The Education and Skills Training Program (ESTR) at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is an employment preparation program for individuals with cognitive disabilities. The program facilitates the development of essential skills (HRSDC) in numeracy, literacy, the acquisition of communication and interpersonal relationship skills, the understanding and use of technology, and the development of employability skills and good work habits. Students also participate in lab placements within businesses where they build hands on work skills and work experience placements in the community to develop experience and connections to the world of work. Through their experiences in the ESTR program students develop relationships with their peers, the wider TRU Community, and with employers and their staff who participate in the program.
As instructors and work experience coordinators we have observed that some of our students are more successful than others in our program in gaining and sustaining employment. We have also noted that even though some of our students do not gain paid employment after completing our program, their social relationships and lifestyle are impacted in a positive way by participating in the ESTR Program and by being a part of campus life at TRU. In addition to this observation, we also noted that the most successful students in gaining employment and making positive changes in their lives were not necessarily those students who had the highest literacy and numeracy scores nor did they always obtain the best grades in completing classroom work.
However, we began to realize that we had no formal acknowledgement or formal tools of measurement within our program for the intangible gains that students experience while attending our program on this campus. However, through the ASE Outcomes Survey (Prov. BC 2007) we know that the students feel that these changes are happening. These intangibles include the development of self-determination, self-confidence, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging within the community.
What We are Beginning to Know We are now beginning to observe and understand how important these intangibles are to the success of our program and our students.
Self-determination: David Seaton (2012) explains that historically people with disabilities were “looked after” as they were considered incapable of looking after themselves. They were often institutionalized so that they would be “safe” and thus kept away from the mainstream of society. Self-determination grew out of the independent living and disabilities rights movements begun in the 1960’s. Self-determination then became a right.
Four governing principles; freedom which is the ability to plan a life, authority which is the ability to control a certain sum of dollars and determine how it is to be spent, responsibility which is accepting a role in the community through either employment or volunteer work, and support which includes both formal and informal supports allowing the first of these three principles to happen. (Wehmeyer & Palmer 2000, 2003, 2006)
Self-Confidence: Self Confidence, being one of those intangibles is defined by Jan Eldred (Eldred et al, 2004) as being “a belief in one’s own abilities to do something in a specific situation. This belief, includes feeling accepted and on equal terms with others in the situation.”(p?) Other authors Hammond (2004) and Schuller et al (2002) have linked self-confidence to both success in learning and gains in other areas of the learners’ lives. Eldred developed a qualitative grid by which learners in a variety of literacy classes could record changes in confidence experienced through learning and whether these changes were positive or negative. Although we have observed changes in the self-confidence of our students, we have not attempted to measure it nor have we determined what exists in our curriculum that promotes the growth of self-confidence in our students.
Confidence has a feeling component: “feeling positive,” “feeling that you can cope,” “feeling somebody, feeling valued and achieving.” It also has a doing component: “meeting new people,” “it’s doing new things…gaining new skills…trying new things.” Talking: “speaking up for yourself,” “about talking to new and different people”
Inclusion characteristics of an inclusive environment, a supportive environment, positive relationships, feelings of competence and opportunities to participate.
Referring back to the “Salamanca Agreement” (UNESCO, 1994) inclusion and participation were recognized as being essential to human dignity and an essential human right. It has been defined as both an increase in access and participation (Mittler, 2000) and being about respect, equality and belonging. Al Condeluci ( 20??) refers to the old TV show “Cheers” as being an excellent example of inclusion where all of the main characters are part of a community, that accepts them for who they are with all of their foibles. One of the lines of the theme song is “I want to be where everyone knows my name; and they are always glad I came.” ( Portnoy & Angelo, 1982) One of the main objectives of the ESTR program is that our students are appropriately included at Thompson Rivers University and that they learn the skills to be valued and included in the world of work.
Some of the most positive changes in the lives of students that we observe include the development of interpersonal relationships and support networks. Balatti, Black and Falk (2007) discuss the three areas where they observed students experiencing social capital outcomes. The first area is the formal networks within the classroom. In the ESTR program students develop strong relationships with each other and with the faculty in the safe environment of a classroom or lab. Activities that involve group work, peer mentoring, and team building encourage this and help students to begin to develop social capital. The second area is networks with teachers. The instructors at TRU provide information and connection with groups on and off campus to provide support that also increases the student’s network. The third area mentioned by Balatti, Black and Falk is the long-term networks that develop with the other students. We are seeing more and more of our alumni staying connected both with each other and with TRU and the faculty here. Alumni often return just to say hello and at other times they are invited to return and talk to our present students about their jobs and how their lives have changed. We are also observing additional social capital outcomes developing. The location of the ESTR program on the University campus has provided many opportunities for the students to develop relationships with other students outside of the program. Some students have joined clubs or regularly attend Coffee Nights, Movie nights etc. The best Buddies Program has recently been initiated on campus which pairs ID students with other students with the goal of developing friendships and shared activities. Another important area where the ESTR program works to develop social capital is through the Labs and Work Experience placements. Students begin to develop those important relationships with people in the employment sector that are there to provide continued mentorship and support to graduates. Parris and Granger (2008) discuss the relationship between social capital and the ability to find employment. They particularly point out that work placements build the “bank” of social capital for the individual with a disability.
