Twenty UC students came together to participate in a new science program course co-taught by faculty members Dr. Chris Atchison and Dr. Christi Carnahan. The Transition and Access Program (TAP) is a program that offers students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities an authentic, non-degreed college experience. The C&I 2009c/7009c course provided an interactive classroom environment that delivered inclusive learning opportunities for all participants. Students came together from a variety of programs, including fourteen TAP students, two Special Education majors, one engineering major, and one geology major. Drs. Atchison and Carnahan were pleased to see a variety of majors among their students. During the fall term, the class focused on a different science topic each week in which students were responsible for researching prior to class, and then bringing their findings for small-group and whole-group discussions. The students worked in assigned small groups throughout the duration of the course providing consistency and allowing for the development of collaboration during the term.
Halfway into the semester, the class took a field trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Amid a plethora of information about the history and science of the caves, the students developed a new bond with the other members of the class who shared the weekend-long field experience. Atchison, one of the course’s professors and leader of the trip, observed, “A social community formed between the students that was not present in the weeks leading up to the field trip.” He reflected that the closeness this trip brought to the students benefited all of them in and out of the classroom on personal, social, and educational levels.
During the weeks following the trip to Mammoth Cave, the students spent their time reflecting on the course experience with their small groups and creating presentations about aspects of the course that had the most impact on them. In the last class of the semester, the small groups presented their experiences of the course, including sharing favorite pictures taken throughout the semester – both during class meetings and on the Mammoth Cave trip - and reflecting on their favorite moments. As part of the presentations, each group was asked to come up with a theme that best represented the collection of the group’s pictures.
Themes ranged from “friendships and learning” to “learning new experiences with different people.” A common reflection point from the students were the new discoveries they encountered on the trip to Mammoth Cave National Park. One TAP student‘s favorite photo was that of a door in the Cave. In his presentation he stated, “I chose this picture of a door to the cave because it was round and I hadn’t seen a door like that before.” One of the class’s traditional students stated in her presentation that “this experience was us coming together and teaching what we learned through our groups. By the end of the semester, we were all able to take each other’s strengths in the group and use them to succeed.” The course’s aerospace engineering student reflected, “It’s interesting to me that more majors don’t go on trips like this.”
This was the first semester this course was offered by CECH. The purpose of the course is to bring together students from a variety of backgrounds, offering the opportunity to learn from students in other programs. The class provides an opportunity for all participants to build critical thinking skills while developing an understanding and respect for others from different backgrounds. While offering a new perspective for both TAP and traditional students, the course prepares the traditional student to engage with students and individuals with disabilities in the classroom and the workplace. In addition, the TAP students are enabled to critically reflect on their own abilities, become more comfortable advocating for their needs, and gain knowledge of the nature of science, all while preparing to enter the work force following their time in college. Carnahan notes, “There is a difference between including and engaging students with disabilities.” The key to this course was engaging students in every learning opportunity provided by the class so that they developed high level content while learning throughout each class activity. These class activities focused mainly on problem solving and collaboration between students.
The success of this course was demonstrated through the reflections of both the traditional and TAP students, as well as the course’s instructors. Find more information about the Transition and Access Program or about this course here.