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Collaborative Neurodiversity Institute with Sarah Mooney

Welcome to Episode 105 of the Think UDL podcast: Collaborative Neurodiversity Institutes with Sarah Mooney. Sarah Mooney is the Associate Director of the Learning Effectiveness Program at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. The Learning Effectiveness Program is an academic support program for students with learning disabilities that supports learning and neurodiversity at the University of Denver. Since 1982, the LEP has developed innovative and comprehensive supports for their students and serves over 350 students each year. Together with the Office of Teaching and Learning and representatives from across campus including Disability Services and Faculty Affairs, they have put together a very successful Neurodiversity Institute for the faculty that is growing and improving the teaching and learning landscape as well as student success broadly at University of Denver. In this conversation we learn all about the Neurodiversity Institute and discuss the impetus for such an institute for faculty, the collaboration across campus that has made it a success, and the long-standing student-focussed support program for neurodiverse students from which it came. We also hear advice and encouragement from Sarah for implementing something similar at your institution.


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Lillian Nave, Sarah Mooney

Lillian Nave  00:02

Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 105 of the think UDL podcast. Collaborative Neurodiversity Institutes with Sarah Mooney. Sarah Mooney is the Associate Director of the Learning Effectiveness Program at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. The Learning Effectiveness Program is an academic support program for students with learning disabilities that supports learning and neurodiversity at the University of Denver. Since 1982, the LEP has developed innovative and comprehensive supports for their students, and it serves over 350 students each year. Together with the Office of Teaching and Learning and representatives from across campus, including disability services and Faculty Affairs. They’ve put together a very successful neurodiversity Institute for the faculty that is growing and improving the teaching and learning landscape, as well as student success broadly, at the University of Denver. In this conversation, we learn all about the neurodiversity Institute, and discuss the impetus for such an institute for faculty, the collaboration across campus that has made it a success, and the long standing student focused support program for Neuro diverse students from which it came. We also hear advice and encouragement from Sarah, for implementing something similar at your institution. Thank you for listening. Thank you to our sponsor, Texthelp, a global technology company helping people all over the world to understand and to be understood, it has led the way in creating innovative technology for the workplace, and education sectors, including K 12. right through to higher education for the last three decades. So thank you, Sarah Mooney for joining me today on the think UDL podcast.

Sarah Mooney  02:50

Thank you. I’m so excited to be here. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  02:53

I was really glad to get connected to you through my college star buddies. And you’re doing fantastic things, in fact, like a whole constellation of things that I want to get into. But first of all, ask what makes you a different kind of learner?

Sarah Mooney  03:08

I love this questions when it centers us in learning as a whole. So I think this is fantastic. I personally, I struggle with anxiety, and that impacts a lot of my executive functioning skills, especially with planning and task initiation. And my whole life I’ve always been the person who was behind or the procrastinator was labeled, unmotivated. So in high school, I was the person like doing my homework at the lockers every morning. So I didn’t do it the night before. Even my last paper in college, I was doing it all night, the night before it was due, I never learned my lesson learned even with my masters, I think I took a day off a day before my thesis was due because it wasn’t done. And I hadn’t had that long term planning ability or the ability to even get started on the work I did. So that’s always impacted my learning and my success. And then in addition, I’m just like a huge fidgeter and a mover i i am not great at sitting still and paying attention in class and some of the traditional modalities. I mean, even right now we’re on a podcast, but I have a twist tie in my hand, but I’m fidgeting with constantly and I need to move in order to let out some of my anxieties and to be able to focus better on the task at hand.

