CA Curious

Technology and Neurodiversity

October 20, 2022

Each year the technology services department is asked to provide training for new employees, new students, and those returning community members who may need a bit of a refresher after the summer break. While this isn’t the only professional development or training the department offers, it tends to be similar each time. How do I get to my OneDrive? How can I distribute pages to my students in OneNote? What is my Blackbaud ID, and why am I being asked to change it again?  

This year, however, offered a welcome change. As part of a faculty professional development day, I had the privilege of joining Kathy Sullivan, Director of Professional Development at the Hill Learning Center, to co-host a Supporting Neurodiverse Learners Workshop. Together, we leveraged our shared expertise in child development and educational technology to connect how CA can better leverage our on-campus technology to reflect and respond to the latest research on best practices in supporting neurodiverse learners. 

During the presentation, Kathy addressed the various ways that neurodiversity might shape executive functioning—influencing organizational skills, time management, and even the very ways in which neurodiverse students might process information in ways different from their peers.  

In turn, I walked our faculty through the student and parent Blackbaud user experience, highlighting some of the functionality that will be crucial in helping to bolster executive functioning and address the specific and varying needs of our neurodiverse community members.  

For example, in the Blackbaud Assignment Center, I demonstrated how to break down multi-step assignments into discrete tasks and how to change the overall Assignment Center view to be more streamlined and less visually overwhelming. Kathy was able to showcase a few apps that aid with time management.  

While most of these tricks may not have been new to faculty, considering them in the context of neurodiversity was a new and needed intervention. In developing a more nuanced understanding of the information processing needs of our neurodiverse students, what might have been just another feature became something more—a  powerful way to support the learning needs of all our community members. 

Since the faculty workshop, I’ve presented similar information to all the 7th graders during their advisory period and to the 9th graders during their Community Day program. Both programs have walked students through Blackbaud, demonstrating ways they can reverse engineer multi-step assignments and use task creation for more than just their homework. In the 9th-grade program, students were quick to ask questions, sharing tips and tricks they had learned along the way with their classmates.  

There are ways that parents can support their students with this technology at home. In the coming month, I will share a new training video to guide parents through some of the tips and tricks I have discussed in these programs. Parents will learn how to aid their students in tweaking Blackbaud to meet their unique learning style and needs best. Stay tuned! 

The opportunity to work closely with students, faculty, and families has been something that I have sorely missed since the start of the COVID pandemic. I look forward to working more closely with you all on the practical and developmental use of technology both in and out of the classroom, and not just the nuts and bolts of it all.  

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology & Innovation

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