2003 Conference Proceedings

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Greg Holliday, Ph.D.
University of Missouri - Columbia
Assessment & Consultation Clinic
205 Lewis Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
Email: HollidayG@missouri.edu

Darren Gabbert
MU Adaptive Computing Technology Ctr
S5D Memorial Union
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 884-2828
Email: Darren@missouri.edu

Services for students with a learning disability (LD) at the collegiate level have increased as a result of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112) and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. At this institution, approximately 300 students with LD were registered with the Office of Disability Services during the 1999-2000 school year, and this number is expected to rise. Unfortunately, students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) traditionally have had limited success in postsecondary education. The increasing numbers of college students with LD create a growing challenge for university faculty and staff to understand and instruct students with a variety of learning characteristics. In addition, a number of other students experience academic difficulty but do not qualify for an SLD diagnosis. Students with academic difficulties in the area of math continue to struggle in postsecondary education settings. The challenges faced by students with mathematics difficulties enrolling in postsecondary education become more pronounced as they face general education requirements, as well as coursework in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Traditional assessment batteries that generate conventional broad diagnostic conclusions (e.g. disorder in reading, mathematics, or written expression) generally do not specify the actual processing deficits that underlie academic difficulties for postsecondary students. Individuals within a single diagnostic category of learning disabilities may represent a multitude of possible cognitive processing patterns (visual perception, perceptual sensitivity, visual sequencing, auditory processing, verbal or visual memory, and sound-symbol association). Identification of the specific type of processing deficit (rather than the broad diagnostic category) should help to explain the nature and extent of an individual's difficulties with mathematics courses, as well as guide the selection of optimal accommodations. This philosophy should also extend to those individuals that do not meet the criteria for disability status, but who continue to have difficulties in the area of mathematics despite opportunity and effort.

In this project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), university students identified as having significant difficulties in their math courses are referred to the project to undergo a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation to assess for a learing disability. The intent of this evaluation is to go beyond general conclusions by identifying specific processing dysfunctions within the broad "learning disability" label, particularly those that impact success in mathematics coursework. This comprehensive assessment battery is administered in order to develop a broader and deeper understanding of specific strengths and weaknesses in a student's current functioning.

This presentation will focus on the learner characteristics of college-level students who are experiencing math difficulties, as determined through this project. Looking beyond the scope of the traditional broad LD categories, these learner characteristics will identify specific processing dysfunctions common to students with math difficulties, culled from the analyzed results of the assessments. By identifying these processing dysfunctions that are often embedded within broader diagnostic categories, more appropriate remediation techniques, and more effective classroom accommodation strategies can be designed and implemented.

The presentation will also include a model of adaptive technology that is a unique instructional tool designed as a support for college-level algebra instruction. This technological tool allows individual students to assimilate and rehearse algebraic problem solving strategies within a web-based environment. This learning environment can be tailored to fit each student's personal technology profile that identifies adaptive technology features and cognitive processing supports tailored to the student's specific learning needs. This learning environment incorporates information from psychoeducational results of students with learning disabilities, student feedback, adaptive technology resources, and content from math instructors to provide an alternative and complementary instructional tool for all individuals, especially those with differing learning styles and cognitive attributes.

We anticipate that these results will have broad relevance to finding effective ways to instruct, remediate and accommodate students with learning disabilities, which will lead to the development of more capable instructors and better teaching overall. Additionally, the adaptive features of the instructional tool can be incorporated into other modules that support instruction in other academic subjects other than college algebra, with the hope that all students (including those fomr underrrepresented populations) will be able to benefit from a supported learning environment, regardless of disability status or learning differences.

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