The Impact of an Online Disability Awareness Program on College Faculty Knowledge, Attitudes, and Applications: A Mixed Methods Study

In higher education, the population of students with disabilities has more than tripled in the last three decades; however, they continue to have low rates of persistence, retention, and degree completion (National Council of Disability, 2003; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Levine, & Garza, 2006). Faculty play a critical role in the success of students with disabilities but many lack an understanding of these students’ needs and of inclusive instructional strategies to enhance their success (Burgstahler & Moore, 2009). The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate the impact of an online disability awareness program on college faculty’s knowledge, attitudes, and application. The four research questions that guided the study investigated (a) the differences in participants’ knowledge of and attitudes toward students with disabilities prior to and after completion of the online program; (b) how participants’ pretest and posttest knowledge and attitudes toward students with disabilities differ by faculty demographics; (c) how faculty describe their experience in the program, including their intentions to incorporate their learning into their teaching practices and interactions with students; and (d) how the themes that emerge from the qualitative data can provide a deeper understanding of the quantitative knowledge and attitude impact of the program on faculty. The study followed a sequential, transformative mixed methods design consisting of three phases. In the first phase, 38 faculty members completed a survey measuring attitudes toward and knowledge of students with disabilities, both before and after completing an online disability awareness program. Quantitative results indicated both attitudes and knowledge significantly improved from pretest to posttest. In the second qualitative phase, 10 faculty participants were interviewed. Analysis of the qualitative findings led to the identification of three themes in regard to the impact of the program on faculty pedagogy and two themes related to practical issues of online professional development. The third meta-analysis phase of the study found four convergences supporting the overall positive impact of the program and two divergences related to faculty demographic characteristics. Interpretations of these findings along with their implications for policy, theory, practice, and future research are discussed.


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