Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Day in the Life of Student 'Y'

Student 'Y' is studying on the Creative Studies course. He has 'high functioning autism' or Aspergers Syndrome.

A characteristic of students with Aspergers as stated by the University of Indianapolis, Disability Services Aspergers, is students 'may be very literal, concrete, logical, rule-oriented, rigid in applying social rules, and may lack comprehension of humor.'

Student 'Y' can find classroom situations difficult because of the many distractions. Those distractions could be: The other students, noise, harsh fluorescent lighting, changes in routine of classroom activity.
Student 'Y' might find his time in the classroom or studio spent predominantly being distracted by conversations in the room. He is unable to 'block out' the other students talking.
He may not enrol in the course in the first place because he does not believe the institution has understanding of his 'neurodiversity' and therefore cannot provide for his learning needs.

Some solutions:

For the distracting environment, Universal Design strategies can be employed. These strategies benefit ALL learners.
For Student 'Y', it is ideal that we have classrooms that avoid sensory overload (C. Vogel 2008), this is difficult in a studio based arts and design course.
Incorporating movable screens with storage space, or, rolling cupboard units would 'kill two birds with one stone'. The screens can create smaller insular areas for working while the shelf/cupboard space inside them provides a much needed home for all the random art gear strewn around the place.

For the perceived lack of institutional understanding -
At pre-enrollment time, when the learner is researching their options, a statement somewhere on the OP website and prospectus that acknowledges neurodiversity and a willingness to discuss possible accommodations with students.
A statement read out to all students in Orientation week, or the first week of classes. There are some sample statements here on the University of Indianapolis website. I'm not sure about the amount of information our students are given about Disability Services from Student Services.

Response to reading and watching...

Having read for the second time, the chapter from the book by Collis, B. & Moonen, J. (2001). Flexible learning: it's not just about distance, I found it to be a very sensible and holistic approach to flexible learning.

A few points and ideas about flexible learning that have jumped out to me since watching the video on Youtube 'A Portal to Media Literacy' ( and re-reading the Collis & Moonen reading are:
Flexible learning is important because technology is advancing faster than we can learn it. In 'A Portal to Media Literacy' Michael Wesch talks about the students being the ones to shape and decide on the content of this technology in the future.
Flexible Learning strategies are important if our students are to be involved in the future of information. Students need to be equipped with the skills to not only negotiate the web, but to know that they have the power to network, share information and change the landscape of cyber space. Students need to know they have the power to contribute ethically and sustainably to the great pot of information and systems.

So, what is Flexible Learning? At present I see it like this: It's not about 'passive' learning. It's about students understanding their potential and learning ways to achieve that potential.
'Flexible learning is a movement away from a situation in which key decisions about learning are made in advance by the instructor or institution, towards a situation where the learner has a range of options from which to choose with respect to these key dimensions' (Collis & Moonen. p10.)

An antidote for 'passive' learning (where students try to absorb the packets of information that the lecturer dishes out, a.k.a the 'Acquisition Model') is the 'Participation model' (Collis & Moonen. p20,21,22.)

'With the Acquisition Model, the focus of learning activities is on the acquisition of pre-specified knowledge and the development of predetermined concepts. With the Participation Model, the focus of learning activities is on becoming a member of a community of practice, learning from the community but also contributing to it....with the Participation Model the interactions that the learner contributes to may serve to change the knowledge base of the community even as he or she participates'

'Who wants flexible learning?' is a question raised in the chapter that I think is very relevant.
I'm sure all students want some degree of flexibility, but different kinds of flexibility are wanted from one student to the next. Two main 'kinds' of student jump to mind at this point;
*The kind that asks: 'Can I do this? And this? And what about this?'
*and the kind that asks: 'What do I do now?'