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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Project] : Reports

Analysis of a questionnaire to assess the staff development needs in relation to disability of the DEMOS universities

14 August 2001

Mike Wray
Project Coordinator
DEMOS Project
HEFCE Disability Initiative 2000-2002


  1. Introduction
  2. Method
  3. Participants
  4. Results
  5. Discussion

[The entire report, including tables and graphical analysis, is available for download as ZIP file of MS Word 2000 documents (217Kb), requires Winzip or similar software to extract.]


The Demos project aims to deliver a range of staff development materials using the World Wide Web and in particular online learning pedagogy. These materials are aimed at academic staff in the four universities in the Manchester area (University of Manchester, the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), the University of Salford and the University of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology (UMIST)) and their subject matter is the support of disabled students in the learning environment. The project is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) under strand three of its special funding programme - 'Improving provision for disabled students'.

The rationale for the project came from concern within the Demos university's disability offices that academic staff were unable to attend traditional centrally organised staff development events. Furthermore, that with the increases in the number of students entering higher education and a corresponding increase in the number of disabled students and recent legislation that seeks to improve the quality of support of disabled students (the Quality Assurance Agency's Code of Practice and the Disability Discrimination Act Part 4) the need to address this issue is becoming critical.

Although a need for staff development has already been identified through the rationale of the project it is seen as necessary to investigate the nature of this need in more depth. Therefore a range of needs analysis activities are taking place throughout the course of the project. As part of this process a questionnaire was circulated throughout the universities. As the project is investigating the use of the www and online learning as a method of delivery it was thought appropriate that the questionnaire should be circulated through electronic means.



Each university has a staff announcement facility on its IT systems. At the University of Salford this is a message screen that users see when logging into their network and at the other three universities it is by means of emails that are sent to all staff who use that facility. An electronic message that briefly described the project and asked academic staff to access the questionnaire through the Demos website was circulated using these means.




There was an uneven spread across the universities in the location of respondents. The majority of completed questionnaires coming from the University of Manchester and UMIST (80%).

Table 1. Number of respondents to the training needs questionnaire in each university.
University Number of respondents
Manchester 66
MMU 15
Salford 6
Other 5
Total 133

Job role

Even though the electronic message asked those people with teaching responsibilities to fill out the questionnaire there were a further 27 questionnaires received from administrative and other staff.

Table 2. Number of respondents to the training needs questionnaire reported by type of role.
Job role Number of respondents
Academic 79
Research 17
Academic-related 10
Admin + other 27
Total 133

There were 119 full-time and 11 part-time staff who responded to the questionnaire. Three respondents provided no data regarding their hours of work.

Subject area

Staff were also asked to indicate which subject area they specialised in. These categories were taken from the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) subject centres. After questionnaires were received back it was clear that Education should have been added as a further category.

Table 3. Number of Respondents in each of the LTSN subject areas.
Subject area Number of respondents
Art 1
Bioscience 9
Business Studies 10
Built Environment 1
Education 2
Engineering 7
English 1
Geography 2
History 1
Health 3
Languages 6
Computer Science 6
Law 3
Materials 3
Performing Arts 1
Maths 3
Philosophy 1
Medicine 8
Psychology 3
Physical Science 8
Social Policy 5
Sociology 7

Due to the small numbers in each category there are no results of particular significance to report. Similar numbers of completed questionnaires were received from arts and humanities subjects as from science subjects.



A total of 133 questionnaires where completed and submitted. This section will discuss noteworthy details from the analysis of responses to each of the individual questions.

[Note: Tables and graphical analysis of these questions are included in the downloadable file - see top of this document.]

How much time have you spent attending staff development in the last 2 years?
It is difficult to report on the average number of hours spent in staff development activities from the data since the last three highest values do not represent a continuous data series. The last category may skew the average by an unknown value because it is open ended, i.e. 'more than twenty hours'. Therefore the median is reported here to describe the data (median=3). The mode also rests at the low end of this scale, i.e. in the 'zero hours' category. However, this contrasts with the second most popular category at the top end of the scale i.e. the 'more than 20 hours' category.

