Have you watched Temple Grandin's TED talk "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds"? If not, stop what you are doing and take 20 minutes to watch (or listen) to her talk. (Note: I watch TED Talks on my iTouch - another reason I'm thoroughly convinced that we need to provide our curricular media content in as many formats and for as many platforms at TED delivers).
Now ask yourself, how would Temple Grandin do in your institution's courses? How well would she do in your introductory courses? Your big courses such as intro to psychology, macro/micro econ, intro to sociology (what I used to teach), bio or physics 1, etc. etc. I'm betting that most of these courses are designed by people whose brains are very different from Temple Grandin's.
Like many (most) of my faculty colleagues in the social sciences and humanities, I'm an abstract thinker. The courses I have designed and collaborated on as a learning technologist I think reflect how my brain is set up. My assignments tend to stress conceptual and abstract thinking. Students who succeed are able to translate verbal or textual arguments and concepts into new verbal or textual concepts and arguments. After watching Grandin's TED talk, and reading her wonderful books, I'm starting to wonder how successful my courses would be for someone on the autism spectrum.
1) How many of our students sit somewhere on the autism spectrum? In a class of 100, how many learners are more like Temple Grandin and less like me?
2) Do we have a responsibility to design our courses so that learners on the autism spectrum can thrive in our courses?
3) Does learning technology hold the potential for designing and delivering courses that would work for both brains like my own and brains on the autism spectrum?
On these question - I'd like to know the answer to #1 (can anyone help?), and for #2 and #3 my answers would be "yes" and "yes". (What would you say?).
In her talk, Grandin identifies 3 types of thinking (at the 6:47 mark):
Types of Thinking:
1. Photo Realistic Visual Thinkers - Poor at Algebra
2. Pattern Thinkers - Music and Math
3. Verbal Mind - Poor at Drawing
Temple Grandin is a photo realistic / visual thinker. I have a verbal mind. For a course to work well for Temple Grandin I think that it would probably include a hands-on, concrete element. I don't know enough about how to translate our knowledge of the autism spectrum into course assignments. Would the option for creating media projects or physical models or materials work? Can assignments involving papers and writing be developed so students have both abstract and concrete tracks that they can pursue? What educational technology tools can we leverage to create learning opportunities and assignments for photo realistic / visual thinkers? I think this is an area that we need a conversation, as personally I cannot answer these questions with any confidence.
I don't think that we can keep going on assuming that our students' brains are like our brains. And I think it would be a shame if a young Temple Grandin ended up in one of our classes, one that we taught or helped create, and was not able to develop competence and fluency in the material because the delivery style or the assignments did not match her brain.
The limitation is not our ability to look at our courses from the perspective of the types of thinking identified by Grandin, or even for technologies to bridge these types of thinking with how courses are delivered and learning is assessed, but our insistence that students adapt themselves to the brains of their professors (and learning designers). Grandin has convinced me that we need to change our perspective. What do you think?
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts