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Graduate Research Assistantship for Doctoral Students in Special Education – Apply Now!

Posted on Dec 17, 2012

The Center for Research of Learning at the University of Kansas in collaboration with its partners CAST and NASDSE, seek qualified Graduate Research Assistants to join an innovative team of researchers and developers at the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities.  This federally funded Center seeks to understand how online learning can be made more accessible, engaging, and effective for K-12 learners with disabilities by investigating approaches that address learner variability within the range of conditions under which online learning occurs. To this end, researchers are engaged with districts, online developers, families, and students to identify trends, understand positive outcomes, identify and develop promising approaches, and test the potential effectiveness of key approaches.

These graduate research assistantships are available to full-time Ph.D. students in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas. The assistantships focus on supporting Center staff and researchers engaged in varied studies concerning K-12 online learning for students with disabilities. The research assistantships cover tuition, a competitive stipend, and fees for students. We are looking for the following in applicants:

  1. Strong oral and written communication skills in the English language.
  2. Knowledge of educational technology tools, practices, and online learning.
  3. Experience with research methodology, design, review of the literature, and similar skills in the area of data collection and synthesis.
  4. Prior experience with individuals with disabilities, especially in the K-12 classroom as a teacher, related service provider, or other educational professional seeking to the meet the overall developmental needs of individuals with disabilities.
  5. Ability to collaborate with faculty members and peers.

The deadline for submitting your application materials for the Fall 2013 semester is April 1, 2013. However, we like to make research assistantship placements earlier in the year. If you are interested in pursuing your doctoral studies in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas, please visit our website to learn more about us and our program:
Should you have any questions about the Graduate Research Assistantship opportunities, please feel free to contact Diana Greer at For additional information about the Center, please see

Survey Results and Further Questions

Posted on Dec 17, 2012

In today’s blog, let’s talk about some of the feedback we received from our pre-symposium questionnaire.

The survey was distributed to a total of twenty people, and fourteen sent it back to us. Demographically, four of our survey takers were teachers, four were administrators, two were consultants, two were vendors, and the remaining four said that they that they belonged in an “other” category (You’re probably saying, “Hold on, that’s 16 people!” Participants were allowed to select multiple answers if they filled more than one role).

All of the survey questions were answered on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly disagree”, 3 being “neutral”, and 5 being “strongly agree”. We also included an “I don’t know” option to let the survey takers opt out of any questions they didn’t feel comfortable answering. Here are the same questions you saw last blog, and the averaged answers we got from our pre-symposium survey.

Online learning environments can be designed so that they are accessible to and usable by all students with disabilities (including significant sensory and physical disabilities).


Students with significant disabilities (e.g. sensory and/or physical) can independently complete online assignments.


Students with disabilities are likely to achieve more in traditional settings than in online learning environments.


The currently deployed online learning systems (e.g. K12, Connections Academy, etc.) have been designed to sufficiently address the range of learner variability, including students with disabilities.


What we take from all of this is that the current state of online learning for students with disabilities is dubious at best. Although online learning can be tailored to fit the needs of students with disabilities, our respondents say that it isn’t there yet. The question that still needs answering, then, and one of the main questions that our Center is dedicated to answering, is how do we get there?

If you are interested in seeing the full questions from our survey, as well as the official responses, take a look here!


Autism, The Sensory Input Diet, and Online Learning

Posted on Dec 17, 2012

Utah mother, Susan Harms, uses online learning to ensure her fifteen-year-old autistic son, David, receives an effective and stimulating education. The article describing David’s path to online learning reveals how enrolling in a virtual, space-less school, the Utah Virtual Academy,  provided her son with a fruitful, dynamic, and engaging environment – from the comfort of their home.

Susan explains, with regard to teaching at home, “I don’t force him to sit at a desk for eight hours a day because it’s impossible.” She turned to online homeschool after several failed attempts in brick-and-mortar schools, where David’s school days were too structured and his access to technology and sensory input was too limited.

Sensory input processing disorder, more commonly known as sensory processing disorder (SPD), is defined in a very informative Time article, as a combination of syndromes that involve difficulty handling information that comes in through the senses–not merely hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch, but also the proprioceptive and vestibular senses, which tell us where our arms and legs are in relation to the rest of us and how our body is oriented toward gravity.

