The aim of this investigation is to explore the relevance of the social model of dyslexia in relation to adults who enter higher education, specifically at University level.
The Objectives are to:
- examine the concept of dyslexia as a disability and where it stands in Law
- develop a standardised guidance framework to enable Universities to offer a uniformly high quality of service
- investigate the extent to which dyslexia has become an ‘umbrella’ phenomenon
- identify the disabling social barriers that occur and their impact on dyslexic adults within the University domain
The purpose of this research is to analyse and test the social model of dyslexia within Universities. In particular, it will explore the extent to which the government, businesses, society and students themselves impact on Universities and the dyslexic population that study within them. The planned research techniques and approaches to be used stem from various theoretical backgrounds in the knowledge that “different kinds of questions which instigate research require approaches to research which are distinguished by their theoretical background and methodology” (Williams 2005, p.112).
One such research structure to be used will be Comparative Means. This will allow the researcher to explore the comparison of people’s experiences over time (historically) and/or in present parallel. This approach is important when research covers law and a historical context is needed. In the case of this research, the first objective is to examine the concept of dyslexia as a disability and where it stands within the legal framework. This will need to be explored in historical contexts allowing comparisons that permit the researcher to see where it began, how it developed and where it is now.
Comparative measures can also be made at micro or macro levels which can give an insight into specific cases of dyslexia in higher education (macro) or revolutions of the dyslexia struggle (micro). Phenomena comparisons are easier to understand when they are of similar natures. A clear example of this would be one disability compared directly to another. In historical contexts, society often refers to the past, research, law, social values etc, to justify the present. Drawbacks in using this research process would be that the researcher will have no control over various variables that may already be in place.
Descriptive research will also be included to cover observations that take place, notes made and subsequently analysed. The objective ‘to investigate the extent to which dyslexia has become an ‘umbrella’ phenomenon’ is best suited to this theory as observations of peoples’ understanding and social situation is paramount to answering the questions within the objective. Any data collected must be done systematically in order to produce clear results which should lead to valid and accurate conclusions. Drawbacks to this research could arise from the level of complexity in any surveys carried out and the proposed scope size/area the survey is to cover.
The point must be made that this is not always the case and depends on several factors including the organisation of the research to be carried out. As descriptive research depends on human observations and responses, there may be a risk of data distortion. One cause of distortion can be linked to inadvertently biased questions on the questionnaires used. It must be noted that bias in this type of qualitative research cannot be ruled out, whether it is on the side of the interviewer, interviewee or data analyst. This topic is often debated and it should always be highlighted within the methodology that bias is a possible factor in results.
This research may include correlation studies which fall under quantitative research, and if so, this will allow the development of relational studies. If a phenomenon arises in more than one area of my studies, a correlation will allow an investigation into a possible relationship. For example, class background and dyslexia diagnosis. Are those from a more disadvantaged background more likely to have been undiagnosed until later in life? Of benefit to this research is the fact that there may be many variables to specific phenomena. With correlation, it allows a comparison of many variables simultaneously. A drawback of this type of research is that to have statistically significant results, a large study must be carried out. This is not always possible due to time, money and resource constraints. A solution often used to counter such constraints is a precursory study on a smaller scale which can often lead to others who have adequate resources taking the study further.
Responsive Evaluation research will be carried out as it comprises of three basic steps which include: Data Collection, Evaluation and Suggested Changes (Williams 2005). This research will allow examination from various viewpoints including levels of awareness, attainment of objectives and costs and benefits amongst others. As this research will be used to prescribe changes, the drawback may be that it might be limited to descriptions of a better understanding, rather than actual solutions and depending on research direction, the outcome of any research undertaken. One objective of the researcher is to develop a standardised guidance framework to enable universities to offer a uniformly high quality of service. This objective falls under the responsive evaluation theory.
Ethnogenic research will be used within the study undertaken as the researcher is interested in how the subjects of the research theorise about their own behaviour/situation rather than initially imposing the researchers own theory. This research theory is best suited to the objectives, ‘to investigate the extent to which dyslexia has become an ‘umbrella’ phenomenon’ and ‘identify the disabling social barriers that occur and impact on dyslexic adults within the University domain’. It is important to the proposed research that these objectives be identified in ethnogenic terms in order to understand any possible historical contexts which can lead to comparative studies. This research approach however has many difficulties, including the possibility of personal bias from the researcher impacting on the exploration of the study. Data interpretation can also be a factor and in many cases of ethnographic research, accurate recreation of data is almost impossible, which then calls into question the validity of the research. Ultimately, the researcher wants the results to be duplicated by others to ensure its validity.
Cultural research may also be undertaken within historical contexts during this research as the overall research is exploring the sociological aspects of dyslexia in higher education. Research may look into various ‘cultural texts’ (Williams 2005) which focuses not purely on literacy, but also social media exchanges which include TV, News programmes, or even just how people converse. Content analysis can be carried out in cultural context and may include a study of how many dyslexic teachers there are in Universities across the UK. It is important in this case to implement rigorous categorisation and coding in order to achieve a high level of objectivity and reliability which will then lead to the development of theories. There may also be forms of discourse analysis which looks into the way people communicate. This is important as language shapes not only our perception of the world, but also our attitudes and identities. By viewing language and translating them into statistics, it allows for the often intangible facts of life to be translated into something that is comprehensible and has meaning.
