Good Practice: Education Support Service Learning & Assessment
- 552 students used the service between 2009 and 2014.
- 53% of the students who attended were female, representing a fairly even gender split.
- 42% of those attending had one or more of over 30 different diagnoses. Each diagnosis was associated with a particular profile of learning needs.
- 58% did not have a formal diagnosis.
- The age range of students accessing the service was 18-57 (M=27.02, SD=8.55).
The service continuously analyses trends in service use and gathers feedback both quantitatively and qualitatively. Evaluation serves to guide the service in its adaptation and development to meet students’ needs and is essential to maintaining a high standard of service delivery
Education Support Service Learning & Assessment
|Organisation||National Learning Network (Rehab Group)|
In 2003, the National Learning Network (NLN) and the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown (ITB) through a shared understanding of inclusive education practices and an awareness of the types of difficulties encountered by college students, collaborated and developed an inclusive academic support service on the campus of ITB.
In addition to accommodating students with medical and other support needs that have been referred by Student Services, the Learning & Assessment Service team also provides support to the entire student population, so that any student who needs support is welcome to come to the service to make an appointment.
|Target group|| The service is available to the entire student population on an open door basis, that is, any student who feels that he/she needs support is welcome to come to the service at any time to make an appointment, regardless of whether he/she has a disability.
Some examples of the different types of profiles of learners who attend the service from this perspective are as follows:
Students with specific learning difficulties (SPLD)
Students who have been diagnosed with an SPLD or think they may need to be assessed for SPLD attend the service for support. SPLD’s can include Dyslexia and Dyspraxia and other related difficulties such as Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Disorders. Individualised learning support is provided as well as support to promote self-esteem and confidence, and support with stress and anxiety which is particularly prevalent in the area of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Students with other disabilities
The service includes support and interventions to a full spectrum of disabilities, including mobility, sensory, and significant ongoing illnesses (e.g. diabetes, Chrones Disease, Cancer). Many students with disabilities may have some evidence of SPLD and it is important to incorporate this understanding into interventions that will optimise the campus experience.
Students with social skills difficulties
Students who experience difficulties with the social aspects of college life attend the service. This may be as a result of a diagnosed condition (most commonly in the area of ASD or Dyspraxia). Social skills training is provided. Specifically tailored social skills programmes have been developed each year to support individual students and groups of students. Practical strategies are used to promote positive social interactions, which in turn has an impact on academic achievement.
Students with mental health difficulties
There are a number of students with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, generalised anxiety disorder, schizophrenia who attend for support. For these students, it is important to have consistent support in college that are aware of their difficulty and that can support them in maintaining their recovery and managing their stress. Some of these students have overlapping difficulties in the area of SPLD also. The assistant psychologist has a very good understanding and awareness of the difficulties associated with mental health and the impact of these difficulties on a students academic study and therefore, can be very effective in putting the right supports and interventions in place
Students coming back to education after a number of years often attend for support in relation to learning the skills needed to work at third level. These students can often have a past history of educational disadvantage, and undiagnosed SPLD. These students also may need support around anxiety management coming up to exams and support with building self-esteem.
|Underlying theories|| The service recognises the need for a biopsychosocial model of support to be made widely available for students across the campus. By adopting a model such as this the service recognises that biological, psychological (which entails thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), and social (socio-economical, socio-environmental, and cultural) factors all play a significant role in human functioning and thus academic achievement in the context of a person’s difficulties, disability or medical condition.
Students with disabilities should be made aware that their academic life is often intertwined with their social and emotional wellbeing, and therefore engaging with supports on all of these levels can create positive change. The NLN service has found that an assessment of psychosocial functioning as part of the initial meeting with a student provides a valuable indicator of the type of support needed. Providing a service informed by research and grounded in psychology allows students to seek help in relation to their perhaps less visible difficulties and access low intensity interventions to improve wellbeing, coping, self-esteem and confidence; manage stress and anxiety, and foster social interconnectedness,
For students with a mild to moderate level of psychosocial difficulties, the NLN staff employ low-intensity interventions tailored to meet the student’s needs, which support achievement of academic potential; improvement of well-being and development of connectedness with their peers. Where psychological distress is pervasive or complex and needs are high, staff refer the student to a mental health professional in order for them to access intensive support. These low-intensity psychological interventions are drawn from a number of psychological approaches with a strong evidence-base. In order to provide the student with a set of functional and beneficial coping strategies, key concepts from the Wellness Recovery Action Planning approach are used, namely the “Wellness toolbox” (WRAP; Copeland, 2002). Wellness tools may include recognizing personal strengths and developing coping strategies - fundamental factors for achieving success (Nalavany, Carawan, & Rennick, 2011). For students whose emotional difficulties are rooted in negative thinking patterns, APs draw from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT; Beck, 1967). CBT is used to address the thought processes and assumptions that underlie their difficulties, a strategy that is particularly helpful at targeting an individual’s beliefs about his or herself, others, and the world. It works to solve current problems and change unhelpful thinking and behaviour that antecede and perpetuate psychosocial difficulties.
