Keywords: Disabilities, Undergraduate, Engineering
There is an increase in college students who have been diagnosed with invisible disabilities (e.g., ADHD, anxiety) and an overall increase in the neurodiversity of the college student population nationwide. Some students obtain diagnoses and receive accommodations in high school, while others seek accommodations when they get to college. Suggested accommodations are based on high school accommodations (if applicable) and best practices for a given diagnosis. Accommodations, in the form of letters shared with the faculty, typically recommend providing students with additional time on assignments or tests or providing resources for increased multimodal instruction (e.g., lecture notes). Students are then responsible for reaching out to their faculty to initiate their accommodation request; faculty cannot legally initiate this conversation. Furthermore, faculty are asked to meet these accommodations and maintain confidentiality and do not have the right to initiate a conversation with the student about their disability. The faculty should also understand that a reasonable accommodation should not “fundamentally alter” any course or academic requirement that students are expected to meet.
At the same time, within engineering education specifically, there is an increase in the adoption of project-based learning and studio-based pedagogies. These pedagogies aim to create a learning environment that promotes more autonomy and opportunities for multi-modal instruction. Such approaches often include significant teamwork, just-in-time learning provided in conversation with instructors and teaching assistants, and public presentations or demonstrations of completed project work. While these changes serve the intended purpose of enhancing the learning of many students, there may be unintended consequences for students with non-visible disabilities or who are neurodivergent. For example, the noise and visual distractions in studio-based courses can be challenging for many students. Additionally, it can be challenging in team-based project assignments to give students extra time.
We seek to bridge the gap between accommodation measures based on traditional pedagogical approaches trends in classroom practice by developing recommendations for course design and individual accommodations that meet the needs of students learning in these environments. We have begun to envision and implement some changes within our own institution, which has a heavy emphasis on project-based learning and studio-based environments. Recommendations include measures such as attention to providing space (physically and psychologically) for teams to move to a quieter area to work, capturing spontaneous verbal team feedback in writing, and scaffolding and normalizing creation of team agreements to help students advocate for their needs. For this presentation, we seek to convene a larger discussion with others to create a broader vision and practice aimed at making recommendations about how to bridge the gap between current accommodations practices and emerging pedagogies and how to assess their efficacy.
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