In terms of specific methodology, the researcher will use a mix of both qualitative and quantitative methods. As stated by Leedy, “We can express with numbers what is impossible to state in words. You cannot pile up words and deduce an average from them. You cannot take the square root of a sentence. It is impossible to square a word, a phrase or a paragraph.” (Leedy, 1989, p173) By using mixed methods, triangulation can be implemented which allows for complementation of research analysis. Triangulation as defined by Denzin (1978:291) is, “the combination of methodologies in the study of the same phenomenon”. Convergent data collection will allow for more in depth analysis and cross validation. This “is to achieve complementary results by using the strengths of one method to enhance the other” (Morgan, 1998). As justified by Clarke and Yaros (1988), “combining methods is useful in some areas because the complexity of the phenomena requires data from a large number of perspectives”. Dyslexia is known for its complexity in both medical and sociological terms. Using mixed methods will allow a greater scope of this phenomenon.
Qualitative methods will include focus groups, semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis to meet the research objectives, whilst quantitative methods will include questionnaires and possible grade transcript analysis to support the research. These methods were selected to allow for diverse data collection in various settings. Further insights later in the research will be given in the form of case studies.
Justification of the use of the aforementioned methods can be clarified in the following passages.
Questionnaires will facilitate the accumulation of large quantities of data from a sizable population. It is both economical and allows for easy data extraction and comparison which is important due to the financial constraints already surrounding the research project. A weakness of this approach is the time used in designing the questionnaire and analysing the results. Designing the questions is important due to the limitations of the number of questions which can be reasonably asked in one sitting and the possibility of unintentional bias. Other factors, such as the move from theory to data, the need to explain relationships between variables, the collection of various quantitative data, the application of controls to ensure validity, definition of concepts to ensure clarity of definition, highly structured methodology and the independent nature of the researcher from observed subject, all need consideration.
Focus groups will allow for an outside perspective to be achieved and where specific characteristics can be observed. With the process of semi-structured interviews, a more personal critique can be achieved. The weaknesses of these approaches include time constraints, not only for the researcher but for the individuals concerned.
Cross sectional studies will also be explored as it relates to the study of a particular phenomenon at any specific point in time and is most often linked with surveys. (Robson, 1993; Easterby-Smith et al., 1991). Cross sectional studies, in the case of this research, will take the form of case studies which will be based on interviews conducted over a short period of time.
Moving to the practical implications of the methods of study, the study will be undertaken in two different settings: Campus grounds and Public grounds. Permission will be sought to operate within these areas via the necessary authorities. All participants will be of varying ages (random sampling) and the aim will be to involve equal numbers of men and women which allows for general comparison. The study group will also reflect differences in socio-economic standing and severity of dyslexia. By imposing certain constraints, correlation and triangulation can take place to identify phenomena. For comparison purposes, the sample will also involve people without diagnosis of dyslexia. The fieldwork proposed will include two phases which are as follows:
First Phase: charting disabling social barriers in the context of dyslexia in higher education
The first phase will be comprised of focus groups, questionnaires and individual interviews. Questionnaires and focus groups will take place for both campus and public settings, with the possibility of interviews also being carried out in both these settings if resources permit. The focus groups will comprise of between five and eight individuals which is a manageable small group. There will be no limitations exercised as to the composition of dyslexics and non dyslexics who make up this number to allow for natural conversations to develop and evolve. The same size of groups will be used in both research area settings. Potential questions and strategies to guide the focus groups have yet to be developed at this time.
There will be semi-structured interviews carried out in equal numbers between those who have dyslexia and are studying in higher education, those who have dyslexia and are not studying in higher education, those who do not have dyslexia and are studying within higher education and those without dyslexia who are not studying within higher education. Identification of participants will be achieved by various means including use of the University’s Enabling Support Team and various notice board sites. Contacting third parties for possible participants may also be an option. A brief interview schedule will be devised. However, the approach to the interview will remain open to allow the participant’s own perspective to remain the focus of the research. This will allow for lesser biased views before influence by the researcher is experienced.
The data gained from this first phase will be analysed using Ethnographic techniques. The aim of the analysis at this stage will be to identify the perceptions of dyslexics and the opportunities for enablement they have within higher education, as well as identifying the barriers which people consider to exist which prevents full participation. This will be the basis of the framework for the second phase.
Second Phase: disabling social barriers in the context of dyslexia in practice
Using the framework which will be established in the first phase, the researcher will then undertake case studies in both research area settings to identify how people with dyslexia experience and deal with the barriers that face them. The numbers of participants for this particular exercise have not yet been determined. Interviews will be involved in the case studies and will cover those who have contact with dyslexics including: lecturers, students, enabling support team members, members of public and family. The researcher will adopt a combined ethnographic and phenomenological approach during the fieldwork and will give serious thought into the scientific concept of reliability during the data analysis stages.
There are many factors to be considered prior, during and after all stages of the research process. Ethics, validity and the exercise of bias will always be in the fore front, especially in an area which deals closely with social constructs and ideals. Dyslexia is a diverse area of social, medical and psychological entities. In the field of research, there are many combinations of theories and methodologies which are at the researcher’s disposal which are ideal for tackling these specific areas. Knowing which theory or methodology to pursue is a challenge. The researcher will pursue theories and methodologies which are perceived to be complementary to their research. The strengths of one theory or methodology will balance out the weakness of another.
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