Lillian Nave  04:23

Yeah, you just really painted a picture of me in high school as well. And I hadn’t thought about that. But I remember waiting all the time to finish papers. And I had convinced myself that I worked better if I were somehow under the gun. You know, like I made excuses for that. And I remember I was very much into sports. Like I played sports all the time in high school and kept me super busy and it probably kept me really regimented, which was good. And I had a big English paper that I knew it was due like the whole year. We knew it was coming in AP English whatever. And I didn’t do it. And I waited and waited. And then the last the third of my three sports, the last day softball season was over. And the next day was a Friday and I was sick. And I just wrote that paper in three days, you know. And that was my life pretty much, just wait until the very end and figure out the time to do it. And I didn’t really reflect very much on that as a student. And I remember in college, the first time I got a paper done early, and then I never did it. But the first time, yeah, because I had such a bad experience. I got a paper done early for a history class. And I really liked this class. And I was like, Alright, I’ve got these other things. I need you. I’m gonna plan ahead and I finished that paper, I printed it out. I had it ready. It was due on a Tuesday. I had finished it on a Friday. And I remember going to the dining hall, you know, opens at five or 530 papers. At five o’clock on Tuesday, I go to the dining hall at 530. And I look around, I see someone from my class, like by happenstance, and it dawns on me, I never handed it in. I hid for the first time ever, I’d finished something early. And I never handed that paper and and so if I’m freaking out, you know, this is before email. Yeah, and it was one of those where you could go to the professor’s office and leave it by the door and had to write a note on it. I’m so sorry, I really have this done. And that’s, that’s when I was like, well, this doesn’t work for me.

Sarah Mooney  06:27

I have such similar stories across time where it’s like, I get started on it early. I’m like, Oh, I’m going to make it different. This year, I’m going to use a planner and things are gonna be different. And I start that first paper early, I get three quarters of the way full. And then, you know, I don’t come back to it until the day before and I forget about it.

Lillian Nave  06:45

Yes. Okay, we are in the same boat on that. I don’t think I’ve fixed my problem. Okay. Well, thank you. So I got in contact with you from my college star buddies who work a lot with our students, and on the student services side, and heard about your neurodiversity Institute, which bridges students services and the like a Center for Teaching and Learning. And that was fascinated. So wanted to find out more about that. So what is or why is there I should say, a neurodiversity Institute at the University of Denver? Yeah, so

Sarah Mooney  07:22

one in five students on our campus are registered with Disability Services program, so they receive formal accommodations. However, we know that a majority of college students with disabilities do not inform their school or utilize accommodations, which means there are many more than 20% of our students who have a learning difference or disability here on our campus, and their invisible disability, so their faculty aren’t aware or don’t know about their learning struggles or the difficulties they may be having in their courses here. In addition, I’m part of the learning effectiveness program, which supports neuro diverse students here on our campus. We’ve been on our campus for 40 years, we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this academic year, actually. Wow, that’s amazing. Yeah, it’s fantastic. And so we are a nationally recognized program for students with disabilities to get extra supports outside of their federally mandated accommodations. And with that, that means we also have a great population of students who are self aware about their learning differences, and know what they need to be successful in classrooms or working on getting that support and understanding of their learning. And we bring a lot of students here to our campus who have learning disabilities. So we have a great a, a potentially greater population, but also a population who wants to advocate for their learning, and knows about their learning and their needs. They want to have excellent opportunities for their learning within their courses and understand what their academics are. It ultimately resulted because in fall 2020, during COVID, when our courses were a majority online, we had a new first year student who came in and who they had a lot of difficulties with faculty and engaging with online learning and faculty members understanding their learning disabilities and being able to teach them in a way that they were truly accessing the material. And their parents were not happy about this and wanting to see change on our campus. And thankfully, the way that they wanted to go about this was by supporting my office, the learning effectiveness program, and our Office of Teaching and Learning or who develops our faculty here to be able to teach faculty about neurodiversity, and universal design for learning. So we have these, this family that wanted to be change agents on our campus and have supported us in this work, which is really exciting.

Lillian Nave  09:57

Wow, that’s a fantastic, fantastic outcome. And it’s the squeaky wheel that actually seems to have greased the whole campus there and made it better for all of your students. And I appreciated the statistics you have for your campus, which really are nationwide that at least 20% of college students have some sort of learning difference, or some invisible disability, and probably double that with the the folks that don’t report it either. So we know there’s a need. And so I was really interested in this institute, the neurodiversity Institute. So what do you do on each day of the institute? What comprises the institute? Yeah, so

