by Marcene Robinson
Published October 7, 2021
To create more inclusive college classrooms that recognize the neurodiversity of students, UB has received a $293,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to build micro-credential training courses for computer science faculty.
The two-year grant will help improve the educational experiences of neurodivergent students who may have difficulties succeeding in courses designed for neurotypical students.
Neurodivergent individuals are people with neurological differences that affect the way they process information, communicate and view the world. They include people with various neurological conditions, some of which are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette syndrome.
The micro-credentials — a miniature course that provides training on specific skills — will be designed and tested by the UB Open Education Research Lab, an initiative to enhance and expand the use of free educational technologies and materials.
By displaying the micro-credentials on their faculty profile, computer science instructors can show their preparation and willingness to learn about student needs. The micro-credentials also serve as a safe space indicator by allowing neurodivergent students to identify faculty who are trained to support their needs, as well as assist students when choosing mentors or selecting courses, says Sam Abramovich, principal investigator on the grant and director of the UB Open Education Research Lab.
“Neurodivergent students are often attracted to STEM career paths and possess traits that would make them valuable members of the United States’ computing workforce, but drop out before graduation when they encounter misaligned teaching practices or instructors who discourage accommodations and supports for students with invisible disabilities,” says Abramovich, associate professor of learning and instruction and information science, Graduate School of Education.
“These micro-credentials will give instructors the training they need to transform their practice and create an ecosystem of belonging for neurodiverse undergraduate computer science students,” he says.
Additional investigators include co-principal investigator Adrienne Decker, assistant professor of engineering education, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Rachel Bonnette, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Learning and Instruction, Graduate School of Education; and Gregory Fabiano, professor of psychology, Florida International University.
The training will be co-designed by UB faculty and students, and build on a previous pilot course that improved teaching methods of instructors educating students with ADHD.
Upon completion, the UB Open Education Research Lab will publish the micro-credentials and curriculum on its website to allow other colleges and universities to freely access and update the tools.