There's No "One-Size-Fits-All" Approach: How Future Faculty Plan to Teach Autistic College Students

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
B. R. Nachman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background: Higher education institutions are experiencing increased enrollments of autistic college students, as White, Ollendick, and Bray (2011) estimate that up to approximately two percent of college students may meet the criteria for autism. Faculty who are ill prepared to effectively teach autistic college students may undermine students’ academic success, as opposed to capitalize on their interests and strengths (Austin & Peña, 2017). We must shift our attention toward supporting future faculty (e.g., faculty-aspiring graduate students and postdocs), though there is an absence of literature on educating them about autistic college students. Consequently, this study illuminates the possibilities of reaching future faculty who prioritize designing inclusive classroom experiences.

Objectives: The purpose of this mixed methods evaluation study is to examine both the efficacy of an online autism-centered unit of an “Inclusive Teaching” course – focused on inclusivity, equity, and cultural diversity issues – as well as future faculty readiness to teach autistic college students. In particular, the research questions were threefold: 1) How do course unit activities promote future faculty understandings of autistic college students and Universal Design principles?”; 2) How do future faculty describe characteristics of autistic college students?; 3) How do future faculty self-report their comfort, knowledge, and preparation to teach autistic college students?

Methods: This study, following a mixed methods evaluation design, gathered data from participants via three sources: surveys with Likert-scale and open-ended questions (distributed before, immediately after, and six months following the autism unit); written responses to vignettes (prompting participants to note how classroom context influences teaching techniques); and interviews (conducted one month and seven months after the course concluded). I utilized Dedoose to conduct open coding and structural coding for each of the interviews, vignettes, and open-ended survey questions, clustering similar themes into categories. I also conducted descriptive statistics of the quantitative data, marking participants’ changes in comfort, knowledge, and preparation. I mixed findings across the qualitative and quantitative strands through comparing participants’ descriptions of their autism comfort, knowledge, and preparation with how they answered Likert-scale questions on similar topics.

Results: Three themes surfaced, each related to the individual research questions. First, participants found vignettes as helpful in recognizing and addressing various manifestations of autism in college students, drawing on anecdotes in guiding their planned teaching techniques, such as developing inclusive group work assignments. Second, participants described autism as impacting individuals across the lifespan, compared to their previous understandings of this as a “childhood disorder.” Thus, future faculty shared examples of how they can support autistic students’ individualized needs in navigating college. Third, based on survey data, participants exhibited growth in their level of comfort, knowledge, and preparation to teach autistic college students, noting how engagement in the course unit elevated their confidence in meeting students’ capabilities for academic success.

Conclusions: Training future faculty about autistic college students appears effective in boosting future faculty preparation, comfort, and knowledge of this student population. Additionally, this course unit provided them with an outlet to learn about, experiment with, and reflect on their inclusive teaching techniques.

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See more of: Education