John T. E. Richardson

  • The attainment and experiences of students with disabilities and students from ethnic minorities in distance education

    John T. E. Richardson, The Open University

    Research paper

    Themes: learning environments

    In recent years, there has been an increasing concern with the idea of widening participation in higher education and in particular with increasing the numbers of students with disabilities and students in ethnic minorities. There has been less concern with the experiences of these students once they have gained access to higher education or with their academic attainment.

    The Personal and Educational Development Inventory (PEDI) was adapted from a checklist of educational competences devised by Purcell & Pitcher (1998) and has been used in the Open University’s annual survey of courses since 1997. Lawless & Richardson (in press) found that graduates’ responses reflected development on four scales: cognitive skills; mathematical skills; self-organisation; and social skills.

    The Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) was developed by Ramsden (1991) as an indicator of the quality of degree programmes. The original questionnaire contained 30 items in five scales reflecting various aspects of effective instruction: good teaching; clear goals and standards; appropriate workload; appropriate assessment; and emphasis on independence. Ainley & Long (1994) devised a shortened version in which the emphasis on independence scale was replaced by a new scale concerned with generic skills.

    For research purposes, Wilson et al. (1997) argued that the original 30-item CEQ should be augmented with the generic skills scale to yield a 36-item instrument. Research at the Open University has shown that this instrument is highly robust when administered to distance-learning students, except that the good teaching scale split into two separate scales that were concerned with good materials and good tutoring, respectively. Lawless & Richardson (in press) confirmed this scale structure when the CEQ was administered to Open University graduates.

    The PEDI and the CEQ were used to survey all Open University graduates who had been awarded named degrees in 2003, together with a random sample of graduates who had been awarded generic honours degrees. Respondents were also asked to say whether they had one of nine different kinds of disability and, if so, whether they had declared the disability to the Open University and whether they had received support from the University in their studies. Finally, they were asked to indicate their ethnic origin using codes from the 2001 Census.

    Students with declared disabilities tended to obtain poorer degrees than students with undeclared disabilities or students without disabilities. However, there was no difference among the three groups in their scores on the PEDI. Students with undeclared disabilities produced lower scores than students with declared disabilities or students without disabilities on the CEQ scales concerned with appropriate assessment and clear goals and standards. In general, students with declared disabilities reported similar experiences to students without disabilities.

    Black and Asian students tended to obtain poorer degrees than White students. Ethnicity was unrelated to students’ scores on the PEDI. Black and Asian students tended to produce lower scores than White students on the CEQ scale concerned with appropriate assessment. However, in general, students in ethnic minorities reported similar experiences to White students.