program; economic support Transitioning to life Opportunities to support others

43 Helping others And he ended up firing her. And she didn t have an advocate in her life and they fired her and I never saw her again. Yeah that s pretty illegal what he did, I think- she was there for three weeks. They never asked her. That was something that was pretty bad.

44 Limitations Time for study Range of students and instructors/programs Differences between university and community college programs LD vs. learning difficulties Gender in community college

45 Thank you Dr. Carla DiGiorgio

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