Interaction Between Engineering Education Pedagogies and Neurodiverse Learning Styles


“Traditional” engineering education delivery – largely unchanged since the mid-20th century[1] – tends to be rigid and often unsuited or inaccessible to neurodiverse students[2]. “Neurodiversity” refers to individuals from different neurological backgrounds, including but not limited to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, etc. It has been estimated that 5.4% of U.S. college students[3] may be considered as neurologically diverse; although as high as 25% have been diagnosed with a mental health issue (typically depression or anxiety). While it is common in studies to group students based on their diagnoses, there can be important differences in performance and emotional well-being that are missed[4]. The objective of this proposal is to study the interaction between the learning styles of neurodiverse STEM students and pedagogical practices in STEM courses. Currently, universities are adapting their teaching methods to accommodate the most diverse spectra of students. Much work is focused toward establishing universal teaching practices, which generally focus on improving students’ accessibility in a course. There is exceptionally little research done on understanding neurodiverse individuals specifically within engineering programs. This is a milestone on the path toward answering other big questions; Are universal teaching practices enough to help neurodiverse individuals in engineering (and to a larger extent, STEM) disciplines? Do they provide a substantial impact? Are neurodiverse individuals achieving the learning objectives set by the professor? What unique characteristics do different neurodiverse groups bring to engineering? The first step to answering these questions is to understand the student experience. Once we know what can be improved in teaching pedagogies and understand the neurodiverse student's perspective in the classroom, we can refine our classrooms to provide the best education possible for the broadest spectra of individuals. 


References: [1] Leydens, J.A. and Lucena, J.C. (2018) Engineering Justice – Transforming Engineering Education and Practice, IEEE PCS Professional Engineering Communication Series, Wiley and IEEE Press.
[2]Green, A. and Rabiner, D. (2012) What Do We Really Know about ADHD in College Students?, Neurotherapeutics, 9(3) 559-568.
[3] Liu, C., Stevens, C., Wong, S., Yasui, M. and Chen, J. (2018) The prevalence and predictors of mental health diagnoses and suicide among U.S. college students: Implications for addressing disparities in service use, Depression and Anxiety.
[4] Budd, J., Fichten, C., Jorgensen, M., Havel, A. and Flanagan, T. (2016) Postsecondary Students with Specific Learning Disabilities and with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Should Not be Considered as a Unified Group For Research or Practice, Journal of Education and Training Studies, 4(4).


Jenette Phillips