Managing, regulating and coping with emotions is also targeted, using skills such as distress tolerance and mindfulness, drawnfrom Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 1987). Mindfulness is a well-established and evidence-based intervention which is not only effective in reducing stress for students (Beddoe & Murphy, 2004; Rosenzweig et al., 2003; Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998), but can also significantly improve reading comprehension, working memory capacity, and focus (Mrazek et al., 2013).
| Family members
The profile of students attending the college includes a high percentage of students who have just completed second level school (Leaving Certificate standard) and many have had access to a range of supports at second level from low level supports to high supports. Often the family are very involved in the students’ education. The NLN service recognises the important role of the family in the students’ life and very much welcomes their involvement, while at the same time being cognisant of the fact that many of the students are now adults and may choose not to have involvement from family. Permission and consent is always sought prior to any liaison with family members.
ITB’s mission is to increase the level of participation in third level education in Dublin North-West and to ensure that there is a relatively high proportion of “non-standard entrants”, including students with disabilities is one NLN readily acknowledges given our own focus and ethos. Approximately 5-6% of students in ITB request some type of learning support from specialist staff. These facts and figures relate to those students who have been identified prior to college and gained a diagnosis. It doesn’t include the other students who experience significant difficulties but for a variety of reasons have not been assessed or diagnosed. In the last academic year, 2014-2015, 61% of students who sought learning support from the NLN service in ITB did not have a diagnosis. This emphasises the strong need for such a service for students at ITB and illustrates NLN’s ability to support this cohort of students.
|Direct impact|| Evaluation is a central practice in all our inclusive learning support services.
A recent study undertaken by staff at the service was exploratory in nature, and aimed to construct a profile of the frequency of service use, characteristics of service users and the precipitating factors which influenced students’ decisions to seek the assistance. There were two sources of data. Service use data from the 2009-2014 period were used. Data from the 2013-2014 student evaluation survey were also analysed (n=44).
To quantitatively analyse data, non-parametric tests of difference, Chi Square and crosstab analyses were used. These analyses explored the profile of students who used the service.
To qualitatively analyse data,content analysiswas used to categorise and explore the reasons why students sought to access the service.
|Conclusions and results||
In 2013-2014 an online, anonymous survey was distributed to students who had accessed the service. The following key findings emerged:
In the 2013-2014 academic year
- 91% of students surveyed felt that availing of the supports available to them improved their grades
- 49% rated the service as excellent, 35% as very good, 14% as good
- 18% felt that learning to manage anxiety, stress and depression was the most useful aspect of the service
- 27% felt that simply having someone to talk to was the most useful aspect of the service
- 14% felt that learning about how to better their attention and concentration was the most useful.
The single greatest lesson for any HEI looking to replicate this programme is to open access to it to any student, irrespective of whether they have a diagnosis that confer HEA funding on them, or not. Whilst a technical business case can be made for this, purely on the basis of the funding streams available to the colleges and the downstream economic benefits of students staying in college right through to graduation, opening the service to any student illustrates a commitment to an inclusive society on the part of the college. ITB is to be congratulated for pioneering this approach within HEIs here.
| NLN Assessment Service has been providing a student support service for the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB) since September 2003 to date. The service, which originated in a number of successful projects, has grown from strength to strength over the past 12 years, so much so that both ITB staff and students perceive NLN staff as being an integral part of the day-to-day student services within ITB. The highly qualified team currently working in the service have the competencies and skills to provide a number of services that are necessary for a diverse student population, from supporting students with general study skills to supporting students who experience stress, anxiety, and more serious mental health difficulties.
Services have evolved from needs identified through screening and profiling of student’s own perceptions of their learning strengths and weaknesses and learning styles and preferences.
|Contact/More information|| Educational Psychologist - Suzanne McCarthy: email@example.com
Blanchardstown Road North, Dublin 15
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