Today, there is assistive technology to help with everything from note-taking to essay planning. And because no two brains function alike, these tools can make a huge difference in supporting neurodivergent student populations, or students whose brains work differently from the average “neurotypical” person.
But how can faculty members meet students where they are and use teaching techniques and tools to support and embrace neurodiversity?
To help professors bridge the gap between the present and future possibilities of this approach, the Fox School’s Online and Digital Learning unit, the Curriculum Management and Assessment & Accreditation department and the Dean's Office collaborated to offer Neurodiversity and the Inclusive Classroom, a workshop for Fox School faculty.
“The more resources and support that we can offer our faculty to help them better serve our students, the better,” says Laura Aboyan, director of Curriculum Management and Assessment & Accreditation. “Particularly with emerging issues or ones that haven’t typically been addressed in other professional development contexts.”
In the fall of 2022, the school hosted a workshop with a team of instructional designers to get a common set of priorities and vocabulary about neurodiverse teaching and learning in place. A Fox faculty workshop, led by Carrie Snyder, director of the Office of Disability Resources & Services (DRS) and Linda Hasunuma, assistant director for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT), felt like the next logical step.
This workshop focused on student experiences and provided concrete ways faculty can support neurodiverse learners to create a more inclusive classroom. A key outcome of the workshop was to raise faculty awareness of the variety of resources available to assure that Fox School courses meet the needs of every student.
“From the design of course content to assessment activities, improvements are relatively easy to make but have a high impact in engaging every learner,” says Mary Conran, professor of marketing and associate dean of academic programs and curriculum. “We know that faculty seek ways to assure equity in teaching. Addressing the needs of all learners, regardless of their diversity, including neurodiversity, is critical in building this system.”
Conran, a key facilitator in making this workshop possible, was inspired by how motivated her fellow faculty members are to make positive improvements for every student in their classroom.
“I was reminded that our faculty wants to do better and assure positive student experiences and outcomes,” she says. “CAT did several learning activities, but I think one of the most valuable things was a list of things to consider in designing courses and activities.”
Classroom considerations include:
Incorporating active learning, including collaborative learning, into teaching.
Helping students connect to course content, to see themselves in the course and to understand the real-world implications of the work in this field or course.
Using authentic learning approaches such as case-based learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning and community-based learning.
Building ways for students to pause and take stock of their understanding of course concepts during class.
Asking students to identify either the muddiest, most interesting or most relevant point(s).
Prompting students to think about how they prepare for class.
Dennis Paris, assistant professor of marketing, attended the workshop to develop better insights into how to help students with an improved course experience. This includes ensuring students feel supported, while also focusing on learning, inspiration, as well as inclusion and enjoyment.
Paris, who is also a member of the Fox and STHM Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council, mentioned that one of his favorite aspects of the workshop was listening to other instructors’ classroom experiences, brainstorming behavioral solutions and advice given by the experts from DRS and CAT running the workshop.
On what he intends to bring into the classroom, Paris says that he plans to “be more proactive with gentle approaches to conversations with students who appear to need additional learning support.”
He’s already found himself applying the lessons he’s learned.
“In just the short time since attending this workshop, I've had gentle conversations with multiple students that I may not have done so prior to this workshop,” says Paris. “The results have been overwhelmingly positive.”