Case Study – Geography and Organisational Difficulties
Case A : A student with dyspraxia establishes a good working relationship with his tutor, and needs sensitive advice and help in structuring his dissertation material. Case B: A second year student finds her dyspraxia affects her mostly at exam times and in her practical lab-based work. She uses mind mapping software to help plan her essays and give structure to her writing.
The following case studies are taken from: The Geography Disciplines Network (GDN) Inclusive Curriculum Project (ICP) Case Studies, HEFCE Project, University of Gloucestershire , (information extracted and accessed September 2006).
Steve is a Geography graduate with dyspraxia.
Initially, as an undergraduate student, Steve had difficulty adjusting to life at University. Although he was quite open and honest about his disability, his fellow students sometimes showed little understanding. However, he was determined to obtain an Honours degree and discussed his work schedule with his tutor.
His dyspraxia meant that he required extensions for his work and these were readily negotiated and agreed. When it came to preparing for his dissertation module, he recognised that he could not complete the work in his third year of studies and opted to study for a fourth year. By this time he had developed a good working relationship with his tutor and was able to discuss his academic and personal concerns with her. She subsequently acted as advisor for his dissertation work.
Steve negotiated to study the spatial awareness of students with dyspraxia who regularly attended a support group in his home town. To undertake this study, he lived at home and thus in his fourth year he became a part-time distance learning student. He was in regular e-mail and telephone contact with his advisor, and came into university for several dissertation meetings. His advisor set him tasks, but had to be prepared to read material which was not presented in a clear and logical order. Near to the submission date, she also had to give considerable assistance in terms of collating the work. He required special, sensitive advice and a great deal of help in terms of structuring the material since his main difficulty was knowing how to present material in a logical order. However, eventually he completed and passed his dissertation, and so succeeded in obtaining his much-wanted Honours degree.
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.