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Diana Cassie


Diana is a Learning Disabilities Counsellor and Registered Psychologist (Candidate Register) at Dalhousie University’s Counselling Centre. Her work with Dalhousie students involves screening for learning disabilities and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and providing personal counselling for students with LD/ADHD. Her research interests span career-relevant learning, life transitions and self-efficacy. Diana holds a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.


A Course for Post-secondary Students with LD/ADHD

Diana Cassie, Learning Disabilities Counsellor and Psychologist, Dalhousie University Counselling Centre

Diana Cassie discussed an experimental course that she had designed and that is currently in development. The university and college experience is riddled with new challenges for everyone, she noted. The transition for students with learning disabilities or ADHD or both can be more complex because of these additional challenges:

  • Pace of learning
  • Self-directed nature of the learning
  • Nature of the instruction (focus on verbal communication and reading)
  • Type of learning resources used (learning resources at post-secondary resource centres are often different from those available in high school)
  • Demand for self-advocacy (often, new students do not have the skills to self-advocate effectively)
  • Social challenges (for example, the extra time required to complete tasks can contribute to social isolation)

Cassie discussed the importance of responsiveness to the needs of students with learning disabilities or ADHD, citing studies that show evidence of the benefits of course intervention. She then outlined selected elements of the experimental course that she is designing for students with learning disabilities or ADHD.

Cassie uses the acronym ICPOGMUER to refer to all elements of a meta-strategy for navigating the complexities of the curriculum development process. Each element represents a step in the process, and yet the steps can be followed in varying orders and can be repeated as needed.

The elements of the ICPOGMUER meta-strategy are these:

  • Image

    Design must start with a clear understanding of the intended learner. In developing a curriculum or program, students with learning disabilities or ADHD and those who work with them should be consulted. Available theories and research can provide additional information. The end result is a list of potential learning outcomes. This list will always be much longer than can ultimately be included in any course of study.

  • Category system

    The possible learning outcomes are analyzed and classified. One classification system divides outcomes into three categories: knowledge, skills, and affect.

  • Priorities

    Learning outcomes are prioritized. Learning outcomes that are of secondary and tertiary importance based on factors such as time and resources available, the skills and training of the instructor, and the potential for similar learning outcomes in other courses, are eliminated.

  • Organizers

    Learning outcomes are analyzed to see if “content organizers” that could link the outcomes to enhance clarity and facilitate instruction are present. One approach is to organize the information into three learning contexts: learning pertinent to self, learning pertinent to interpersonal situations, and learning pertinent to the world at large (also called SOS—“self, others, and situations”). The SOS system of organization also helps in organizing learning outcomes by “level of knowledge” (from simple to complex—“know about, know how to, and be able to”).

  • Growth

    The program designers consider the intended learners: where they are and where they could be after the instructional facilitation. They then set targets for growth.

  • Methodology

    The methodology is chosen. Creative and motivational instructional methods are selected to facilitate learner movement from lower to higher levels of growth. For example, instructors might want to employ assistive technologies, e-mentoring and e-coaching, or specialized tutoring to aid learning.

  • Units

    Instructional units can be as basic as an instructional sequence, and as complex as a course of study. The basic unit in university tends to be a “lecture.”

  • Evaluation

    Evaluation tools are identified that can be used to facilitate the learners’ performance, the educator’s instruction, and the management of the course.

  • Resources

    Relevant instructional resources are identified, described, and found. One tool is personal history documentation software, which allows students to identify and organize their career-relevant attributes—for example, formal education, values, hobbies, and so on.

During the ensuing discussion, one participant asked how students with learning disabilities would be included in the theoretic and abstract process described. Cassie said that the course was still in the development stage and that she hoped to hold some focus groups. She added that she hoped eventually to offer the course for credit. Asked if the course could be offered online, she said she envisioned it taking place in a more traditional classroom setting with extensive interpersonal contact.

Celebrating 20 years