Sarah Mooney  10:45

we have a two day Institute where our faculty are learning for two straight days. And then they also have a deliverable project after they continue to work. We have three main goals for our institute, and it’s around faculty understanding, neurodiversity, accessibility, and universal design for learning. And so we kind of want them to take away not only a definition of those three words, but how they those impact their work, and what they can do to create change in their courses and within their departments around neurodiversity accessibility, and universal design for learning. So day one really focuses on defining neurodiversity, we explore some of our campus data, they learned about neuro myths and accessibility strategies. So we kind of start the day around disability and identity. So understanding where disability falls within their own identity, but then also using that to create discourse around language with disability, whether it’s identity, first language, or person first language and how we communicate and talk about neurodiverse students or students with disabilities. And then we really focus on what neurodiversity looks like on our campus, as well as in their classrooms. So we try to ground it in the work that they’re doing on a daily basis, and the importance there. We’re really excited. Also, on day one, we partner with Dr. Lauren McGrath, who is out of the psychology department here and she comes in she’s done a lot of amazing work on neuro myths and research on neuro myths. And so she presents to our our faculty on that data and information. It’s always a such a fantastic session, we talk about like, myths around dyslexia, as well as anxiety, and just lots of areas that our faculty have misunderstandings about disabilities. And then we kind of close out the day, one of our partners from the Office of Teaching and Learning her main role is around digital accessibility, creating accessible documents and accessible pages on our learning management system, Canvas. And she she teaches our faculty about how to create accessible documents, the importance of it, and shows them our campus wide screen reader called Kurzweil that all of our students have access to and many of our students with learning disabilities utilize. And then we close off the day also with a panel from our campus partners. So we bring in the Office of Disability Services, and our ADEA office, as well as our vice provost for Faculty Affairs. So our faculty get an idea of who is doing this work and who are their partners in this work across campus. Wow, that’s it’s really just focused on getting an overall understanding of neurodiversity and accessibility.

Lillian Nave  14:00

Yeah, that’s fantastic. Yeah, and you you keep going. That’s not

Sarah Mooney  14:05

the word is. Day two, we really focus on executive functioning, universal design for learning and then bringing their knowledge from the institute back to their academic community. So we usually start the day with an executive functioning overview. And then we kind of give them a brief understanding of Universal Design for Learning and the principles of UDL. But from there, it’s my favorite part of the day, we have some scenarios that we’ve built based on some of the difficulties that students experience classrooms and our faculty rotate through these scenarios working with instructional designers as well as staff from the learning effectiveness program to understand where the accessibility issue is for students in each scenario, and then thinking through what what they could implement to to think about what they would do in the moment as a reactive strategy, but then they move that to a proactive strategy or what they would do in the future to redesign or implement in their course, to ensure that this isn’t a struggle or barrier in the future as well. So understanding the impact, thinking of a reactive strategy, and then thinking of a proactive strategy. Wow.

Lillian Nave  15:24

Yeah, and you’ve got, I’m impressed by the like, cross campus slice of people you’ve got with Office of Disability Services, and your faculty affairs, and your students success are, you know, where the student side as well. And oftentimes, those are siloed, they are separated, and that those groups you would think would work together every day. But often it is just a separate entity, right, and under different heads on that flowchart of who’s in charge of the university. So I was really impressed by the fact that you make this such a big team effort, and it’s all to support student success, which is major. And when we connect all of those dots together, I think it does really help our students, it also tells you, it helps me as a as an instructor, when we have all of those parts working together as well, not just you know, separated out. And anyway, it’s, it’s fantastic. I really appreciated that, because it’s one of the first ones I’d heard of that includes all of those in a in a real integrated way, not just a cursory way. So I really appreciate it.

Sarah Mooney  16:40

Yeah, it is so important, because the work that we do within student affairs directly, collaborates with or corresponds with the work that’s done in academic affairs. And all of us need to work together, we have different areas of expertise and ways that we support our students. So when we can come together to create ways for us to support our students on our campus, it’s we can do amazing things. And I think this institute is such a great example of it, because it’s such a close partnership between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. But especially between my office learning effectiveness program, and our Office of Teaching and Learning, we’re OTL, which supports faculty, and just ways that the knowledge that we have as a support program for students with disabilities can be brought to faculty by the people who are the best at helping faculty learn and implement solutions in their classroom. So

