Accessing the Graduate Dream Online

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1 Accessing the Graduate Dream Online Kim Elmore, Texas Tech University Presentation Materials: Disabled & Proud: Dare to DREAM! October 18, 2014

2 How many graduate students with disabilities are there? In 2010, almost 3 million people were enrolled in graduate programs in the U.S. About 8% of master s students and 7% of doctoral students in the academic year had at least one disability (U.S. Dept. of Education) Very, very, very roughly, 225,000 students with disabilities are enrolled in graduate programs No national-level research study focused on graduate students with disabilities has been conducted to date that could give us more reliable statistical data on this population

3 Is online graduate work an option for students with disabilities? The faculty and staff have not only complied with the requirements, but have bent over backwards to make sure everything is well with me, Grisham said. They ve never hesitated to tell me that if there s anything they can do to make things work for me, let them know. Julie Grisham, online master s degree graduate in Technical Communication at Texas Tech University, who uses remote captioning to participate in synchronous discussions in her online classes

4 What s my story? am a Ph.D. candidate in Technical Communication & Rhetoric at Texas Tech University, writing a dissertation on autism rhetorics work as a Research Assistant at the Graduate School, improving access to academic & professional development for online graduate students receive accommodations as a student with a disability taught online & traditional face-to-face college courses review accessibility & other aspects of online course design for Quality Matters, a higher education online course quality assurance program attended 3 graduate face-to-face programs previously, not always successfully

5 What will I talk about? some benefits & challenges of online programs for graduate study how to find and what to look for in an online graduate program issues of accommodations during graduate coursework and beyond funding considerations for your graduate studies how to develop personal & professional support networks

6 Benefits & Challenges of Online Graduate Programs

7 What benefits may online programs offer students with disabilities? Over two-thirds of U.S. higher education institutions have online courses and the majority of them have online programs (Sloan Consortium). Federally-funded institutions & the vendors who sell educational & informational technologies to them must provide equal or greater access to online course materials to persons with disabilities (Section 508 of Reauthorized Rehabilitation Act)

8 Benefits cont. Instructors of quality online courses often have to invest more hours in online course design & delivery than traditional face-to-face courses. They tend to be open to improving their use of accessible technologies & teaching techniques to accommodate different assistive technologies & ways of learning. Experienced online instructors know that time & thought invested in accessibility work improves access to learning for all their online students.

9 Benefits cont. You should have access to many of the same services an on-campus student uses, such as the library & online data bases, information technology support, career services, and Student Disability Services The other online students who begin an online graduate program with you (your cohort ) tend to work together to provide a supportive network both in- and outside of the online classroom. You will develop education & information technology skills and online communication & collaboration experience assets for your future career

10 Benefits cont. You can continue to live in your current community with the personal & assistive networks you ve already built You can continue to use the health care resources and state benefits such as vocational rehabilitation & SSI you have established in your own community

11 What challenges may students with disabilities face in online programs? Admissions to online graduate programs can be very competitive Online graduate programs are likely to be new programs and the kinks may not be worked out yet. You may experience more programmatic surprises, such as a sudden new degree requirement or course change. Best practices in online degree programs include periods of face-to-face interaction with cohorts & faculty. You should be prepared to travel to your degree institution a few days or weeks each year, but can expect your accessibility needs to be met.

12 Challenges cont. You will likely not have access to all the same services that on-campus graduate students receive such as health care services, recreational & sports programs, and transportation. You may not have access to all the same resources as on-campus graduate student have such as assistantship & fellowship opportunities and academic & professional development workshops.

13 Challenges cont. Your interaction with faculty, staff, & administration may be less frequent if you are an online rather than an on-campus graduate student. You may sometimes feel invisible to others at your institution, especially post-coursework, because other graduate students or faculty don t meet you in the halls or on campus every day. Administration may not understand well the needs of online graduate students or how to meet them. They may instead be focused on the promise of graduate programs to increase graduate admissions.

14 Addressing the Challenges of Online Programs Use your electronic technology expertise to find ways to frequently communicate & collaborate with other online and on-campus graduate students, faculty, & administration. Ask for or create what you need to make steady progress towards degree completion. For example, request a weekly Skype meeting with your advisor, create an online support group for online graduate students in your program advocate for increased access to academic & professional development workshops provided to on-campus graduate students

15 Addressing Challenges cont. Do not hesitate to repeat your requests until your needs are met, but be prepared to offer clear support & possible solutions. Respect the chain of command: First go to fellow students, then faculty, then program directors, then department heads, then deans. Never write or record anything that you would not want others in your academic community to know unless you are directly assured a communication is private between specifically named people.

