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The Impacts of Active Learning on Learning Disabled Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Action on Diversity - Disability Experiences & Empathy

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Fernando Garcia Gonzalez Florida Golf Coast University

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Dr. Fernando Gonzalez joined FGCU as an Assistant Professor in the Software Engineering Program in the fall of 2013. Previously he has worked at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, the U.S. Department of Energy at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico and at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Gonzalez graduated from the University of Illinois in 1997 with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. He received his Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Florida International University in 1992 and 1989. Dr. Gonzalez research interest includes the intelligent control of large scale autonomous systems, autonomous vehicles, discrete-event modeling and simulation and human signature verification.

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One of the most important best practices in education is active learning. Earlier this year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a national Call to Action aimed at improving STEM education through the use of active learning. Active learning serves to clarify, and solidify the material presented in the lecture as well as to help the students retain the information presented in the class. It involves activities generally performed in class. A typical active learning process involves the instructor first lecturing on new material immediately followed by an active learning activity related to this material. While these methods are shown to improve the quality of education, it can have a negative impact on learning disabled (LD) students. Depending on how the activity is administered, it may require the student to absorb and understand a minimal amount of the material from the lecture part in order to participate in the active leaning activity. This can present a problem for learning disabled students. While there are many types of accommodations that can help an LD student, one common characteristic most all LD students have is that they require more time to assimilate any newly presented material. This can present a problem if the active learning activity is immediately following the lecture. For example, the minute paper activity requires the student to write on the topic just covered for one minute. Then present or otherwise submit the writing perhaps for a grade. A learning disabled student may not be able to acquire sufficient knowledge from the lecture part, in the time given, to be in a position to write such a piece. Furthermore, the process of writing itself may present additional problems as many types of learning disabilities impact writing.

In addition to effecting the student’s grade, it has the potential to isolate the student from the class. A student that cannot perform or contribute to group activities will soon develop a negative reputation and get isolated from the other students. This effect may also push the student out of the class and perhaps out of the major. The number of students effected is significant. According to the U.S. Department of Education, one can expect on average between 3 to 4 percent of the student body in a typical class will have some type of documented learning disability and many more undocumented.

This paper investigates the different active learning techniques and presents the potential problems with each one. Possible alternatives or modifications to certain active learning activities are presented where possible. The author of this paper has a severe case of dyslexia and is an Assistant Professor of software engineering and can see the problem through both, the eyes of the student and the eyes of the instructor.

Gonzalez, F. G. (2017, June), The Impacts of Active Learning on Learning Disabled Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28979

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