Lillian Nave  17:40

yes, absolutely. And it’s, it’s so often it is that faculty member who is the point person or is supposed to be, and we don’t always know where we’re supposed to go to help, right. And unless you’ve got the, like, the extra programs, like where you have, you’re helping students with executive functions, right? They’ve, there’s an extra Student Success portion, maybe that’s in addition to something or maybe it’s or through the disability office or something like that. But as you already mentioned, there’s so many students who aren’t in any one of those particular programs, and therefore, it’s up to the faculty. And we need to get the word out to faculty about what you know what we can do, if we see a student struggling, or if we maybe we see a class struggling, and that’s probably a design issue. Like, if everybody’s having trouble with this one assignment, it might be in the assignment and what we can do with it. So I appreciate that you do case studies, you know, to figure out oh, that might be you know, it’s me, hi, I’m the problem. Or it’s my assignment is the problem. That’s the problem. So, so who attends this institute and and who you kind of talked about who facilitates it? But yeah, I’m interested in who attends it, who’s running it? And also, how long has this been going on?

Sarah Mooney  19:07

So um, we have faculty from all departments across all academic departments, departments across campus who participate. We’ve had about 60 participants thus far from every college here at d u, including our Sturm law school, Daniels College of Business, Ritchie School of Computer Science and Engineering, our College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. So it really goes across the board. We’ve had faculty participants, it’s facilitated by the learning effectiveness program staff as well as our Office of Teaching and Learning staff. And then we bring in other campus partners as well to present but with that, it it truly is a full campus initiative. And we always are trying to through that we’re recruiting faculty from different parts of campus. So it’s not just, we’re only going to the Writing Program, or we’re only talking to engineering professors, because we know, our students in the learning effectiveness program are in 54 different majors here on campus. So they’re all taking classes in every discipline. And as well as with their core requirements here on campus, they all need to take courses in a variety of areas. So we want to ensure that all faculty have an understanding of universal design for learning and working with a neuro diverse student population.

Lillian Nave  20:35

Yeah, and so it’s a two day Institute. And is when does that happen during the during the semester of between semesters? Or when do you when you try to do it? That’s

Sarah Mooney  20:45

a great question. So we started in August 2021, as our first pilot Institute, and so that year, we only had one, but this year, we were able to run two institutes. So we did one in August 2022. And then one in December 2022. And we’re hoping to continue that pattern moving forward. It’s a time when faculty are able to take the time to, to attend training, that’s really where that came out of. And then it also gives them time to implement it. So we’re trying to time it with, you know, you’re not taking this training right at the end of the year, and then not utilizing it. So when we do it in August, it’s right before our classes startup, we start right after Labor Day. So it gives them time to take that learning and implement it. And then similarly, with December, we have our break is in December, we’re on a quarter system. So it’s right after a fall quarter has finished and so they can come learn and then implement it when we start winter quarter in January.

Lillian Nave  21:48

Got it? Yeah, that’s great. And what I find is, once you’ve just finished, you’ve got all those ideas fresh, right? And you’re ready to fix all the problems you hope. That’s what I hope that oh, this didn’t work. Well, what can I do to fix this

Sarah Mooney  22:03

resonate more with you? Or you may be like, Oh, my exact issue. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  22:08

Right. Exactly. That’s, that’s great. And it’s just, I love to see that it’s doubled. You know, you know, you’re doing it twice a year, and already 60 participants, that’s a huge slice of your faculty. So that’s fantastic. I know, we tried to introduce UDL to our new faculty, you know, their introduction to the college. But it’s also when they’re like getting a firehose of information about, you know, everything retirement and your parking tab, all this stuff. So this is really great to be focused just on that and designing for really divergence and and having those students in mind. So alright, so you’ve done this since the August of 21, and then twice in 2022. What are the results that you’ve seen on campus,

