Week 2

13/07/2020 – 17/07/2020

At the start of week 2 we presented our literature review presentations to each other and our supervisors. Through this we identified areas which overlapped and areas which differed between the three conditions. For example, conditions themselves can overlap, and in all three conditions the research suggested that many students faced barriers to disclosure and social isolation. There were differences in students’ awareness of support and adjustments and how they would go about accessing it. It was interesting to hear the research relating to the other student researchers topics as we will be working so closely together. Following the presentations, many questions came to light which we were able to discuss as a group to develop our research questions.

To inform our knowledge of student experiences at the University of Reading we spoke to the Education, Diversity and Welfare Reading University Students Union (RUSU) Officers. We discussed findings from a recent mental health survey at the University which found that students at the University of Reading struggled to speak to their peers about their difficulties. We thought this might be interesting to measure in our survey so that we can compare the three conditions. It was also highlighted that students were unaware of some support services and how to access them which suggests that more could be done to promote the available services. We also discussed assessment changes due to Coronavirus and how these methods may be more inclusive for students with MHC’s, ASD and SpLD. For example, online assessments can be completed in a comfortable environment over a longer period of time, which reduces anxiety and provides more opportunities for individuals to demonstrate their cognitive abilities. However, it is unclear whether these changes could be implemented permanently.

We were also able to organise a meeting with the Life Tools Service Manager who is part of the Student Wellbeing Services department at the University. We felt this meeting was relevant to our project as the Life Tools programme have a focus on student wellbeing and developing skills to do well both at a personal and academic level to manage the demands of university. In this meeting we discussed barriers to disclosure of their diagnoses such as during the UCAS application process where it was felt that students may not disclose their condition due to concerns about it possibly having a negative impact on their application. Another reason for delayed or non-disclosure is that students may feel that university will offer them a fresh start so they want to try it themselves without initial support. Life Tools have gone online due to Coronavirus and there has been a noticeable increase in attendance for sessions. This modality makes them more accessible, provides more flexibility, and anonymity making them less daunting to attend. As the webinars are recorded, they can be watched in the students own time, which could be a factor that makes them more accessible

Conducting these interviews via Microsoft Teams has enabled us to gain a sense of how to conduct virtual interviews. One of the key issues we identified was the slightly unnatural flow of conversation due to there not being such noticeable non-verbal cues. To overcome this in our participant interviews we will use pauses when appropriate so participants have time to reflect on the questions and formulate their responses. At the beginning of each interview we will highlight to participants what these pauses are for so that they do not feel uncomfortable. This will also aid transcription as people are less likely to speak over one another.

The main task for this week was to complete the school level ethics application and submit it to our supervisors so they could review it before we finalise it next week. Completing this encouraged us to think about our project processes in more detail as this information is required for approval. In order to complete our ethics application we created draft documents for the following: online recruitment email and social media posts; information and consent forms; demographic questionnaire; sample survey and interview questions; debriefing information and signposting sheet; and additional data protection information sheet.

We are impressed with the progress we have made this week and how well we have managed our time. We hope to continue this in the weeks to come, and look forward to starting to create our survey next week!

Post written by: Bryony, Charis and Michelle