Outcomes: Opportunity to use and apply learned skills for all students Building stronger relationships with community organizations through sponsorship Building self-confidence in students Promoting a more inclusive community
Technology and Social Media Working with technology has always been a part of the ESTR program as students have had computer classes in every semester and computer assignments are included in most of the courses. In the past few years, technology has played an ever increasing role in connecting our students to formal networks within the classroom, networks with instructors, and social networks with peers through computers and cell phones. These forms of social media include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, e mail, and texting. For our students the advent of social media has produced both new challenges and new opportunities. For some individuals with severe disabilities access to social media sites can be life changing. Glenda Watson-Hyatt writes on her blog, “Social media gives voices to individuals marginalized and ignored by traditional media, enabling the world to hear these persons for the first time in history.” Mike Resnick (2002) introduced the concept of sociotechnical capital, or making use of social software tools to facilitate social contact between people. Wellman and Haase (2002) also make the connection between the use of social tools on the internet and the creation of social capital. Social media can be the antidote to isolation. In addition a study by Zhoa (2006) finds that users who make use of social applications on line have more social contacts than those who do not. Our observations with ESTR students are that technology and social media are very motivating and enable our students to maintain contact with each other and with us as faculty. On the other hand it also creates great social challenges for our students. They often respond impulsively to posts and get themselves into social disputes and conflicts. Instructors and Work Experience Coordinators have found that connecting through social media has been a great tool both for keeping in contact with students when they are out on work experience placements and also for keeping connected with host employers. We have recently set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account in order to encourage communication with students and alumni.
Have to ask Leanne for pics from digital stories to add to slide
Personal Wellbeing Index (Cummins, Lau, 3rd Edition 2005) How happy are you about: The things you have? – like money and the things you own How healthy you are Getting along with the people you know How safe you feel doing things away from home How happy are you about things that may happen to you later in your life For those students who have difficulties how to do we help them to build networks?
Connecting Social Capital to Learning
By: Lois Peters and Saskia Stinson
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
“Reaffirming the universality, indivisibility,
interrelatedness of all human rights and fundamental
freedoms and the need for
persons with disabilities to be guaranteed their full
Creating a Paradigm Shift
Social Capital- networks
and relationships that
create social cohesion
Postsecondary programs and curriculum for people with
cognitive disabilities that provide experiences for
students, that establish social capital, will serve to create
a sustainable shift for employment success and inclusion
in the community.
Global- UN Human Rights
Provincial-BC Schools: Diversity Framework & CLBC
QOL Construct/Community Employment Action Plan
Postsecondary-TRU ESTR Program- classes, labs,
Constructivist Theory: Levi Vygotsky (1962)
Knowledge Construction is linked to how individuals
interact with the world around them, both materially
and socially. Learning is an active and socially mediated
experience. (Ebgo, 2009, p.19-20)
Human Capital (Smith, 1776, Hansen 1970) skills and knowledge
Social Capital(Bourdieau, 1986, Putman, 2000) relationships
capital as resources,
both tangible and
symbolic, that create
society via social
Other types of
How a person goes
about living their daily
life and interacts with
other forms of capital
Quality of Life
(QOL) Construct Dr.
overriding principal to
contextual environment where a person
lives and goes about their daily life
Postsecondary Education, Employment
What we know
Some of our students are more successful in gaining and
Social relationships and life style are impacted in a
ASE Outcomes Survey (2007)
Made me more confident in myself – opened me up tto
what is out there – for employment.
Helped me think I can get a job and keep it.
Made new friends. Made me less shy.
What we are beginning to know
self-determination (Seaton, 2012) empowerment
self-confidence (Eldred, Ward, & Dutton, 2004) belief
in one’s self
inclusion in community (Reynolds 1988) access and
What we are beginning to know
We are also beginning to know that these intangibles
are and expression of a person’s well being.
And that they impact on a persons happiness with life
as a whole
Where students experience social capital
Formal Networks within the classroom
Networks with instructors
Long-term networks with other students (Balatti, et al 2007)
Networks to TRU campus life
Networks to workplace through labs and practicum
Establish and re-establish community connections
Presenting at internal functions Teaching and Learning Colloquium
Language Culture and Community Summer Research Institute
Collaborative Projects with other departments
Taking practicum students from other programs
New Life Mission Project
Interdisciplinary project with HUMS Program
Peer driven and faculty supported
Networking with students in other program
Strengthening relationships with community groups
Students connecting with seniors to learn about their
life and work history
Integration of technology using i-Pads and PPT
Article written reflecting the experience of
participants in the project
What we have yet to know
How to measure the intangibles (Personal Wellbeing
Index; Catching Confidence Tool)
How to teach students to build networks: students,
campus, employer, service providers and broader
How to use social media: FB /Twitter/TRU Website
How to integrate technology: cell phones; audio visual;
podcasts, iPad and SMART Board
Case Studies - An Intercultural Dialogue: Multiple
Case Studies of Adults with Cognitive Disabilities in
Mexico and Canada
Interviews – Experiment with Personal Wellbeing
Index and Catching Confidence Tool
What kinds of professional networks do participants
have that support and enhance your programs and
How are participants here using social media and
technology to establish networks (social capital)?
What kinds of program and service changes could be
used to enhance a student’s formal and informal