On Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, CATL collaborated with Assistant Vice Chancellor Stacie Christian to host a student panel on neurodiversity. Six student panelists shared their experiences as neurodiverse learners, including common barriers and misconceptions related to neurodiversity. One of the topics the panel discussed was how instructors can support them. A few common themes emerged from students’ responses so we’ve compiled them below, along with resources for ways you might implement these recommendations in your teaching.
Make Assignment Details Transparent
The student panelists shared that they find it extremely helpful when professors explain the purpose of an assignment and provide clear instructions. Their recommendation aligns with the transparency in learning and teaching (TILT) framework, a concept you may be familiar with if you’ve taken LITE 201. The TILT framework is an evidence-based approach to assignment design in which instructors demystify activities by explaining their purpose, detailing the task that students need to complete, and providing concrete grading criteria. Not sure where to start? Check out this checklist for designing transparent assignments from TILT Higher Ed. Or, for a deeper dive into the topic, consider taking a look at this webinar recording on transparent assignment design.
Explicitly Communicate Your Support
One of the “unwritten rules” of college is that students can go to their instructors when they have a question about the course or the need to connect with another institutional resource, such as tutoring or counseling. While this fact may be obvious to some students, it is not to everyone. Whether due to anxiety, trouble picking up on subtext, or unfamiliarity with the norms of higher education, some students may not ask their instructor for help unless they are given explicit permission to do so. Panelists suggested that instructors include a statement in their syllabus to remind students that they can come to the instructor if they have questions or concerns for help and/or referral to the best resource. It’s a small action but adding a statement like this can help reassure students that you care about their success and wellbeing. For more ideas on how to create a welcoming syllabus, check out this post on liquid syllabi and CATL’s liquid syllabus template. If you want to explore other ways of building trust with your students, consider creating a “getting to know you” survey, establishing class norms, or incorporating a name pronunciation activity.
Provide Alternative Formats for Information
Several student panelists emphasized the importance of providing alternate ways of communicating information whenever possible. This recommendation is not only related to “multiple means of representation” from universal design for learning (UDL) theory, but it also aligns with best practices for digital accessibility. Adding alternative means of representation doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, if you include audio or video files in your course, try to pick resources that also provide captions or a transcript. Or, if you use images, make sure you include a caption or alt text when the image is being used to convey information. If you’d like to learn more about accessibility, we encourage you to sign up for LITE 120, a self-paced training course that covers the basics of accessibility in Canvas, as well as SAS’s training course on creating accessible documents (i.e., with Word, PowerPoint, or PDF).
Related Events and Opportunities
Want to learn more about supporting diverse learners? CATL’s “Workshop Wednesday” series this semester has two upcoming sessions that may be of interest to you! First, on Wednesday, Mar. 6, we’ll take a look at how to make course materials more accessible. Then, on Wednesday, Apr. 3, we’ll explore universal design for learning (UDL) and some practical ways to apply UDL concepts in our teaching and learning. Both workshops will be from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. via Zoom. Registration for the March workshop on accessibility is already open. Stay tuned for details on registration for April’s workshop.