At home, Susan allows her son to sit on an exercise ball instead of at a desk; he has a sensory swing in the basement where he listens to soothing music; she brushes his skin with a special brush used with autistic children for tactile stimulation. These “sensory breaks” allow for moments of focus which, she estimates, add up to about two and a half hours of concentration over the course of a school day at the Utah Virtual Academy.

Susan explains, “Kids with autism can feel like a kite, with their bodies disconnected from their surroundings, but the steady diet of sensory input helps David feel grounded and focus.” This concept of a “steady diet of sensory input” is very intuitive on her part; brick-and-mortar schools attempted to apply the recommended daily allowance of structure to David’s schooling – nutrients he did not need, consequently, they failed to help him learn.

Although David attends the Utah Virtual Academy from his home, he is not alone. He has a reading teacher, a math teacher, and a homeroom teacher who interact with him via Blackboard. The school even sends students paint for their art projects and dirt for their science projects.

Leaving the structure of a brick-and-mortal school allowed Susan to provide her son with an education that adapted to his needs. Her son is not just able to learn, he is motivated to learn. His mother and teacher leave us with, “Where he’s at now, it’s just remarkable …we have conversations, meaningful conversations. He wants to have a future.”

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

Public Online Charter School Students

Posted on Dec 17, 2012

Annotations GraphicIn “Public Online Charter School Students: Choices, Perceptions, and Traits,” Paul Kim, Flora Hisook Kim, and Arafeh Karimi, of Stanford University, attempt to begin generating an explanation as to why students decide to enroll in online schools. Enrollment in online learning is increasing rapidly, by approximately 20% every year. It is obvious why parents are drawn to online learning: such programs offer individualized programs and progress reports that can be viewed by students, parents, and teachers, leaving no one in the dark as to how a given student’s education is progressing. However, it is not clear why students are turning to online learning.

According to the authors, “students who consider online education do not necessarily understand what may actually be required in online learning. As a result, students often discover that online learning requires much more active participation and a much higher level of self-regulation.” Furthermore, the authors state that “it is not easy to find an empirical student explaining how online students enrolled in public K-12 online school programs perceive online discussions.” Based on these assertions, it seems to be the case that students are drawn to the idea of the online learning because they believe it will offer more flexibility, independence, and individualization than a traditional program would without realizing the changes in work ethic that might be necessary to properly engage in an online learning program.

The authors also find it problematic that there is a lack of information regarding how students feel about online discussions. Generally speaking, online discussions are thought to be an important part of an effective online learning program, but strangely, studies are not done to determine how online discussions affect student learning, or even how students feel about engaging in online discussion.

In an attempt to combat this lack of information, Kim, Kim, and Karimi gathered some data and found that a dichotomy existed in how students felt about online discussions. The authors found that “56% of respondents indicated that online discussion is helpful in achieving their academic goals, while 44% indicated otherwise.” The authors were also able to determine that “students who find online discussion helpful are ‘more likely to have prior online learning experience, enjoy working in groups, do not like traditional learning materials, engage in multiple tasks while studying, make plans to complete tasks, and periodically set goals for long-term projects.’”

From these results, the authors conclude that, in light of the fact that “no study has shown that students seek online learning in order to engage in online discussion,” it may not be necessary to treat online discussion as an integral part of any online learning program. If online learning programs are to accommodate as many student groups as possible, then some programs may need to ignore online discussions in favor of other features that will be useful to the students who do not find online discussion meaningful.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

Putting Florida on the Map

Posted on Dec 13, 2012

Researchers from the Center on Online Learning traveled to Tallahassee, Florida to meet with representatives from the Florida State Department of Education at the Turlington Building (pictured above)

“Getting out there into the classroom to see what is working”:  this has been the Center’s recent theme and direction as it begins work on several case studies. One of the states that the Center wants to look more closely at is Florida, which requires all students to complete at least one online class before graduating.

In order to learn more about what is happening in online learning for students with disabilities in Florida, the Center organized a day-long meeting to meet with online teachers, principals from online schools, technology specialists, and members of the Florida State Department of Education. Participants traveled from Palm Beach Virtual School, Florida Virtual School, Leon County Virtual School, and Pasco eSchool to discuss the Center’s research initiatives and chat about observations, concerns, and trends in the online classroom.

The Center is very eager to share information on the various topics discussed at the conference. The Center is currently working a visual to depict  the research initiatives of  these schools, which will be up soon. As you look forward to seeing the new graphic, please enjoy the blog posts being posted on the Center’s website.