Diffusion of Information and LD Students

{excerpt: Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) students on How their specific LD characteristics impact the post-secondary education experience: Tables removed but are embedded within the full text version}

Two questions that are often asked in school systems around the country are; “What are students learning?” and “How do we create an atmosphere that supports learning? (Brookhart, 2011, p. 4)”. These questions are asked at all levels of education, in relationship to all curriculum and teaching practices, and in the heat of political debates (Altbach, Berdahl, & Gumport, 2005). Rogers (1976) defines the diffusion process as the extension of a new ideas, thoughts, or innovations from its establishment to its adopters. Rogers (1976) differentiates the adoption process from the diffusion process in that the diffusion process occurs within society, as a group process; whereas, the adoption process pertains to an individual mental progression where a person moves from merely hearing the information to understanding it and being able to fully apply it in some way.

This is something with which Kelly struggles. Rogers (1976) is primarily speaking about new technology; however, his thoughts are applicable to education especially when he focuses in on the concept of innovation within an organization (p. 417). In this scenario, the students are in the school to learn new information and or ideas so that they can use it to gain new understanding and build better lives for themselves and their families (Honig M. I., 2006). Rogers (1976) highlights how organizations measure adoption of an innovation within an organization over a period of time like email systems and computer technology.

However, an LD student entering an undergraduate program is there to learn new tools and skills (Marzano & Kendall, 2007). These tools can be nursing technology, business technology, leadership skills, etc., but it is all new to the student and it is information that must be adopted or the student will not be able to advance in the program or have a career in that field after the program is completed (Cortilla, 2011; Rogers, 2003). Students with LD come to the learning environment with processing issues that put gaps in their ability to learn/adopt the new information (Opp, 1994). As noted earlier this gap in understanding has been equated to the appearance of Swiss cheese: the knowledge is there, residing in the spaces and pockets, but for whatever reason, the student is unable to access that information, rendering it useless to the student (Cooper, 2007; Cooper, 2005).

When the student enters the classroom, many times, they are entering “fresh”, new, ready to learn, because what was learned the day prior (a month prior, a year prior, years prior), has slipped away (Cooper, 2007). For this reason, the teacher, as the innovator or presenter of the innovation, is again needing to diffuse this new (or renewed) information to the LD student (Rogers, 2003). It’s a recursive process where the LD student learns and relearns until the innovation or new idea is fully adopted, though this is not copiously occuring for the LD student (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007). Cortiella (2011) noted that improved instruction, enhancement to disability planning, better application of programs, and greater skills assessments and training are needed to help students with disabilities understand themselves and grasp their educational process.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has the potential to assist with disability planning efforts, because it allows individuals with disabilities to show their difficulties by documenting the disability and citing their problems (The United States Access Board, 2008). Regarding any future employer or post-secondary institution (PSI), it requires that “reasonable” modification be applied, without forcing changes or alterations that might be too difficult for the entity to implement (The United States Access Board, 2008). “Reasonable” is a problematic term, becausestudents with disabilities have had a great amount of difficulty in expressing, documenting, and receiving assistance for their disabilities as a direct result of their problems with communication (Cortilla, 2011). This makes it difficult for any employer or PSI to adequately identify what “reasonable accommodations” are, which is creating further gaps (in education and in employment) for the individual with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002).

In their review of the history of change literature, Higgs and Wren (2009) discuss the complexities and failures of change models over time. They evaluate models that move from simple to sophisticated, and those that move from do-it-yourself models to emergent models (Higgs & Wren, 2005). Among the listed change literature historians is a theorist named John Kotter. Kotter (1996) believed that change required participation from the leader and that leaders needed a true sense of urgency in regard to the change. Others suggest that organizational capabilities and the cultures they impact are so disconnected, and that change cannot occur without structure and repetition (Beer & Nohria, 2000).

Some change literature theorists contend that institutional changes are difficult to conceptualize, because they ultimately have to apply in real world situations (UNPD, 2006). However, others state that the only way change can be effective is if one is willing to continually reshape one’s capacity to enhance one’s organization (Higgs & Wren, 2005; Jaworski & Scharmer, 2000). Altering a system and applying new standards is easy to theorize about, but research shows that changes, especially in educational systems are rarely executed as they are designed (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Thus, such changes do not spread throughout the entire organization and they are not sustainable in their ability to hold stakeholder or community interests long-term (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000).