Sarah Mooney  22:58

I am so impressed with our faculty and what they’ve implemented. So another part of our institute is that all of our faculty have to have a deliverable, where we ask them to become change agents on our campus. And that includes having reflective growth where they continue their own learning, engaging their department, so their reach is bigger than just themselves who, who attended the institute, but reaching other folks or professors, faculty within their department, and then also creating a strong strategic plan for change or how they will role model the work by implementing UDL in their own courses. And we’ve seen some amazing, fantastic work across the board and all three of those areas. One is within our University Writing Program. So each of our first year students needs to take two writing courses during their first year. So this is a department that touches every single student on our campus. And as a result of having multiple of their faculty attend or neurodiversity Institute, they added inclusivity and accessibility to the reading programs mission, which means that they are now operating from an accessibility lens across the board. But they are also working on weaving Universal Design for Learning and accessibility into workshops for all of their new faculty. They’ve implemented training on neurodiversity and UDL for their writing consultants who work in the campus writing center, that all students have access to. They’ve secured grants that allow them to apply for funding to support their understanding of and their implementation of UDL. And they’re looking at more pathways to make their classes more accessible. And then even just within our staff who are working with students seeing the assignments come in seeing syllabi on regular basis. Our staff have seen this impact when working with our first year students. For example, they’ve noted when they’re looking through writing syllabi, accessibility He surveys, having clear align syllabi with dates due dates. And they’ve broken these assignments into smaller chunks with drafts due and peer conferences and Professor conferences. They have dates expected for regular feedback, and how they’re going to receive feedback from their faculty. So they’re just doing amazing things in the Writing Program, which really truly impacts every single student on our campus. So it’s just so exciting to hear and see about their work.

Lillian Nave  25:28

That’s fantastic. And you said that they are implementing trainings for the student writing tutors on neurodiversity. So that means that the fellow students who are trained to be peer kind of coaches, right for writing, I know that’s a model that’s, that’s everywhere, which is fantastic. So the students are getting training on neurodiversity, what that looks like and, and tools to help neurodiverse students realize it’s so

Sarah Mooney  25:55

exciting. And they have brought in our programs tutoring coordinator to continue training their tutors. So our tutors are always treating neurodiversity because of the population that our program services. And they’re going and consulting and training, other tutors across campus, including in the Writing Center, as well as bringing in they brought in OTL, for additional trainings for those staff members. So really exciting.

Lillian Nave  26:23

Wow, yeah, that’s really broad. To, to see it, move into a whole program that has such a big text, touch point, to all of your first year students to have the two writing courses is really fantastic. And we definitely need that. Being able to write clearly, of course, is one of the big goals of college, and what we hope our students come out with this being able to communicate effectively. I know, for everybody, I talked to you, that’s what I want for, for my students and my children who are going to college, I want them to be able to do that. So that’s fantastic. And, you know, you mentioned one other thing, let me ask you a little bit more about that you said the assignments that you’re seeing coming in, are, are changing for the better is that kind of across the board, as well as that usually, yeah,

Sarah Mooney  27:15

so it’s really for all of our writing faculty. I have heard from many of our staff members who work directly with students that the writing courses have improved in ways that are so huge to impact our students in a positive way with their learning in those writing courses.

Lillian Nave  27:39

It’s great, I have to interject here too, because I have three of three children myself, they are in their late teens, early 20s. And all three of them are in some form of higher education, either dual enrolled community college or state institution or a private institution, all gaining degrees of some sort. And I’ve seen and every once in a while, I’ll ask you know about their assignments, or they’ll say, Hey, Mom, look at this. And I said, Well, what, what’s the assignment on this? Like, what? What did they ask for? Before I can, like, you know, really talk to you about I don’t know, what does the assignment and, and some of the assignments are absolutely awful. Not even gonna say, Where, but it was, it was definitely one of those older ideas about write a five page paper, and kind of choose what you want, and have it relate to the course. And it was that was it like that was pretty much the assignment and and you can’t figure out what would be a passable paper on that, you know, it’s really difficult to understand what the professor really wants without really clear guidelines, and I must say I teach about and tell other faculty about the transparency and learning and teaching with Mary Ann Winkelmes, I got to interview her and talk about that is the most equitable process is to be clear, and just recently was talking with some more UDL folks. And the mantra is clear is kind that is, the kindest thing you can do to your students is to be clear in what you want. Because especially if you’ve got a neuro diverse student, some crazy amorphous assignment like that, it’s not gonna make any sense. Like you don’t know where I wouldn’t know where to start like with that, so that’s just the best thing we can do is be clear and write good assignments for our students so they know what to do.

Sarah Mooney  29:49

Certainly, and I know that it is so supportive for students, you know, some of our students who might have needed help on that original paper of just saying write a paper I can find success on their own when they have clear expectations because it it demystifies a lot of the process for them.

