Flexibilty for Diversity


This blog posting was inspired by a tweet from Michelle Franz (@lrndeveloper) this morning about MOOCs at universities.

In Thomas Friedman’s article Revolution Hits the Universities, http://t.co/D4Fya3xx  ‘Daniel’, the young man with some kind of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) described his experience in a Coursera/Penn MOOC as an opportunity to,”…work hard and enjoy being in sync with the world”. As someone who works with other educators and teams surrounding students with ASD’s in schools, this gives me great hope and inspiration.

On a daily basis I encounter teams who struggle with the idea that they know their student has a lot to offer, but they just can’t seem to provide a venue or the tools to facilitate involvement, connection, challenge and empowerment.

But small glimmers of hope are everywhere; newer technologies like the iPad are allowing communication and visual learning to become more accepted, easier and mainstream.  Regular classroom teachers are developing lesson plans and classroom models that can minimize some of the difficulties of having an ASD without separating and segregating our students.

Students with ASDs come in all shapes and sizes.  They have a variety of strengths and weaknesses and what works for one student will be either unnecessary or unworkable for another.  By making classrooms and courses more flexible, we allow for each student to find his/her place and find his/her voice. Flexible classrooms can celebrate diversity, rather than marginalizing it.

MOOCs allow for flexible timelines and flexible participation.  Sometimes interactions are large and synchronous; but for those of us who have trouble focusing on one thing for long periods the backchannels provide an outlet to ‘speak’ when we need to, or to go a little tangential if that is more interesting.  Recording them allows for a revisit if important content is missed.  For those of us who cannot find spoken language quickly or articulately when under pressure, text-based interactions are empowering.  Contributing in a MOOC can be done in so many formats, styles and venues.

I work in the K-12 system.  So how can we take the lessons being learned at the post-secondary level and use them to ensure that the young ‘Daniel’s of today don’t have to wait that long to feel like they are contributing?

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/64469833@N00/3891761133/”>helen sotiriadis</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/help/general/#147″>cc</a&gt;


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