Results In order to examine the differences between the two groups of female students (LD and NLD), univariate analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were performed with the measures of the learning environment, coping strategies, and satisfaction with life scale scores. The analysis revealed significant differences between student groups for Learning Environment, F (1,122) = 68.08, p < 0.01, Eta = .38; coping strategies, F (1,122) = 4.22, p < 0.05, Eta = .4; and Satisfaction with Life Scale, F (1,122) = 24.54, p < 0.01, Eta = .32. According to Cohen (1992), 0.2 is indicative of a small effect, 0.5 a medium and 0.8 a large effect.
ANOVA analyses were conducted between the LD and NLD groups for each of the sub-categories of the measures. Means, standard deviations, and F values are presented in Table 2. Results indicated that the students with LD perceived lower levels of academic support and assistance from the academic staff and felt a lower sense of belonging and less attached to the university than students in the control group. Further, they were more satisfied with their academic success than students in the NLD group. They also felt that they gained more practical knowledge that could be applied to their work or to their lives in general and that the course enhanced their thinking skills and allowed them to look at things in different ways, compared to female students from the control group. Regarding their perceived satisfaction with the academic courses, students with LD were less satisfied with the course than were students in the control group.
Results related to the three subcategories of coping strategies revealed that students with LD reported using more task-oriented coping strategies than did the NLD students. No differences between groups were found for emotion-oriented coping strategies. Significant differences emerged for four of the items on the Satisfaction with Life Scale, and students with LD reported lower levels of subjective well-being than the NLD control group. The only item that was not significant between groups was, "important things I want in my life."
Discussion The purpose of the current study was to examine the perceptions of undergraduate female students taking on-line courses as a part of the Open University of Israel’s academic program. We compared the perceptions of females with and without LD regarding the learning environment, coping strategies, and perceived well-being. Findings revealed that the females with LD (a) perceived the learning environment as less supportive and less fitting to their needs; (b) felt that the academic services were not sufficiently thoughtful of their requests; and (c) were less content with the academic courses, compared to females without disabilities. In addition, females with LD reported using more task-oriented and avoidance-oriented coping strategies, and perceived their overall well-being as less satisfactory than did female students from the control group.
Given the substantial increase in the proportion of female students with LD in higher education, it is of great value to examine their perceptions and experiences at a university and to identify the factors that have a positive impact on their well-being. The results discussed relate to on-line interactive courses with instructors and peers communicating via computers, as an alternative to a setting where students take face to face classes. Distance educations through on-line courses and e-learning have become a common study method in many institutes of higher education in Europe, America and in Canada. We, therefore considered, it important to examine women’s adjustment and practices in order to guide the further development of support services on university campuses and to plan professional development activities based on the women's needs.
The first hypothesis was that significant differences would emerge regarding the two groups of participants’ perceptions of the learning environment. The results supported this hypothesis. That is, female students with LD perceived the learning environment as less supportive and less satisfactory than females without LD. More specifically, they felt that the academic support services were insufficiently accommodating to their special needs, and they were less content with the academic courses themselves. Nevertheless, they felt they had made more gains in knowledge, general intellectual development or growth than did the females in the control group. Since perceptions of the learning environment and support services have rarely been examined within the population of students with LD, these findings present new views.
A discrepancy was observed between a previous examination of faculty attitudes towards and support of both male and female students with LD (Vogel, Leyser, Wyland, & Brulle, 1999). The findings of Vogel and her colleagues indicate that the faculty and the academic staff were the most willing to provide the types of assistance that were the least time consuming. For example, they allowed students to tape-record lectures
Means, Standard Deviation and F Scores of Dependent Measures Scales and Subscales Among Students With and Without LD
Note. 1 Learning Environment Scale, range 1-4; 2Coping Scale, range 1-5. 3Satisfaction with life scale range 1-7. Higher scores mean higher perceived well-being.