Lillian Nave  30:09

Yeah, absolutely. And and it is it is mystifying. So some of the assignments sign is is a complete mystery. We do we need to decode it for our students so they know what they’re doing. And yeah, one of the big differences that I’ve learned about in my learning about Universal Design for Learning is the difference between an expert in the field and a novice in the field. And your expert brain is making all of these connections like you can see it, it’s clear as day, but for a novice brain novice in that situation, it’s like, you know, those red laser beams that keep you from stealing the golden idol, right? You can’t see it unless there’s some smoke that comes out. It’s just invisible to the students. And we just need to make those invisible lines clear, or else we’ll get something. And we’ll say, well, that’s not what I wanted. But you didn’t say what you wanted. Anyway, that’s a big thing. And so I appreciate that you’re doing, you’re seeing those results. So what future plans do you have for the neurodiversity Institute? Yeah, so

Sarah Mooney  31:19

we’re hoping to continue implementing this twice a year, so that we can continue to have this impact. For Institute we bring back faculty who have attended to just talk about the work that they’ve implemented since the institute. And so we hope to continue that as well as build collaboration across some of these departments as well. They’re doing similar work. So we want them to have a community of folks. So it doesn’t feel as isolating. So we’re continuing that as well. In addition, were in the process of we just proposed and now we’re, you’ve been approved. So we’ll be piloting a staff neurodiversity Institute, as well, to take this work from not just our faculty, but into everybody who works with our students on campus, knowing that staff are sometimes the people who see our students most when they’re working in areas like our Student Outreach and Support Office that manages students in crisis, or housing, or Office of Student Engagement, who plans events and engagement activities for our students. We want our students to have you a UDL approach everywhere they go on our campus.

Lillian Nave  32:25

Oh, that’s great. And it’s, it’s so true. Chances are, too, that our staff is neurodiverse, that our our instructors are also neurodiverse. In fact, not chances are it’s true. We’re talking so much about our students, which is important, but it’s our, it’s our fellow colleagues. And so faculty and staff, who are neurodiverse, and we need to be thinking about just how we treat everybody, equitably, in all these areas. So um, but I see what’s so interesting to me is that I got connected with this through this, this, the support students support side. But it is such a great and collaborative effort with your Office of Teaching and Learning. But you also do a lot with your neurodiverse students at the University of Denver, and you’ve mentioned that a little bit in the beginning. But I’m equally interested to see what sort of program you have. Can you tell me about that? And what sort of things you do and doesn’t have a focus on certain students, et cetera?

Sarah Mooney  33:40

Yeah, so the learning effectiveness program here at d u is an academic resource for neurodiverse students, or students with learning disabilities or a history of learning differences. And we provide some of the additional wraparound supports that students might have had in their K 12 education that tend to fall off when they come to a college environment, where the only federally mandated thing is accommodations, things like extended time on exams, or having a private testing room or something like that. Whereas we support students more on the executive functioning side as well as tutoring support and social skills, building some of the other areas where our students struggle and need support to find success or in order to best access their education here at d u. So each of our students is assigned an academic counselor, who they meet with for 60 minutes a week, where they work on things like time management and organization. We help them go through all of their syllabi, so that they can understand what professor’s expectations are, what the requirements of a course are, what assignments they’ll have and when how important those assignments are in their grading scale, and then we help them do things like make a 10 week calendar we want on a 10 week, quarter system. So we plug all of their assignments in so that they can see what they have coming up and when they need to start thinking about work. When we meet with them weekly, we’ll talk about what worked well, last week, what got done, what didn’t? What was successful, and what did they struggle with? And then we use that to implement what’s coming up. And what do we need to change? What do you need support with, we also have tutoring support for our students. So if they need help with content, they have that but we also have writing and reading tutoring support. So for any class they’re in, we know that writing and reading are a huge part of every course. So they can get that additional support. And then also, our students like to utilize our tutoring, especially our students with ADHD, as body don’t blink somebody to help them get started on a task, they’ll make a short tutoring appointment to help with that task initiation. And then they can stop with the tutor and then continue that work on their own after. We also offer social skills building supports, knowing that communication. Being able to express oneself or make friendships in college, or write an email to a faculty member is just as important in their college success. So we offer not only a social skills coaching group, but we also have social events for some of our students who want to find a affinity, other students who are neurodiverse, or who need a smaller setting to make social connections here on our campus. And one of my favorite things that we have that kind of started out of our social events is we are the staff who advise the neurodiversity resource group, which is a student organization here on our campus, who is an affinity group, but also an advocacy group. So they, for example, just did something on March 1 for Disability Day of Mourning, where they were in all of our campus communications that day, they had eternal burning candles in our office as well as other key offices across campus. And they just advocate for needs and rights of students. And from their work. There’s even been an accessibility working group created partnering between the Division of Student Affairs and the Division of Academic Affairs to create a more accessible campus as a whole. They’ve done some really amazing work as student advocates.

