Accommodating students who "can't participate in discussion"

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history_grrrl:
Our disability office sends out notices to faculty about individual students in our classes, listing recommended accommodations. Lately, some of us have gotten notices recommending "alternate evaluation tools" for participating in small-group discussions (something virtually all of our lecture courses include) and even leading discussions (something many of us require). The proposed "alternatives" are things like: having students submit notes to show they've done the reading (except that I already require something like this as a separate assignment), and having the student submit "jot notes" (?) about the discussion to her/his TA right after the discussion occurs.

I find this frustrating. My department prides itself on offering discussion sections that serve a variety of pedagogical and skill-building purposes. We're being asked/told to figure out a way to evaluate students who don't participate in those activities -- in other words, who don't meet a significant chunk of course requirements. To me, this is like assigning a research paper and having to come up with an alternative way to evaluate students who, for disability-related reasons, can't do a research paper.

We are not required to accept recommendations that undermine the academic integrity of our courses -- but the disability office has challenged faculty members' claims about what constitute "essential" elements of a course. It seems to me that the administration needs to weigh in on who gets to decide that, but so far it appears this is being left to the departments to figure out.

As someone whose own academic trajectory would have been quite different (in a positive way) had disability offices existed when I was an undergraduate, I am very supportive of accommodations. But at what point do we say that, if a student cannot do what is required, s/he needs to take a different kind of course?

I'm curious to know what others think about this and how you have handled similar issues. Thanks in advance.

wet_blanket:
Quote from: history_grrrl on January 31, 2013,  4:14:01 PM

The proposed "alternatives" are things like: having students submit notes to show they've done the reading (except that I already require something like this as a separate assignment), and having the student submit "jot notes" (?) about the discussion to her/his TA right after the discussion occurs.


I haven't had to deal with this, but my thought is you could require the student to submit a synthesis of and response to X number of student discussion comments.  It would require the student to do the same level of thinking as actually participating in the discussion, which I am assuming is your objection to the proposed alternatives.

sprout:
At my school we have a set of campus-wide objectives that are classes are supposed to achieve.  These include things like "Communicate effectively", critical thinking, and awareness of diversity.  For each course, we select two of these campus-wide objectives that the course is supposed to achieve.   So, if I were in a situation like this, I could go back to Disability Services and say "Look, it says right here that one of the  purposes of this class is to teach students to communicate effectively.  Participation in group discussions is part of that communication."

Any chance you have something like that to back you up?

Do you know what the specific reason is for the student requiring this accommodation?  Crippling shyness may not be reasonable to accommodate but, say, if the student is deaf or mute might they be able to have some sort of written communication?

catherder:
Do you have a class website that allows student entries? I use a couple of special assignments for such students:

1. The glossary function: Ask them to enter explanations of terms, people, events, places etc. mentioned in the readings. If there is no glossary function, have them deliver the explanations on the discussion page. Insist on entries in their own words and that they cite their sources.

2. Starting and moderating discussions on the discussion page. Offer some tips about asking the kind of questions that don't invite a simple yes/no answer.

brixton:
I'm with History-Grrl on this one.  I finally think that a huge skill you're learning in a humanities class is the ability to discuss your opinions and lead discussions.  I'm not sure notes or web-boards are an equivalent.  I teach in an English department and was told by a student that because of a disability she couldn't read long texts.  I sent her over to the disability office to have them parse through what this meant, but I also told her that English majors are all about reading texts.  There are other majors where you might be able to find an accommodation, but readings and texts are sort of like the "E" and "N" of English.  To put English major on your transcript means that that is a skill you have.  She ended up not coming back to my office, which might mean the disability counselor agreed with me, or she ended up in someone else's office.

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