22 SES 01 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Although it is generally accepted that disabled students in higher education can benefit from access to online learning material and assistive technologies, there is evidence to suggest that this access can be denied or hindered. In particular disabled students can be disadvantaged due to a lack of access to appropriate assistive technologies (Davies 2007; Draffan, 2007 ;) or inaccessible design of university websites and online learning material (Kurt 2011; Power et al. 2010). The positive and negative issues of access highlighted here have led some to argue that technology is a 'double-edged blade' (Katseva, 2004, para 8) and that disabled students in higher education are on the 'wrong side of a second digital divide' (Burgstahler, 2002b, p.420).
One common response to the identified 'digital divide' for disabled students in higher education is to use the 'lens of accessibility' to identify and advocate for changes in individual and institutional practices. Faculty and e-learning professionals are urged to improve their design practices so that websites, virtual learning environments and online resources are more accessible to disabled students and senior managers and student support services are urged to improve their provision of and support for the use of assistive technologies (Asuncion et al. 2009; Stodden et al;. 2006). Seale (2013) argues that one problem with relying on an accessibility lens is that it oversimplifies the relationship between disabled students and their technologies: it assumes that 'access' is the only factor that has a direct causal relationship with 'use'. One factor that we know relatively little about is the digital abilities of the disabled students. A study by Seale et al. (2010) revealed that disabled university students were very digitally agile and that pre-university environments had a significant influence on this agility. At home, school and college, many students were exposed to a culture of technology use and had easy access to a wide range of technology related support mechanisms from family, friends, peers and tutors. Consequently, at university, these students possessed a lot of knowledge about the properties and affordances of technology and were generally confident in their ability to use technologies. Despite this, some students were making decisions not to use technology to support their learning. The research project reported in this paper aims to build on the study by Seale et al. by examining the techno-culture and technological support mechanisms of disabled students in higher education in more depth.
We will use the 'digital capital' conceptual framework proposed Selwyn (2004) and adapted by Seale (2012) to underpin this examination. Digital capital highlights the interactions between individuals and social structures of home, family and school. Digital cultural capital is exemplified by individuals investing time in improving their technology knowledge and competencies through informal or formal learning opportunities, as well as a socialization into technology use and ‘techno-culture’ through family, peers and media. Digital social capital is exemplified by the networks of ‘technological contacts’ and support that people have, which can be face to face (e.g. family, friends, tutors) or remote (e.g. online help facilities). The research questions for the study were therefore:
Do disabled students in higher education possess digital cultural capital and digital social capital?
To what extent can levels of digital cultural and social capital of disabled students help to explain whether and how they use technologies to support their learning?
Can we identify weaknesses in digital capital that might help to explain technology abandonment/lack of engagement in At training
- How useful is the concept of digital capital in helping higher education institutions to identify what they might do to reduce technology related inequities for disabled students
Asuncion, J., Draffan, E.A., Guinance, E.P., & Thompson, T. (2009). International comparison on accessible technology in higher education. ATHEN E-Journal. Retrieved from http://www.athenpro.org/node/120 Burgstahler, S. (2002). Distance learning: universal Design, universal Access, Educational Technology Review, 10,1, Retrieved from http://www.aace.org/pubs/etr/issue2/burgstahler.cfm Davies, C. (2007). Supporting Disabled Learners through the provision of assistive technologies in the further and higher education sectors. ATHEN E-Journal Issue 3 Retrieved from http://athenpro.org/node/89 Draffan, E.A. (2007). Assistive technology within higher education in the UK. ATHEN E-Journal Issue 3. Retrieved from http://athenpro.org/node/88 Katseva, A. (2004). The case for pervasive accessibility, Paper presented at CSUN ’04. Retrieved from http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/2004/proceedings/114.htm Kurt, S. (2011). The accessibility of university websites: the case of Turkish universities. Universal Access in an Information Society, 10, 101-110. Power, C., Petrie, H., Sakharov, V., & Swallow, D. (2010). Virtual learning environments: Another barrier to blended learning. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 6179, 519-526. Seale, J (2013) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Theory and Practice. Routledge. New York. 2nd edition. Seale, J. (2012). When digital capital is not enough: reconsidering the digital lives of disabled university students. Learning, Media and Technology, DOI:10.1080/17439884.2012.670644 Seale, J., Draffan, E.A., & Wald, M. (2010). Digital agility and digital decision-making: conceptualising digital inclusion in the context of disabled learners in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 35 (4), 445-462. Selwyn, N. (2004). Reconsidering political and popular understandings of the digital divide. New Media & Society, 6 (3), 341-362. Stodden, R.A., Roberts, K.D., Picklesimer, T., Jackson, D.R., & Chang, C. (2006). An analysis of assistive technology supports and services offered in postsecondary educational institutions. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 24,111-120.
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