Lillian Nave  37:25

Wow, that’s really empowering. Amazing. And I hear more and more about these neuro diversity kind of startup programs. Some have been around for years has been around for 40 years. Is that what you said? Wow. And is that something that is funded by PIP do the university partially do students pay another fee for that? A lot of people ask me those questions. So I wanted

Sarah Mooney  37:54

every program is a little different, which can be hard for students to navigate as they’re looking at colleges, the LEP is a fee for service program, because we’re self sustaining. So students pay an additional fee to utilize our resources. However, we also have scholarships available for our program, we’ve given out Oh, I can’t remember the number, a significant amount of money this year, in particular, it’s been close to $100,000 worth of scholarships for students to access our services, so so that we can be more equitable. And so cost is not a barrier for students to receive additional support.

Lillian Nave  38:33

Yeah, and also, there are so many, like there’s still a programs through our government, that, that continue on that students can draw from like a vocational grant or things like that in college that I know of, and a lot of parents asked me about as well. So there are Yeah, there are ways to pretty much get a grant to help with many of these programs as well. Because it’s a lot of work like it’s, we can’t expect something for nothing. There’s a lot of folks, as you’ve just mentioned, that go into making this a great program, and, but there are lots of ways that we can create it and fund it. That fantastic people like you are much more familiar with and are doing the hard work to make sure that our students who need it can get it. And I’ve also noticed that a lot of these neurodiversity groups will have some focus like some are strictly on autist autism, some strictly ADHD. Some more on executive functions are at Appalachian State where I am we RS works with specially that executive function in the planning the coaching, you mentioned body doubling, which is just really getting started on a task with somebody else. They’re like just a study buddy pretty much right. So all of these things are really fantastic helps and our Great for most any student, but incredibly helpful for our neurodiverse students. So there’s just absolutely fantastic. So this is something that a lot of people are asking about, I hear a lot in my work with talking with other faculty across campuses and, and people in higher ed, and also parents of neurodiverse students who are heading to college, that this is a program that many people want, and we don’t have enough of so both on the student support side, and clearly we need it on the faculty side to educate our faculty on this and on their students, because we have far more neurodiverse students coming into the college campuses than ever before. So what advice do you have for others who might want to do something like that neurodiversity Institute, which is a fantastic collaborative effort that you have at University of Denver? But maybe they’re not sure where to start? What’s your advice? So

Sarah Mooney  41:06

my first piece of advice is start with the data. So then people understand why look at your own campus, talk to the disability services office or talk to the folks who your ADEA office or whatever it might be, to understand what the needs are on your campus, because I found that when you start with the data, people are like, Oh, this is why it’s important and why we need to do this. I know, that’s why we also start with that during our neurodiversity Institute, so that we can have faculty buy in, but it also goes with administration buy in as well, right. This is the why we’re doing this, then I also think we are lucky, we have this two day institute that also has deliverables, but you can start small. And that’s how we truly started our department as well as the Office of Teaching and Learning. We’re connecting with individual departments around this work. So offering smaller trainings, they can start with an hour training just around here’s one area of Universal Design for Learning, or here are some quick tips of things you can implement. We worked with our University College that runs many master’s programs and grad certificates here on our campus. And we did a three part series for their faculty on UDL. And we went through each principle, one by one and just three hours right over an academic year to give them just little bits of information and start by making small change, and Office of Teaching and Learning here, they started with a UDL, your core series where they did smaller little sessions that now are incorporated into our larger neurodiversity Institute. So it’s very exciting to do something big, but you can get some of this information across just with these little smaller sessions as well. While you’re building your material, or while you’re building the buy in from your your campus, you can start with tinier

