Equity and Excellence

This project was completed in September 2006

Equity and ExcellenceFor a great number of college students with disabilities, the manner in which instruction and curriculum is typically delivered in a college classroom can be a significant barrier to successful completion of individual classes and degree programs. For students with learning, sensory, and attentional disabilities, traditional instructional practices and curriculum design (lecture-based classes, auditory instructional methodologies) often impede full access to the curriculum, achievement of high academic standards, and retention and successful completion of postsecondary education. Despite this, effective professional development and follow-up technical assistance to faculty in adopting new practices to more effectively teach all students, including students with disabilities, is often superficial or lacking altogether. Furthermore, because the responsibility for developing accommodations and supports for students with disabilities generally resides exclusively within the office of disability support services, faculty often make the assumption that the onus for student success or failure rests within this office and not with the course instructor and his/her instructional methodologies.

This project, entitled Equity and Excellence in Higher Education, was designed to address the interrelated problems of poor educational outcomes for college students with disabilities and college faculty's lack of knowledge in the area of effective curriculum and instruction for diverse learners. To date, the vast majority of research and demonstration concerning success for students with disabilities in post-secondary education have focused almost exclusively on the accommodations and supports students with disabilities require. While this project did not deny the necessity and value of reasonable accommodation for disability, it is troublesome that there is a noticeable gap in the literature addressing how the method of curriculum and instruction in college classes can impact the academic success of students with disabilities. This project was designed to make a significant contribution to the field by demonstrating how effective instructional practices that have been researched and tested in high schools can be transferred to college settings, positively impacting the quality of higher education for students with disabilities.

The goal of this project was to ensure that students with disabilities receive a quality education through the development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of a model of comprehensive professional development for college faculty and support personnel. Two postsecondary institutions-the University of New Hampshire (UNH), a four-year publicly funded university, and New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI), a two-year community technical college- agreed to be model demonstration sites for the first half of the project. Two additional sites will be chosen for the second half of the project. Each site identified a project team consisting of college students and graduates who experience disabilities, faculty from a variety of academic and technical areas, disability support coordinators, other support personnel, and key administrators. The team participated in the three components of the comprehensive model of professional development:

  1. The provision of in-depth and applicable training in the area of effective curriculum design and instruction. Training was provided through multiple sources, including site-based and web-based workshops, a statewide training series, a training institute conducted in collaboration with the long-standing Lilly New England Conference on College and University Teaching, and a one-day fall symposium sponsored by the Pedagogy Committee for the Technical and Community College System of New Hampshire.
  2. Research-to-practice technical assistance through the support of "reflective practice groups" comprised of students with disabilities, faculty, and support personnel dedicated to practicing, refining, and evaluating curriculum design and instructional strategies. A key element of the technical assistance support for the sites was the identification of a "critical friend"-an "outsider on the inside" who is an expert on curriculum, instruction, and supporting students with disabilities-to work with them as they tried out and refined the curriculum design process.
  3. Student-specific technical assistance to teams for students who presented extraordinary learning challenges.

The curriculum and instructional design process that was utilized in this project is a unique blend of pedagogy from general and special education that has proven effective in high schools through OSERS-funded projects, including the "Restructuring and Inclusion Project" and the "Systems Change in Transition Project". These projects found that when high school teachers used the curriculum design process, students with disabilities were successfully included in heterogeneous general education classes and achieved rigorous learning outcomes. The operational thesis of this model involves the development of curriculum and instructional strategies that reflect the diversity of learning styles, abilities, and disabilities of all students in a class. It was the hypothesis of this project that these methodologies can be used to support effective curriculum and instruction in college classes, fostering quality higher education for students with disabilities.

The University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability/UCE was in a unique position to implement this project. Due in part to an OSERS-funded project entitled "Postsecondary Education: A Choice for Everyone," the Institute at that time had a collaborative relationship with over 70% of colleges and universities in the state. Through a leadership series for disability support coordinators, this project has developed the Consortium of New Hampshire Colleges, composed of key representatives from a cross section of NH institutions of higher education. The Consortium, along with students and recent graduates with disabilities, acted in an advisory capacity for the project, as well as served as a primary vehicle for in-state dissemination of project activities and information. Additionally, the two demonstration sites had existing structures of professional development for faculty and staff. The Center for Teaching Excellence at UNH and the Teaching and Learning Committee at NHTI were both committed to enriching their conceptualization of teaching diverse student populations to include students with disabilities and the methodologies proposed by this project.

In addition to the demonstration of the model at four sites, the project was committed to offering statewide training on the proposed methods of curriculum and instruction. Outreach occurred via statewide trainings; a project web site; faculty-to-faculty information via a listserv, curriculum tip sheets and manual, newsletters, and journal articles.

Age Levels: 
Middle/High School