Bettencourt, G. M., Kimball, E., & Wells, R. S. (2018). Disability in postsecondary STEM learning environments: What faculty focus groups reveal about definitions and obstacles to effective support . Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability , 31 (4), 383–396. https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/publications/jped
[no doi reported]; also located on ERIC online database: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1214251
Also located on Scholarworks online database: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cfssr_publishedwork/19/
Accommodations were not specified; postsecondary faculty members' conceptions of teaching students with disabilities in general, and of providing accommodations in particular, were investigated.
Postsecondary faculty members (n=27) teaching courses across 17 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields participated. These participants held various postsecondary positions, including lecturers, pre- and post-tenured faculty, and department administrators at a university in the Northeast (U.S.) in 2016 and 2017. Additional information about the university academic disciplines was reported.
In addition to individual faculty characteristics, the semi-structured focus group protocol sought responses to a series of seven questions and related follow-up probes. Four focus groups of 1 hour each were the sources of study data. Information on how students with disabilities were welcomed to study in the STEM fields, support and guidance that faculty has received toward this purpose, and specific strategies that participants have used to address the academic needs of students with disabilities. Qualitative data were analyzed by forming categories/themes and looking for similarities and differences within responses to each focus group topic. Details pertaining to academic accommodations, specifically exam accommodations, were the frame of reference in this summary.
Many participants—particularly senior faculty members—viewed providing accommodations as a formal process through the university disability services office, rather than an open dialogue with individual students. Participants therefore viewed this formal process as an administrative barrier that prevented personal agency in faculty members structuring supports and meeting the individual needs of students. Many participants described their approaches to supporting students individually, typically consisting of referrals to campus resources, use of empathy and personal attention, development of relationships, and adaptations to course structure. Another theme described the challenges that students with disabilities face in STEM fields. Participants indicated that many STEM faculty members might have little or no understanding of disabilities, and expressed concerns that accommodations may decrease rigor of course material and that the result may be that students with disabilities would not be prepared for careers in STEM fields.