When George Mason University began its partnership with Wiley University Services in 2017, the faculty of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Graduate Program took note. Mason offers a Master’s in Special Education with a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorders that is also available as a stand-alone certificate. The concentration/certificate is a sequence of five courses that, unlike many other programs that focus on just one age group, covers the life span of individuals with autism. It prepares professionals to work with those individuals from birth all the way through the aging process in settings such as schools, group housing, therapy, the home, and more.
Challenge: Bring Real-World Experiences to Online Courses
The autism program does not include a field work requirement, so faculty members were looking for an effective way to introduce students to individuals with autism and allow them to observe their behavior. Since Wiley’s support services included media resources for programs included in the partnership, faculty members saw this as an opportunity to infuse a real-world element into the courses and visually present people with autism. “Our students have the textbook knowledge, but the partnership was an opportunity for us to be able to create an application piece that we had really been missing,” said Jodi M. Duke, Associate Professor of Education and the coordinator of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Graduate Program at Mason. “Our students could finish the whole program and never work with anyone with autism, which was a problem.” The best way to learn about autism, she believes, is to meet people with autism. But how could that happen in an online program?
Wiley’s Academic Services team worked with Mason faculty members to create a plan for recording video of four individuals—from eight to college age—at different levels of the autism spectrum, as well as their families. The videos would take a “case study” approach, in which students would be able to follow each individual’s story, with their particular challenges and achievements. By the final course, students were meant to feel like they had gained significant exposure into the lives of each person and a greater understanding of particular behaviors along the autism spectrum. The videos would also showcase strategies for helping children and adults with autism to learn and thrive.
The video recording required extensive planning and coordination about the types of behavior to be captured and where and how they would be integrated into the five courses. “Before we even went out and met these folks, we were starting to think of it from this really broad lens,” said Duke. Wiley’s instructional design team and the faculty created a matrix to organize the types of behaviors they wanted to capture, which course they would be for, and which assignment, using the curriculum to drive their planning. In addition, they wanted to make sure the videos would offer a rich learning experience that led to greater learning outcomes. For example, the course would also include the records from one individual’s ongoing assessments, including brain scans, allowing students to learn how to review records using real data. “We worked with some great instructional designers,” Duke added, noting their understanding of the program and close attention to the process.
The video team followed each individual for a few days, recording them at home and at school, and capturing interviews with their families and paraprofessionals. The recording process itself presented its own unique set of challenges. “Some of [Wiley’s] production team had never spent time around people with autism, and we were going to homes and schools with people with really significant challenges and behaviors,” said Duke. The production team had to be prepared to be sensitive to possible triggers for the video subjects, such as lights or noises from the equipment. “Everyone from the Wiley team was so respectful and kind, and I think the families felt so comfortable because of that,” Duke added.
While the shoots were meticulously planned, there was an element of risk, as there was no way to know if the team would be able to capture all of the behaviors they wanted or how the individuals would react. Fortunately, it did, along with some additional and unexpected footage that proved valuable.
“I think what surprised us the most is the difference in the products our students are producing, the difference in the richness of their thinking now,” said Duke, noting that students produce advanced behavior and literacy plans by the fourth and fifth classes, integrating learns from the different settings in the videos. Duke added that students also report having more confidence about working as practitioners.
In a survey conducted by Mason, all students agreed (with 78.3 percent strongly agreeing) that the videos improved their understanding of the diverse nature of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and how it impacts people’s lives across their lifespans. More than 95 percent of students felt a connection with the video subjects. “I will remember these four very different individuals and their families forever,” one said. “Their honesty made me forever change how I communicate with families.”
Other reactions from students were similarly positive:
- “I feel that I learn best from being in or seeing the situation. The videos allow this to happen and help me pull all the information together.”
- “The videos give our assignments a more realistic feel and encourage greater ownership of the material and our work.”
- “It’s one thing to read about characteristics or listen to a professor talk about them in the lesson, but much more effective to see it in practice, so to speak. I work with students that do not need as much support so it’s very helpful for me to see individuals that need more.”
“Students are so engaged–they’re so passionate about bettering the lives of people with autism, they’re so committed to the program,” said Duke. “It’s fast-paced, and they are keeping up and they’re putting in the effort and the time.”
Duke credits Mason’s partnership with Wiley for improving the quality of the program and raising its reputation and profile, resulting in more enrollments. “Our program is so grateful to the partnership for just the opportunity for growth and expansion and for making the program better than it was, for providing resources that we would never have been able to access.”
Wiley University Services Offerings
Wiley is responsible for these services in the partnership:
Program Design and Development
Marketing and Brand Management
Student Retention Services
24×7 Help Desk
Institution’s Roles and Responsibilities
The University handles the following areas:
Curriculum and Content
Faculty & Instruction
To learn more about how Wiley University Services can assist in your institution’s challenges, click here or call 630-366-2900.