Case Study – Geography and Information Processing
The following case studies are taken from: The Geography Disciplines Network (GDN) Inclusive Curriculum Project (ICP) Case Studies, HEFCE Project, University of Gloucestershire , http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/icp/caseintro.htm (information extracted and accessed September 2006
Chris is just coming to the end of the first year of his degree. His major subject is psychology but about one third of his time in the first year has been given to geography courses, and he hopes to continue to include geography as a minor subject in his second and third years. He was diagnosed as having dyslexia in the early years of secondary school.
Chris had some contact with the Disability Adviser before he arrived and has since used this central service to arrange an update to his statement of needs, to support his claim for Disabled Students Allowances to buy a laptop, and to arrange extra time for his exams. Although staff have been mostly very helpful, his experiences with the service have been mixed. The exam arrangements were straightforward to organise, but Chris had sent psychologists’ reports to the office which subsequently went missing; and he found the process for obtaining the laptop very longwinded.
At first tutors did not seem to be aware of Chris’s dyslexia – but the Disability Adviser wrote to departments about half way through the first term and things got easier after that. His chief problem has been with lecturers who deliver their content very quickly and run through crowded Powerpoint slides too fast to allow him to keep up with notes. The educational psychologist recommended that Chris be given lecture notes in advance, to help remedy this situation, but this has not happened. Chris is determined to follow up this issue in his second year and is confident of approaching his departments first, and the Disability Adviser afterwards for extra support if necessary, to ensure that the psychologist’s recommendations are implemented.
Chris finds the library a very daunting place. ‘I often find myself disorientated, frustrated and confused.’ It is very large, and he says he has difficulty focusing on the specific task he is there to do because of feeling bombarded by information from all the written sources around him. The fact that books are not always in just the right place on the shelf compounds his difficulty. A successful solution has been for him to have a helper with him in the library to locate the texts he needs. At the moment he is using a friend from his course for this support; their time is being paid for from Disabled Students Allowances. He finds route finding around the library moderately difficult – the colour coding of different sections helps a bit but is not a complete solution as colours are repeated on different floors. Chris wasn’t aware at the start of the course that individual introductions to the library were offered to disabled students by a library assistant with particular responsibility for disability services. He reckons he would have made use of this service if he had known about it – as well as doing the regular tour with other students.
He was offered additional learning support but hasn’t taken this up. He is happy and confident with strategies developed during school and college from supportive parents who are teachers, from a private tutor – and his own trial and error. So far, he has not used the system of attaching yellow stickers to his essays, reminding tutors about his dyslexia. He may use these in his second year but is determined not to fall back on them as an excuse for poor work. He does, though, find invaluable the extra time allocated in exams. He uses it to plan out his answers more than would have been possible; and to avoid the problem of overload when lots of ideas crowd in at once and risk getting lost.
Chris advises other students with dyslexia to make sure staff know about their difficulties, to be clear about how it affects their studies, and to use the help available in the department and around the university.
Felicity is a level two student studying Physical Geography and Heritage Management. She has a specific learning difficulty, dyspraxia.
Felicity doesn’t feel that her dyspraxia had an impact upon her choice of degree course, but does feel that the support offered by the University was a factor in her choice of where to go; "after coming to a Visitor’s Day I was thoroughly impressed with what the University had to offer people like me, and the information I was given was helpful."
Felicity thinks that her dyspraxia has the most impact at exam times. She gets additional time for examinations and thinks that this definitely helps. "I can think about the answer more instead of writing the first thing that comes into my head." She finds she uses the additional time to plan her answers, but still rarely has time to re-read her answers. Concerning the different types of exams, Felicity prefers multiple choice questions as she is reassured that the correct answer is there, but sometimes has difficulties understanding what the question is asking.
Felicity finds that in her practical lab-based work, her dyspraxia sometimes has an effect upon her studies; "I couldn’t see things under the microscope that others could see." She finds that learning from experience is one of the most effective ways of learning for her; "We’re actually doing it, not just listening to instructions." For these reasons, Felicity enjoys fieldtrips, but sometimes find the pace of work that is expected when out in the field restrictive; "It all goes quite quickly, we don’t get enough time before we have to move on." She tends to find she needs to copy missed information from friends.
She finds similar difficulties taking notes in lectures, and she is more enthused by modules she finds interesting. One of her favourite modules was based around theory, but looking at things from different perspectives. Learning about issues using a holistic approach motivated Felicity as she found she was better suited to this way of working. She acknowledges that having approachable tutors makes the learning easier. She identifies a tutor who is aware of her difficulties and has a good understanding of the impacts upon her studies, and comments that she enjoys his classes most. "He seems to know when I need more time to copy a slide down, and it feels like he leaves it there just for me."
Felicity finds it quite difficult to plan essays and order her thoughts. She uses mind mapping software to help get her ideas down and give structure to the things she wishes to write about. "If I type it in straight away I’m not losing any information." She does find that she has to re-write essays a number of times before she’s happy with them but doesn’t feel this takes an inordinate amount of time. In fact, it often helps her to get a better idea of what information she really wants in the piece of work, and to identify which sections are not that relevant.
Felicity is quite comfortable telling people she has dyspraxia. When working in peer groups she often states her specific learning difficulty, recognising that "most people are alright with it", but she states she found it an initial surprise to find out that other students had specific learning difficulties too. Felicity is aware of her strengths and promotes those to the students she works with so that the task management reflects her strongest areas. She recognises that presentation skills are not her best area, but "it’s not so bad when it’s a little group of you rather than a whole lecture hall."
When accessing material for her studies, Felicity was initially confused by the Learning Centre systems and classifications. Initially, she couldn’t find the books she was looking for. Although staff at the desk were helpful when approached, Felicity would prefer to be as independent as possible, and wishes greater emphasis had been placed on learning these skills when she first started at university.