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Case Study – Computing and Stamina

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Case study about a Computing student with Cystic Fibrosis and the impact this has on his studies.

Source: http://dart.lboro.ac.uk/ROBIN.htm (information accessed and extracted September 2008)

This case study examines the experience of Robin, a placement year student studying for a BSc (Hons) degree in Computer and Network Engineering in the School of Engineering at a city-based campus.

INTRODUCTION

Robin has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) which, whilst it does not directly impede his academic progress in any specific way, renders him susceptible to chest infections and a digestive disorder needing regular medication which is difficult to administer.

CF is a genetic disease affecting approximately 8,000 children and adults in the UK. A defective gene causes the body to produce an abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to potentially life-threatening lung infections. These thick secretions also obstruct the pancreas, preventing digestive enzymes from reaching the intestines to help break down and absorb food.

At the time of his interview Robin was on placement at a Secondary School several miles away from his University. His work placement involved managing, maintaining and developing a computer network system for the school.

THE STUDENT’S EXPERIENCE

Learning & Teaching Experience

Robin’s disability, despite having the potential to be very debilitating, has had surprisingly little impact on his studies. He has been able to play a full part in lectures, laboratory work and tutorial discussions. Making presentations presented some difficulty in that sustained talking can bring about coughing fits.

His chief difficulty is that his disability can cause him to lose time if he contracts an infection, or if he needs hospital treatment, and over the two years that he has completed he has only lost two to three weeks. He reports that his tutors were very supportive in providing printed notes and extra tutorials covering the work that he missed.

Under normal circumstances Robin finds little difficulty meeting assignment deadlines, except when he has to be absent. He reports that leniency with deadlines was offered at the time of his absence but he did not need to take advantage of this.

Impact on Learning & Academic Progress

Although Robin’s disability has had little direct impact on his learning whilst at university, it has impinged on his life. Some of the rooms in the older part of the campus are not air conditioned and can become very hot in summer, causing extensive coughing and sometimes asthma attacks. His medication places constraints on his freedom in that he needs at least one hour in a morning and two hours of an evening to take his medication, and longer periods when he is ill. Steps can be a problem for him because of breathing difficulties. He reports that he has had to be absent for two weeks during his placement, but he managed to catch up on his work, and apart from this he has found his placement very rewarding and academically challenging.

Robin’s disability does not appear to have had a serious impact on his studies nor on the quality of work he is able to produce. However, it does place constraints on his mobility and his freedom due to his need for regular, time consuming medication. It would be difficult for him to be at a university away from home where he was cut off from the support he receives from his family. (If Robin were to study away from home, he would probably require a careful assessment of his personal support needs and possibly the provision of a personal assistant.)

CONCLUSIONS / RECOMMENDATIONS

Clearly, the impact of Robin’s disability has not seriously affected his academic progress. Nevertheless, this Case Study offers some conclusions / recommendations on the basis of his experience.

Actions that could be taken to address some of the issues that could potentially affect a students with CF or similar disabilities include:

Timetabling to avoid the use of stairs, and to provide the most suitable environment i.e. clean, well ventilated, maintained at a comfortable temperature, and in reasonably close proximity to his medication (not on a different site at a considerable distance). 

If a student is unavoidably absent, the provision of printed copies of lecture notes, tutorial exercises, assignments etc. to enable the student to quickly catch up on missed work. Also, if possible, the arrangement of extra tutorials to clear points of difficulty arising from missed work. Access to an online learning system (or alternatively e-mail communication) would be valuable in this respect.

If assignments are missed during spells of absence, it may be necessary to consider the integrity of the assessment e.g. if work has been returned to other students before the student in question has had a chance to complete the given assignment, then an alternative assignment may need to be set.

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