Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Education

Program

Education

Supervisor

Dr. Jacqueline Specht

Abstract

With recent advances in disability policies, practices, and inclusive education mandates, students with learning disabilities (LD) are choosing to attend higher education at a rate that is greater than ever before. Despite these positive advances, however, the transition from secondary to higher education and the adjustment to post-secondary environments for students with LD continues to present a number of unique academic, social, and emotional challenges for this population, especially as this relates to obtaining access to accommodation and support for their learning needs. This study investigated how the needs of students with learning disabilities (LD) are currently being met at the post-secondary level in Canada by identifying potential barriers of access to support and accommodation. Specifically, this study aimed to understand the learning needs of students with LD in higher education settings, highlighting both students’ and faculty members’ perspectives of faculty preparedness to meet the needs of students with LD in today’s university contexts.

Using a convergent parallel mixed-methods approach, this study employed two phases to assess the perceptions of both students and faculty from two different universities. Phase 1 took a quantitative approach, relying on the use of adapted versions of the Faculty Preparedness Questionnaire (Hansen, Dawson, & Specht, 2017). Participants included 64 students and 128 faculty from all disciplines across both universities. Phase 2 took a qualitative approach, relying on the use of interviews. Participants included 11 students and 20 faculty, both subsets of the populations specified in Phase 1. The theoretical perspective employed in this study relied on Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development (1977; 1998; 2006) and Tinto’s Theory of Student Integration and Retention (1975; 1993; 2012) to provide a multi-dimensional lens for examining the experiences of students and faculty in university contexts.

Overall, the perspectives and experiences of students with LD demonstrated that many felt undersupported by faculty in university classrooms. The perspectives and experiences of faculty aligned with this finding; while the majority of faculty held inclusive beliefs around teaching and supporting students with LD in the university context, results revealed discrepancies between faculty knowledge and their ability to provide effective, tailored support to students at the classroom level.

The findings of this study indicate a need for greater education and awareness for faculty about the nature of LD and the implications of this for student learning, and also a need for faculty training and more extensive professional development opportunities for faculty to learn more effective, practical pedagogical strategies to use in their teaching.