How much time have you spent attending staff development events related to disability in the last two years?
Only 33% (n=44) of respondents had attended any disability-related staff development events in the last two years.
In order the calculate the mean for this category a figure of 15 hours was estimated for the one respondent who said they had attended more than ten hours of disability related training in the last two years. With this estimate the mean is just less that one (m=0.98 n=133). The mode and the median are both zero.

Please indicate the main topic/s of coverage of the disability related training.
Respondents were asked to fill this section in using a free text box. Answers were categorised. The main area of coverage of disability training was 'general disability awareness' (n=28). The next two most attended events were in the areas of dyslexia (n=12) and the Disability Discrimination Act (n=11).

How high on your list of priorities is attending staff development courses related to disability issues?
Participants were asked to rate this question on a scale of one to ten with one indicating 'top of list' and ten 'not on list'. The scores on this answer were fairly evenly spread. The most popular answer (mode) was '5' and the median was also '5'. 44% of respondents rated this question as being under the midpoint (5.5). Whilst 56% rated this question above the mid-point.

In terms of teaching, how important do you rate issues relating to disabled students?
Participants were asked to rate this question on a scale of one to ten with one indicating 'very important' and ten 'not important'. The most popular response to this question was 'one' (mode=1 median=1). Scores were skewed to the high importance end of the scale.

How confident do you feel about teaching disabled students?
Participants were asked to rate this question on a scale of one to ten with one indicating 'very confident' and ten 'not at all confident'. The most popular response was 5 (mode=5, median=5). The scores were skewed towards the higher confidence end of the scale. 73% rated their confidence as being above the midpoint (5.5) and only 27% rated their confidence as under the mid-point.

How much time would you be prepared to commit to training related to disability over the next 2 years?
Almost every (except one) respondent said they would be willing to commit to attending at least one hour of training over the next three years. 57% said they would be willing to attend four or more hours.

What are your reasons for wanting to attend disability training?
Respondents were able to tick as many reasons as they liked and they were also allowed to add other reasons in a free text box.
The most popular choice for wanting to attend training was 'to increase my overall awareness' (n=82, 68%), followed by 'part of my role' (n=62, 52%), 'general interest' (n=48, 40%) and 'need to develop my teaching' (n=47, 39%).

What are your reasons for not wanting to attend disability training?
Respondents were able to tick as many reasons as they liked and they were also allowed to add other reasons in a free text box.
The most popular choices were 'no time' (n=58, 48%), 'don't teach many disabled students' (n=43, 36%) and 'events clash with my timetable' (n=31, 26%).

If you are interested in attending events in the future what areas would you like to see covered?
All topics that were listed under this question appeared popular. The item least chosen was 'what is dyslexia' (n=30, 25%). The three most popular topics were 'general disability awareness training' (n=64, 52%), 'practical advice re: teaching disabled students' (n=65, 53%) and 'supporting dyslexic students' (n=57, 47%).

If you are interested in disability-related training what delivery method would you prefer?
Respondents were asked to choose their top three choices on this item. Electronic means were a popular choice 'Information on the WWW' being the most popular (n=80, 62%) and 'online learning' (n=49, 38%). More traditional methods all received support; 'am/pm sessions' (n=64, 49%), 'books/guides/leaflets' (n=62, 48%) and 'lunchtime briefings' (n=59, 45%). The least popular choices were 'conference' (n=7, 5%) and 'distance learning' (n=17, 13%).



Although the vast majority of staff across the four universities will have received an electronic message regarding the existence of the online questionnaire the response rate was relatively poor. There are 3162 [1] teaching staff across the four institutions and we received 133 completed questionnaires, of which only 79 were from academic staff. This translate into a response rate of 2.5%.