Rogers (2003) noted that for an innovation to be effective it needs to have certain attributes: (1) it must be better then the innovation it follows, (2) it must be compatible with the current values, (3) it must not be preceived as being too difficult to use, (4) it must allow for experimentation, and (5) it must be transparent and observable so that results are clearly laid out. In the redesign of a new educational system, a stakeholder analysis (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000) and strategic plan that incorporate feasible living strategies (this is a method for making sure that a plan that is placed on paper can be effective in a real world situation) are key to a new innovation being successful (Marx, 2006, pp. 15-16).

It is important to determine who the stakeholders are and what role they will play in decision-making, organization policy, literature development and assimilation, and continuation of innovation practices (Rogers, 2003). While there is still some debate about who the stakeholders are (i.e are students stakeholders or are they customers), the majority of researchers find that educational stakeholders include a combination of stduents, parents, staff, community organizations, local governemtns, local businesses, retired citizens, citizens who no longer have students in school, institutions of higher education, media and educational agencies (Spector, Greely , & Kingsley, 2004; BFHE, 2009).

The question then becomes, Where do these stakeholders have buy-in and how does that buy-in impact the assimilation of information (Business Higher Education Foum BHEF, 2009). It might be easier to outline these stakeholders in a figure, by those who are outside of the organization versus those that are inside the organization and how their position in the structure determines their influence on decisions and information diffusion (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Understanding this relationship allows leaders to develop a proper analysis of whose interests are being considered and who is most impacted by any choice that is made when an educational system needs to be altered (Honig & Rainey, 2011).

Putting these stakeholders in a figure its clear to see that there are stakeholders that are influencers (Policy-makers, Administrators, Social groups, Professional Organizations) and stake holders are the influencees (Students and Instructors). Damanpour & Schneider (2008) might say influencers have “primary” adopter characteristics (those having intrinsic influence, dealing with value and policy) and they might note that influencees have “secondary” adopter characteristics (those having an internal value from the adoption process or that are requires to utilize the actual innovation).

Primary adopters focus on how innovation will be used by the organization from group to group. Secondary adopters focus on how the innovation will be put into practice (Damanpour & Schneider, 2008). Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall (1987) stated that the most important element in creating positive and successful change was a leader’s willingness to work, push, support and participate in the process (p. 10). A leaders role is important because it does take a quality leader to get an entire stakeholder community to implement new change (Hord et al., 1987). LD students do not have the power to speak for themselves, so they are dependent on their leaders (Cortilla, 2011).

Dalitz, Toner, & Turpin (2011) state that innovation formulas incorporate a variety of different tactics and procedures, but most formulas include life cycle changes, training changes, and skill needs that are either the major primary consideration or they are a close second in the consideration process (p. 11). It is possible that this is why school systems struggle to make some changes to the PSI environment. The change is possibly seen as too expensive or too difficult to implement. In consideration of changing the PSI environment for the LD student, The Cervero Model was chosen because of its incorporation of all elements on a somewhat equal setting, see Figure 2.4. The Cervero Model (Hubbard & Sandmann, 2007). This is relevant because PSI need to understand that, even though modifications at all levels are ultimately desired, change methods do not require PSI to alter every aspect of the educational process to be successful.

Studies have found that there is interconnectedness between change success rates, change context, leadership and methodologies to change (Higgs & Wren, 2005). If stakeholders are not committed, they will not follow the new process and it will fail (Higgs & Wren, 2005). This evidence is reported in The President’s Commission on Excellence in Education (2002) when the reporting staff discovered that LD students were not effectively learning and educational institutions were not able to produce quality, stable learning environments for students with LD. When considering how to assist students with LD, especially when policy has been mandated by legislation that governs how much change can happen at the PSI level, and when considering that many stakeholders have had no choice in the learning formats that are chosen (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009), LD students must be included in the implementation of any changes that may need to occur in the future as a result of the lived experiences of the mandated educational changes (Hord et al., 1987).

The President’s Council on Excellence in Education (2002) states that the innovation that will help LD students to become solid academic learners will be found by and through engaging with and researching LD students outside of the parameters of the traditional student. If language is not stationary, and if it is not relegated to the sign or symbol as Derrida (1997) supposes, and if it is ontogenetic as Chomsky (1998) believes, and as educators have indirectly implied (Bloom, 1956; Bruner, 1966; Eisner, 2000; Enfield, 2010; Gardener, 2006; Vygotsky, 1978), then researchers must ask how students use language. They must consider how the use of language interferes with learning, and what can be done at the post-secondary institution (PSI) level to help the LD student to better cope in educational settings without removing the “reasonable accommodations” requirement (GOA, 2009).

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