Neurodiversity Institute

Aug 29, 2021

Leslie Alvarez, Director of the Office of Teaching & Learning and Alison Staudinger, Director of Faculty Development & Career Advancement  

Which of the following are true?

  1. People have “learning styles” and learn best when information is presented to them in the corresponding mode (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic).
  2. Dyslexia is a visual impairment where readers see letters backwards or in the wrong places.
  3. The first annual Neurodiversity Institute on August 17th and 18th was a powerful and communal engagement with Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Faculty who attended the first-ever Neurodiversity Institute this August already know that A and B are false, and C is true. Funded by a generous gift from a DU family whose student faced obstacles in one of his first-year classes, the Neurodiversity Institute was designed to spark change in faculty support for neurodiverse learners in the classroom. Nominated by leadership in their colleges or schools, attendees engaged and applied literature on neurodiverse student experiences and UDL to improve their courses, curriculum, and pedagogies.

Participants came from nine different colleges and programs across campus. But the impact of this event doesn’t stop with these 17 participants; each attendee committed to a concrete action, building on their work at the Institute and making it “public” in their program, field, or other academic community at DU. In this way, UDL values and practices—such as accessibility, choice, engagement, and executive function—will permeate the broader DU pedagogical culture, and inform course and curricular design. As 1 in 5 DU students have a recognized accommodation, this work is vital to student success and equity.

Professionals from the Learning Effectiveness Program, led by Scott Van Loo, supported by the Office of Teaching and Learning and the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, approached the Institute as a chance to model best practices. For example, they asked participants to practice deep listening in “dyads” which ensured that every person in the pair was able to speak uninterrupted. They offered materials in a variety of mediums, and gave participants time to process and reflect on content in writing and small groups. DU’s own Dr. Lauren McGrath (Psychology) facilitated a session on “Neuromyths,” which offered an introduction to commonly held education myths. Together with Christina Crowe (LEP), Dr. McGrath shared her own research while modeling best UDL practice, inviting faculty to engage their own assumptions about learning. On day two, faculty groups delved deeply into aspects of the three UDL principles, including: providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression to craft a presentation in lighting speed. Presentations offered (and modeled) ways to engage students, recruit their interest, and changes to classroom practice that support all learners, which may reduce the need for specialized accommodations.

Interested in learning more? Consider attending the OTL accessibility series; contact the OTL for a specialized course review focusing on UDL and accessibility; email LEP to get some feedback on your pedagogy or course design; or connect with a Neurodiversity Institute attendee to learn more about their experience and how it might inform your practice. These faculty committed not only two days of their summers to the vital work of equity for diverse learners, but to advancing a broader culture of support throughout their time at DU. We hope you are willing to join them!

Congratulations to the inaugural Neurodiversity Institute class of 2021!   

  • Erin Elzi, University Libraries 
  • Daniel Pittman, Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science 
  • Sandra Dixon, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences  
  • Lauren McGrath, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences  
  • Sanchari Das, Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science  
  • Prachi Sharma, Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science  
  • Jesse Acevedo, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences   
  • Heather Martin, Writing Program 
  • Salvador Mercado, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences    
  • Irina Khindanova, Daniels College of Business 
  • Effley Brooks, Pioneer Leadership Program 
  • Lynn Holland, Korbel School of International Studies  
  • Scott Toney, Daniels College of Business
  • Bridget Farrell, University Libraries 
  • Betsy Leonard, Morgridge College of Education  
  • Lindsey Reinert, ​​Morgridge College of Education