Students with disabilities are in postsecondary STEM courses and degree programs, but only a few studies have investigated how STEM courses can be designed to support students with disabilities. We began addressing this gap by interviewing students with diagnoses characterized by variations in executive functions about their experiences in postsecondary STEM courses. We analyzed the interviews through a social relational perspective of disability as this allowed us to identify how course structures disable students from effective engagement with STEM courses. We found STEM courses present heightened barriers compared to non-STEM courses, with common barriers including a lack of resources and guidance for how to engage with course content, insufficient time on assessments, and a lack of access to organized course content and deadlines. The consequences of these barriers are that students are disabled from keeping pace in the courses and experience more frequent episodes of severe anxiety. We additionally investigated the extent to which SCALE-UP physics courses and inquiry-based chemistry labs implemented inclusive practices based on the enactment of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) checkpoints. Through course observations, we identified that courses supported some UDL recommendations, such as encouraging group work and clarifying vocabulary, but did not enact the UDL recommendations of providing options and flexibility for engaging with tasks. To improve the inclusiveness of courses, we supported physics instructors and chemistry teaching assistants (TAs) in choosing and implementing new UDL-aligned practices. Instructors chose to implement a variety of practices, and the extent and effectiveness of implementation varied due to differences in the consistency of implementation and whether implemented practices achieved intended goals. Overall, we find that STEM courses are not designed to proactively support students with disabilities and that students with disabilities and the UDL framework can support instructors in identifying how courses can be more inclusive.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
James, Westley, "Investigating the Inclusiveness of STEM Courses and Reducing Barriers by Using the Universal Design for Learning Framework" (2020). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 235.