Access Academy is a learning strategies program for students with disabilities offered by the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) Center at the University of North Florida. Access Academy offers “Boost” sessions based on tenets of the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) created by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. Boost sessions focus on learning strategies in writing, memory, and test taking, as well as notetaking and studying. Boost sessions for life skills include time management, stress management, and self-advocacy. Along with these areas, two career strategies sessions focus on resumes and interviewing, disability-related employment law, and workplace accommodations. Boost sessions are three weeks long with an hour of in-person class time each week.
Access Academy originated in 2011 serving just a handful of students in its first year. Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, the program has grown greatly in scope and scale. Over the last three years, students have successfully completed 833 Boost sessions in the content areas mentioned above. Access Academy is offered to students at all levels from freshmen to doctoral. Emphasis is placed on engaging incoming freshmen with disabilities to start their college career with the supports they need to be successful.
Continual program evaluation is vital to the success of Access Academy. Quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed each semester to continually improve Boost sessions to best fit the needs and goals of SAS students. Over the last three years, students who participated in at least three semesters of Boost sessions had a GPA of 3.31, compared to a GPA of 3.08 for SAS students who did not participate. During this same time period, Access Academy participants graduated from UNF with a 3.32 GPA, compared to a GPA of 3.17 for SAS students who did not participate, and a GPA of 3.21 for all UNF undergraduates.
These comparisons are correlational but show a trend of Access Academy participants maintaining higher GPAs than their comparison groups. Every Access Academy participant is required to complete an end of course survey to provide anonymous feedback about their experiences in their Boost sessions. Students’ feedback is reviewed each semester to guide content revision and instructional strategies that best fit the students’ needs and goals.
Covid-19 impacted all of us greatly. The Access Academy staff believed that the program was too vital to cease during UNF’s mandatory remote time. Students needed programmatic supports more than ever. The program staff worked diligently to convert all the previously in-person Boost sessions to an online instructional model using UNF’s Canvas Learning Management System. In retrospect, building online versions of the courses was paramount to sustain the program during remote times, but also has offered the possibility of creating new ways to make Boost sessions more accessible to students and create pathways for new teaching methodologies.
We are looking now to the future of Access Academy. Our instructional model is currently getting a facelift to ensure that every minute is valuable learning time for our students. We are incorporating a flipped classroom model to begin in August 2022. A flipped classroom is a model of blended learning that combines online and in-person learning environments. In this model, students will study the learning materials using our Access Academy Canvas modules before their scheduled in-person sessions. During the in-person sessions, the Access Academy facilitators will work with students in one-to-one and small group settings to apply knowledge obtained from the online modules to real world applications. As an example, a student will learn about time management strategies in the online modules. The student will then attend their in-person Boost sessions to receive coaching to implement their preferred time management strategy, so it is personally meaningful for their goals. We believe that this will make learning more efficient and dynamic by reinforcing the material learned in ways that can be tailored to the individual student’s needs. With the continued support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are excited about the future of Access Academy and the students who will benefit from this program during their time at UNF and beyond.