16 Are you ready for online coursework? Do you like to study independently or do you prefer the real-time feedback that comes from regular face-to-face interactions? Are you able to manage your time well and complete difficult assignments even when you run into challenges? Are you willing and interested to learn new technologies even when this adds extra time and difficulty to completing your overall task?

17 Are you ready cont. Do you have a place relatively free from distractions where you will be able to concentrate on your coursework, research, and writing? Do you have ready access to a computer and broadband connection for at least 2-3 hours of work several times a week? Do you have access to or are you able to get computer hardware for multimedia, such as such as speakers and a webcam, headset, and/or microphone?

18 Finding & Researching Online Graduate Programs

19 How do you find an online graduate program in your field of interest? Arrange to meet with a professor and/or graduate student at your current school whose academic interests are similar to your own. Talk to her or him about your interest in continuing your education and ask about online graduate programs in your chosen field. Find out the website addresses and academic journals of professional organizations related to your field of interest and look through them for advertisements & articles on online graduate programs.

20 Finding an online program cont. Google your field of interest and graduate programs or online programs looking for a descriptive list. For example, if you google disability studies online programs, the first hit will be Academic Programs in Disability Studies (2013) compiled by Steven J. Taylor & Rachael Zubal-Ruggieri on Syracuse University s Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies website. Look under Program for graduate programs and Note for whether the program is online and to what degree (completely or partially). This list also includes direct links to program descriptions on the institutions websites and a faculty member s address so that you can get more information.

21 Finding an online program cont. Explore the section Online Programs (2014) on the U.S. News Education website. This site includes a search engine only for graduate programs in business, education, engineering, Information Technology, and nursing. The program descriptions do not include direct links to program descriptions on the institutions websites, so you ll have to search for them online or use the given admissions contact to request more information.

22 Finding an online program cont. Look at Online Degrees and Learning Programs (2014) on the Peterson s website. Use the Popular online degree searches provided in the main text of this page to get started. The search tool on the Peterson s site and the program descriptions are not very helpful for finding online graduate programs, but may point to potential schools to explore further.

23 What should you look for in an online graduate program? Verify the accreditation of any higher education institution you are considering. You can use the U.S. Department of Education s College Navigator tool to look up the schools. When you enter the school s name into the search engine, you ll get back information on topics such as faculty & graduate students, tuition & fees, and accreditation. When you expand the Accreditation section, you ll find the status and accrediting agency for the university and for some programs, such as teacher education. n

24 Researching online programs cont. Look for a web page about the online graduate program you are interested in. Go to the university s Graduate School web page and find a list of available graduate programs with links to their web pages. On the program page, look for a description of the curriculum and other expectations for completing the degree. For example, I found this information on the web page of my Ph.D. program in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, but I had to read everything carefully! Find the contact for more information about the program and use it!

25 Researching online programs cont. Go to the web pages for the Graduate School and for different student services at the university to see if they are clearly accessible to online students. Be sure to visit the Graduate School, Services for Students with Disabilities, Library, Career Services, and Information Technology web pages. As you learn what the Graduate School and each student service provides, check for links for online students & clear instructions for how to use them. Make sure contacts include addresses & phone numbers, not just physical locations. Note if a graduate student organization exists on campus. Look for links to their website or social media. Note if they include online graduate students.

26 Researching online programs cont. After you ve investigated the university services, Graduate School, and graduate program web pages, contact the representative listed on the program s page & ask any further questions you may have. Ask how the courses are typically structured. Are courses self-paced? Do they include real-time class meetings? Can you get a sample syllabus? Ask whether students are required to spend time on campus. How often & for how long? How much does this cost? What goes on during these visits? Ask what financial supports are available to students in the program. Assistantships? Scholarships? Funds for research or conference travel?

27 Researching online programs cont. During your research, note if courses in the program have been certified by Quality Matters. Quality Matters is a quality assurance program for online course design with over 800 subscribing postsecondary institutions. To be certified by Quality Matters, a course must meet certain criteria for best practices, including whether it accommodates assistive technologies. A course that is not certified does NOT mean the course is inaccessible. The Quality Matters program is voluntary and costs institutions money & time. You can find Quality Matters certified courses in higher education listed by certification year & institution on their website.

28 Accommodation Issues for Online Graduate Programs

29 How are accommodations handled in graduate school? The official process for securing accommodations as a graduate student will be probably be the same as it is for an undergraduate student, starting with the institution s Services for Students with Disabilities. Get the instructions for documenting a disability from the SSD website or by contacting them. Then, make an appointment with SSD to discuss accommodations as soon as possible. If you become an employee as well as a student of the university, you may request accommodations to help you perform the required job duties. The official process for securing these work-related accommodations may be different, but SSD can direct you.