It was interesting to find that the majority of the responses came from 2 of the institutions (the University of Manchester and UMIST). One reason that the response from the University of Salford was low could be that the staff message board appears as part of the login procedure to the network. Messages may get bypassed as users rush to login each time they sit down at their workstations. The findings of this report should therefore be treated with some caution since the original objective was to find out the training needs of academic staff from across the institutions.

Also, due to this poor response rate it was decided that the questionnaire would be re-circulated by paper in the University of Salford and the Manchester Metropolitan University. Results from these investigations will be reported elsewhere.

Staff in this sample appear to be engaged in very little staff development activity. The average number of hours that people have spent in training over the last 2 years is 3 hours (i.e. 1.5 hours per year). This is quite a low value when we consider that full-time academic staff are contracted to work approximately 1600 hours per year [2].

Although we were interested in centrally organised staff development rather that faculty focused development activities, one possibility for these low figures is that people are attending external courses or courses that are run within the departments and faculties.

Interestingly the graphical analysis of the responses to this question was U-shaped. Perhaps some of the explanation of these figures can be rested at the different definitions that staff, particularly academic staff place on staff development. Some academics may have included what could be described as more scholarly activities (subject-focused), such as attending conferences, into their reporting, whilst others at the low end of the scale may not have.

Not surprisingly then, the number of respondents who have attended disability-related activities is very low. However, this can not be explained by respondents ratings of how important they view issues relating to disabled students i.e. most respondents rated the issues as important. So why are staff not attending much training?

Perhaps the reason for low attendance figures can be explained by how confident respondents rated themselves when teaching disabled students (the responses were skewed towards the top end of the confidence rating scale). Further, about half of respondents didn't rate attending training as being high on their list of priorities. We can only speculate as to why training is not seen as very important. There are a number of reasons that may cause this and we got a view of some of these when we asked what reasons staff had for not attending events. Many reported that they didn't have time and that events clashed with their timetable. Staff development events usually require staff leaving their normal work environment for a whole morning or afternoon session, or a day or more at a time. One answer might be online learning as a delivery method since it cuts out the need for leaving the departmental environment and can be accessed as and when learners have a spare hour. However, learners still need to find the actual time to complete any online activity and this can lead to conflicting priorities when they are still within their workplaces.

A considerable number of respondents report that they don't teach many disabled students. Disability Offices often point to the fact that many disabilities are hidden and the teaching staff may not be aware that they are teaching disabled students. Furthermore, that design of teaching materials should take heed of the needs of a varied student base and hence staff need to be more proactive in their approach. However, we should not get carried away into thinking that the results here verify what many consider to be misconceptions of teaching staff since many of the respondents are not in teaching roles.

Also of note is the fact that the low attendance rate is in contrast to the level of keenness of staff to attend events. Nearly every single respondent said they would be willing to attend one hour of training in the next two years and 57% said they were willing to attend fours hours or more. Respondents were also interested in a wide spectrum of topics. Whilst one hour may not seem a huge amount of time to commit to such activity it does reflect a willingness to become engaged even if on a peripheral level.

Most of the topics that are being covered by the modules in the Demos material were popular choices when respondents were asked which topic areas they would like to see covered. The lowest response rating for this question was for the topic 'what is dyslexia'. However this may be explained by the fact that another item was 'supporting dyslexic students'.

The Demos rationale was vindicated to a certain extent in that delivery through the WWW and through online learning was a popular choice for learning about disability. However, the more traditional methods that are currently employed with the 4 institutions were also just as popular (am/pm sessions and book/leaflets/guides). However, as reported above it should be noted that the am/pm session format does suffer from the problem that staff have difficulty finding time to attend events.



[1] 1190 - MMU, 450 - UMIST, 788 - Salford, 734 - Manchester   [Back to text]

[2] This is calculated as 37 hours per week x 52 weeks = 1924 hours. Annual leave : 35 days + 8 bank holidays = (42 days + 5 ) x 37 = 310 hours. Therefore total working time = 1614 hours.   [Back to text]