As more universities offer academic composition and technical writing courses via virtual classrooms, our institutions are also being asked to accommodate an increasingly diverse student population. The success of disability accommodations in elementary and secondary schools is expanding the number of students with special needs academically qualified for postsecondary admissions. Among these students are individuals with autism spectrum disorders--a population with unique gifts and needs. This project sought to determine how writing courses in virtual spaces might be improved for university students with ASDs.
The original research propositions included the possibility that Web-based course management software could be optimized by examining virtual spaces favored by individuals with ASDs. Ninety-eight Web sites were analyzed and 48 adults with clinical diagnoses of autism disorders were surveyed. The results directly challenged the research propositions and require a rethinking of the delivery of online course content.
Overwhelmingly, the communities analyzed and the individuals surveyed point to a need to deliver course content via e-mail, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), and other purely textual methods. Every online community studied relays content to members via both e-mail and RSS feeds, allowing participation without accessing a Web-based interface. Seventy-five percent of the individuals surveyed indicated Web sites present challenges that cannot be addressed via traditional accessibility practices.
The data suggest online courses should offer e-mail and RSS interactions, as an option to the Web-based interfaces of most courseware platforms. While instructors of academic composition and technical writing courses might be tempted to recreate the traditional classroom in virtual simulations, this approach not only hinders participation by students with autism disorders, but also might exclude them from courses that form an important foundation for university success.
Additionally, gender differences were found within the survey population, relating specifically to writing and communication practices. This study concludes with a recommendation for studies exploring these differences and any implications they might have for writing instruction, especially within virtual classroom settings.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2010. Major: Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication. Advisor: Dr. Laura J. Gurak. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 310 pages, appendices A-C.
Wyatt, Christopher Scott.
Online pedagogy: designing writing courses for students with autism spectrum disorders..
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