* p < .05. ** p < .01.
and allowed examinations taken by students with disabilities to be administered in the office of the support services. However, almost two-thirds of the faculty was willing to change the format of assignments and examinations. Since no similar faculty study was done within the OUI, it is not possible to compare the different perceptions of this particular issue. Based on Vogel's results, it can be assumed that, because a learning disability is not visible, as is a physical disability or a visual impairment, the academic staff are not aware of the difficulties of students with LD unless the students disclose their LD and request an accommodation or provide certification of their specific disability and the allowances needed. The findings of the present study indicate that the students with LD were satisfied with the academic outcomes but felt that much more could be done to help them with academic services such as registration, library use, accessing information, assistance in accomplishing academic tasks, and in overcoming academic or organizational difficulties
The second hypothesis concerned coping strategies. A growing body of research has examined the contribution of effective coping strategies for students with disabilities. Previous studies revealed that academic adjustment is negatively associated with psychological symptoms of distress during the early stages of college studies (Sanders & DuBois, 1996; Winter & Yaffe, 2000). However, other research (Huebner, Thomas, & Berven, 1999) has found no significant differences in adjustment between college students with and without LD. A previous study examining gender differences revealed that emotion-oriented coping was a significantly positive predictor of distress in both males and females. A comparison analysis among undergraduate students with and without LD revealed that female students without LD were more task-oriented than those with LD, and that females with LD were more emotion-oriented (Kariv & Heiman, 2005). However, contrary to that study, the current study demonstrated that females with LD taking on-line courses reported using more task-oriented coping strategies and less avoidance-oriented coping strategies than females in the NLD control group. The task-oriented coping strategies included being more organized, having and keeping to a strict timetable, frequent use of previously successful strategies for solving present problems, concentrated efforts to focus on the problem, organizing lists of priorities, and making efforts to complete tasks. They also used more avoidance-oriented coping strategies. It appears that the use of task-oriented coping strategies is related to the fact that the students are involved on on-line classes, and must be actively involved with the instruction and discussions.
This can be viewed as positive, and indicative of progress regarding self-perception of coping skills. In spite of the difficulties with which females with LD must contend, they made an effort to be task-oriented, to focus on their academic mission, and, as described by one student, "to try harder." On the other hand, female students with LD tried to avoid dealing with complicated or unfamiliar tasks. This finding is consistent with the findings of a previous study on students with LD in higher education institutes (Heiman & Precel, 2003). It appears that when students with LD perceive a task as too difficult for them to carry out successfully (such as a too-long text to read or to write), they may avoid undertaking the assignment.
The third hypothesis examined the subjective well-being of females in both groups. Subjective well-being is defined as an individual's evaluation of his or her life (Diener & Lucas, 2000). One's subjective well-being is an important component in promoting positive adjustment and appears to play an essential role in emotional and social stability. Diener and Lucas (2000) found that well-being was strongly correlated with higher self-esteem, freedom from worries, and positive and pleasant experiences. In the current study, perceptions of the overall well-being of students with LD were significantly lower than those of students without LD.
We can assume that students with LD have lower self-esteem, prolonged feelings of distress, and lower levels of hope with students without LD, as has been shown in the literature (Lackaye et al., 2006). In addition, female students reported higher degrees of feelings of alienation (Brown, Higgins, Pierce, Hong, & Thoma, 2003). In the framework of this study, we assume that the continuous difficulties and the daily life struggles of LD female students led to a reduction in overall satisfaction. An interesting result was reflected through a seemingly nonsignificant item concerning the "important things I want in life": Both groups of women had goals and aims, and for both groups the scores for this item were relatively high (more than 5 out of 7 points). The lower satisfaction perceived by the LD group may be viewed as an expression of frustration that students with LD carry from childhood, which corresponds to the findings of earlier studies that show prolonged feelings of distress (Lackaye et al., 2006), or as expressions of an external need of support and hopes for a meaningful change in one's life. In addition, the perceptions of lower satisfaction with their university courses and with life reported by females with LD in the OUI may be also understood as a result of the non-traditional campus environment, where some of the courses are face-to-face while others are via the Internet, and the students study on their own rather than with a group of peers. It is, therefore, important to provide opportunities for ongoing support-groups, to improve the academic workshops, and to deepen and broaden the academic staff's awareness of the needs of students with LD.
The findings of this study suggest several concerns that need to be addressed. First, the relatively small number of women students with LD in the study may bias the findings; second, the sample encompassed only students in the social science department; third, the study examined female students studying in one university; and fourth, the Open University courses are mostly based on a blended learning model that combines face-to-face and on-line studies, which could be confusing for students with LD or complicated for students who are not familiar with the technology.
The present study contributes to our understanding of the learning environment and coping strategies of women in institutions of higher education. Further research is needed to re-examine these topics with a larger number of subjects; additional research should include students in other colleges and universities, and from different departments. The present findings encourage further investigation in the areas of coping in the different learning environment and examining the learning strategies of students with LD. There is apparently still much to do to improve assistance within the OUI as well as in other institutions of higher education, to augment awareness, and to more effectively accommodate the special needs of students with learning disabilities.
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