Listening to Neurodivergent student voice: Supporting transitions to level 1 study

Bhandari, Renu and Rainford, Jon (2023). Listening to Neurodivergent student voice: Supporting transitions to level 1 study. In: ISSOTL23 (International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Context matters): Research on Teaching & Learning: Integrating Practices, 8-11 Nov 2023, Utrecht University, Netherlands.


The higher education journey of any student in a distance learning university is a challenging one but this is more so for neurodivergent students. Neurodivergent students have been found to require both academic (Jackson et al. 2018; Ness 2013) and non-academic support (Gelbar et al. 2015) around them to enable to achieve and reach their academic goals. Access programs in The Open University have a widening participation agenda and enrol many Neurodivergent students with diagnoses of autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Asperger’s syndrome, and Dyspraxia. The study focused on the following three research questions:

1. What forms of support do neurodivergent students transitioning from Access to Level 1 study value?

2. What barriers to success may the current access curriculum create for neurodivergent students?

3. How can neurodivergent students transitioning from Access to level 1 be better supported?

Students from the three access modules moving to any level 1 module were included in the sample. This paper focuses on the findings from the five remotely conducted in-depth interviews and an associated photo-elicitation task.
Through a thematic analysis, a number of key themes were developed: Finding their own way, Support, quality of tutor support, wider systems of support, understanding assessment, facing new systems, the jump, language of learning and referencing issues.
The paper explores these with examples and highlights how these might inform future practice to improve transitions for neurodivergent students. The paper also highlights the limitations institutional focused research with these groups places upon the scope of this kind of research.

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