22 SES 06 C, Teaching and Learning: Employability & Diversity
Higher education institutions (HEIs) are experiencing a radical uptake of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) practices (Gordon, 2014; Henderson, Selwyn, & Aston, 2017a), including Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), online forums, student response systems (such as clickers and text response via mobile phone apps), and the integration of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (Hamid, Waycott, Kurnia, & Chang, 2015; S. Manca & Ranieri, 2013). In addition, the student body is now more socially and culturally diverse than ever before, and there is an increasing commitment to widening participation by addressing access, success and progression for students from under-represented groups.
Despite these technological developments, there is a lack of robust research exploring how the changing landscape of HEI teaching impacts students, particularly students who have specific learning difficulties (SpLD), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and attention deficit disorder. Without a better understanding of how students with SpLDs use and experience TEL, it is challenging to develop inclusive teaching practices that provide all students with an equal opportunity to engage with their learning at HEIs. By exploring the experiences of these students, in their own words, it is possible to better appraise current TEL practices, providing insight and guidance for integrating TEL with more traditional teaching methods in HEIs (Kirkwood & Price, 2014). This qualitative study forms the first stage in a four-part research initiative to develop inclusive guidelines to improve the provision of TEL for all students in HEIs.
This study had two main aims:
To explore what TEL practices undergraduate students with SpLDs currently use, and their opinions of them.
To develop a better understanding of how TEL practices impact SpLD students, both positively and negatively.
This study was funded by the University of East Anglia's Alumni Fund, and was granted ethical approval by the UEA School of Economics Research Ethics Committee.
This was a qualitative study, involving individual semi-structured interviews with undergraduate students with SpLDs. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically. Participants were recruited via the University of East Anglia's Student Support Service. Students were contacted by email on the basis of their declared SpLD under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act and invited to participate in the project. Individual, semi-structured interviews were conducted by one member of the research team. Participants were all undergraduate students at the UEA. A total of nine students with SpLDs were interviewed, with interviews lasting between 12-37 minutes. The interview schedule was designed following a scoping review of the literature, and in discussion between members of the research team. Questions within the schedule were deliberately open-ended, with various prompts provided to encourage participants to talk freely and broadly about their experiences of TEL. Interview questions included topics such as “Do you use digital technology often in your learning? Is this your own choice, does it reflect how teaching and assessment happens in your modules, or both?”, “does your specific learning difficulty affect your use of digital technologies for learning” and “do you find digital technology in your learning useful, and why”. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed for analysis, with the identity of participants kept confidential. Thematic analysis, as defined by Braun & Clarke (2006), was used to analyse the dataset. The themes developed were then synthesised to construct a descriptive and interpretative narrative of the participants’ experiences.
Following analysis, four key themes were developed, highlighting areas of significant convergence and divergence in participants’ experiences of TEL. All participants accepted TEL as part of HEI learning and teaching experience but expressed that it wasn’t always fully integrated or sensitive to students’ learning needs. Some participants expressed a preference for more traditional learning methods, stating that they found digital technologies challenging to use (theme 1, “TEL as enhancement, not replacement”). Others felt that teaching staff used digital technologies in a way which was not always appropriate to SpLD students, and this negatively impacted their learning experience (theme 2, “The role of staff”). However, several of the participants discussed the benefits of social media platforms and cloud-based platforms as practical ways to facilitate peer support and collaborative working in group projects (theme 3, “Social aspects of TEL”). All participants were able to identify ways in which current TEL practice could be improved. Two participants stated explicitly that they found the increasing use of TEL was a significant barrier to their successful engagement with the learning materials, and found TEL challenging rather than beneficial. All nine participants discussed the importance of varied methods of learning, options, and support for students to adopt a learning approach which met their individual needs (theme 4, ”Student-led learning”).
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