30 Accommodations cont. You should reassess the accommodations you need considering some new issues you will face as a graduate student and as an online student. If you have a disability you did not disclose to your undergraduate institution, consider going ahead and providing documentation to SSD in case you need to ask for accommodations at any point during your graduate studies. Online courses may present different difficulties than face-to-face courses. For example, online courses are typically text heavy, and you will likely need to do a lot more reading. Work with your instructor and/or SSD to find accommodations that will work for you in this particular environment.

31 Accommodations cont. Graduate study will be more mentally & physically challenging than your undergraduate work. If it now takes you longer to complete coursework than non-disabled students you know, you may find the disparity increases in graduate school. You may need new accommodations to level the playing field, such as a reduced course load that still qualifies you as a full-time student. An important step in the graduate program is to choose an advisor. Choose someone whom you are comfortable taking to about your needs as a student with a disability as well as your needs as an emerging scholar or practitioner in the field. Your advisor should be willing to work with you at any time on the accommodations you need to complete the degree requirements.

32 Accommodations cont. Many graduate programs require students to take comprehensive exams, which can be a test of endurance as much as knowledge. You can request new accommodations to help you meet the particular challenges of exams. Those writing a thesis or dissertation, preparing a portfolio, or completing an internship to meet final program requirements may find yourselves in unchartered territory. How do you know what you need to complete these requirements if you have never experienced anything like them before? Do not hesitate to ask for regular meetings with your advisor, not only discuss your progress, but also to discuss any new challenges and to try new solutions (accommodations or otherwise) to meet them.

33 What if I do not receive the accommodations I need? Be sure to document any meetings or communications regarding your request for specific accommodations. Try to resolve the issue first with your instructor or advisor. Next, meet with an SSD counselor to discuss the problem and find an acceptable solution.

34 Accommodations cont. If the issue is still not resolved to your satisfaction, find the Student Conflict Resolution office or similar mediation service at your university. This office will have counselors who will listen to your complaint & help you try to resolve the conflict. Once you ve exhausted avenues for resolving the issue at your university, file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education. You can find your state s OCR representative here and submit an online complaint form here.

35 Funding Your Studies in Online Graduate Programs

36 How will I fund my graduate education? Graduate students may receive funds from program, department, university, or external sources. Some online graduate programs have assistantships available. If you do not see information about this on the graduate program s web page, be sure to ask. Also look for graduate assistantships in other departments or at the Graduate School on the university s employment page & in university announcements. If a job announcement does not specify whether a distance student would be considered, you may want to ask or go ahead & apply, making a clear case for your qualifications to meet the publicized job duties in your application materials.

37 Funding cont. Scholarships & fellowships are likely available through your department and the Graduate School. Apply as early as you can. If you cannot find information on such scholarships, contact your advisor, your department, & the Graduate School and ask. Scholarships & fellowships are also available from external sources, and some are designated for students with disabilities specifically. Your institution s Graduate School and/or Financial Aid websites may have information to help you find & apply for these.

38 Funding cont. Your state s Vocational Rehabilitation agency may also be able to help you with school expenses if you qualify for their services. You can find contact information for your state s VR agency here. Graduate students may be eligible for loans, grants or work study programs. Read more about federal aid available to graduate students here and complete a Federal Student Aid application here to determine eligibility.

39 Funding cont. An excellent resource for information about external scholarships, federal financial aid, vocational rehabilitation services, Social Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is Planning Ahead: Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities from the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center.

40 Building Networks through Online Graduate Programs

41 Where can I find personal & professional support online? Building personal & professional networks online can be difficult for new online graduate students, but they are important assets to get your through graduate school & into a career. Graduate students in the online program you enter may already have a support network that they will invite you to join. If they do not, I highly recommend suggesting one to your classmates & helping to create it during your first year of coursework.

42 Networking cont. Your university likely has a graduate student organization, which is a great way to meet graduate students & find out what s happening on campus. Look for representatives of online students on the organization s website or social media. If you don t see online graduate students represented, run for election! Attend academic & professional workshops, guest lectures, presentations, and discussion panels in your department & elsewhere at your university. If you do not find online access to such events, ask for access from your department and the Graduate School. If they do not provide access, work with other online graduate students to advocate for it!

43 Networking cont. Look for other scholars in your field and graduate students with disabilities online. An excellent place to start is on Twitter through Easy (The Chronicle of Higher Education). Follow professional & advocacy organizations that interest you, people working in your field, other graduate students at your university and those with similar research interests at other universities. As you read their tweets, you will find new people to contact and new ideas for your research & career, gradually building a professional network. Pay special attention to your Twitter feed on Sunday, looking for the ScholarSunday hastag. People include #ScholarSunday in tweets suggesting great people in academia to follow.

44 Good luck! Questions?

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