Lillian Nave  42:59

choices. Yeah. You know, when you said you had the UDL your course, which is so fantastic. It made me think about what you had just mentioned about what your program does with neurodiverse students, like part of that coaching is decoding a syllabus and decoding an assignment like what is expected of me. And it would be great if we didn’t have to spend that time doing it, because we would have a very well written UDL syllabus, right that often the syllabi and like the course calendar is very small. And like it might be one page, I remember getting one page, flip it over double sided syllabus for the whole semester in college. And it was difficult to know exactly what was expected for everything. And being able to like have a better course calendar where students know what they need to prepare for the class, what they’re doing between classes, what, what is expected, like you could bring in your notes to have this discussion, right, that sort of thing. It’s that unwritten curriculum that we know because we’ve been through college, but maybe we have a first generation student, maybe we have a first generation neurodiverse student, right. And then we have to start decoding that for our students because we have given them a piece of paper that we think is really, really clear in our expert brains. But then to that novice student, it is not clear at all, and therefore we need a lot more of the support to help our students be successful. And if we could just start that process with a very understandable inclusive, accessible and well organized Syllabus and Course Calendar we could probably make it a little bit easier for our students and for you Your colleagues, success coaches, right

Sarah Mooney  45:03

100%. And I mean, that ties into one of my favorite things when I talk to faculty is. So if you’re not doing it for your students, which I hope you are doing it for yourself, it makes teaching your course easier. You know what’s coming up? And what to expect. You’ve pre planned everything. So you don’t have to do the work in the moment. So not only is it supporting your students, but it’s supporting your work as well.

Lillian Nave  45:25

Yes, absolutely. And the ability to do some of that design work at the beginning, is what makes the middle and end of your course go much more smoothly, fewer emails, fewer questions, you’re much, much less confusion, it’s really transformed the way I think about the course design, because it’s like, it’s not, oh, that sounds like a lot of work. It’s, well, when are you going to do the work because you’re going to have to do the work. It’s either designing it in a really organized and clear and accessible way. Or you’re doing a lot of like cleanup and accommodations and changes halfway through your course and tell you it’s a lot more work when you have to do that, and a lot more like one off changes and things like that. So yeah, you just got to do it for them

Sarah Mooney  46:16

reminds me of a faculty member. We did a social hour after August Institute’s a faculty could come together and just talk about their progress before they started submitting information on their deliverables. And one of them talked about a student who she noticed was not submitting like weekly discussion posts. And so she instead of just making assumptions about the student, like she might have in the past, she she asked the students, hey, what’s going on? Why aren’t you submitting them. And the student said, you have a very general topic, you let me write about anything. And that’s really hard for me, and I don’t like writing. So it’s very, it’s not motivating for me to get this assignment. And so in the moment, she made a small adjustment for the student, she started providing an optional daily or weekly topic. So you could write about what you want, or you could write about the topic. And then she let students start submitting like a video recording or podcast recording as an answer instead of just the writing. And she said she did that change in the moment. But now she’s going to implement it in the future as well, which is really exciting. But also just a way of you’re making this change right now. But think about don’t just carry it forward for this one student, how do you make that a permanent change within your course?

Lillian Nave  47:24

Yeah, exactly. And so it just can improve every semester. And we see just great benefits with each one of these small changes. And, of course, I appreciate the the your idea about you know, start with something small. It’s like the UDL plus one idea, just try some, see if it works. And then you can next time you add another option. And it just helps our students Yeah, being as clear as we can, and giving choice when we can as well. So that’s just fantastic. I really appreciate the chance to talk to you about what the University of Denver is doing and multiple facets of this on the campus. And it’s not often that I get a chance to talk about how all of those different areas of the campus are working together. So I really appreciate that. I hope it can be a model for other folks who want to start doing this because we do know, there are more and more neurodiverse students coming into college campuses and our faculty needs need to know about, first of all, that it’s happening, and second of all, how that they can reach all of those students. So thank you so much, Sarah, for joining me today on the think UDL keep harassing

Sarah Mooney  48:36

us. It’s been such a pleasure. And I love talking about all of the great work that our campus is doing and our faculty are doing to support students.

Lillian Nave  48:44

Yeah, and I do I want to share that with others. Because what a great model. I know there are other folks who are doing it, but I really appreciate your chance to tell others and hopefully we’ll get some more of these on other campuses even worldwide. be fantastic. Thank you, thank you. You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. Thank you again to our sponsor, Texthelp. Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write equates to an orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace. with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez, and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast.

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