How to Center Equity in Undergraduate Digital Learning - Digital Promise

How to Center Equity in Undergraduate Digital Learning

August 20, 2020 | By and

The COVID-19 pandemic caused postsecondary institutions to abruptly transition many of their spring 2020 courses to digital learning. While we know the seemingly overnight shift from in-person to remote classes was unplanned and unprecedented, it was also unequal. For example,  undergraduate students of color were more likely to report having a problem knowing where to get course help, students from low-income households were more likely to report internet connectivity issues, and female students were more likely to report having to balance childcare responsibilities with their coursework in our recent study.

To address these equity gaps and help postsecondary institutions evaluate the effects of a course that has recently transitioned to digital learning, Digital Promise, with support from Every Learner Everywhere, has created a new course: Measuring Digital Learning: Impact and Equity.

Creating an Equity-Centered Course

A strong focus of this course is to critically examine outcomes for traditionally underserved populations and determine strategies for university administrators (e.g., course leads, department chairs, and other higher education leaders) to respond by creating more equitable digital learning opportunities.

As a team of white researchers/educators, we started the design process by acknowledging our layers of privilege, including the years of education and experience our privilege has facilitated. Our work in equity and in the field of education is filtered through the bias of our identities—a bias we seek to understand, to check, and to minimize where appropriate.

We leaned heavily on the principles of Inclusive Innovation to build a course that would support other higher education professionals in their own work to identify, measure, and eliminate barriers to equitable learning that exist on their campuses. Accordingly, we reached out to five university leaders, who provided a diversity of input as we planned our course. Three were from racial minority-serving two-year institutions, one was from a predominantly white, low-income two-year institution, and one was from a predominantly white four-year institution. Additionally, we gained input from members of the Digital Promise Inclusive Innovation team, who focus on a wide variety of equity topics and considerations. The input we received from all of these individuals was critical in helping check our biases as we designed a course that supports equity in continuous improvement.

The course guides participants from the Every Learner Everywhere network through the steps of gathering data around a selected challenge (specific to their unique context), using an equity-focused approach to collaboratively interpret their data, implementing changes to improve equity, and implementing a continuous improvement and scaling process in their post-secondary courses. We aimed to provide course participants the flexibility to identify what equitable learning means at their own institutions, to design a process that consistently centers student voice, and to work within their locus of control to bring about changes to reduce or eliminate inequities.

For instance, suppose participating university leaders identified a challenge about building community in an online course in which some students don’t have consistent access to webcams for ‘live’ lectures or discussions

  • Leaders might gather relevant data, such as logins on a learning management system, student interviews, course grades, and course retention data.
  • To collaboratively interpret these data and implement changes to improve equity, leaders might include the voices of students without consistent access to webcams, professor(s) involved in teaching the course, and other individuals involved in course planning.
  • Informed by equitably interpreted data, leaders might implement course changes to support community building, regardless of whether or not students have webcams. These changes would respond to the needs from students in a variety of contexts.
  • To implement continuous improvement and scaling processes with an equity focus, leaders might create structures and processes to embed equitable continuous improvement into their everyday culture. Examples include creating evaluation plans that could be used in multiple courses, requiring that the voices of students are systematically included, and implementing feedback loops to evaluate the (possibly unforeseen) effects of any changes.

We hope course participants walk away with four specific outcomes:

  1. A concrete plan and tools for measuring impact and equity in a post-secondary course transitioning to digital learning.
  2. A strategy for scaling the integration of continuous improvement processes focused on equity.
  3. An understanding of how national data on the transition to remote learning can help to make a case for this work in their context.
  4. New connections with others who are also invested in this work.

We are excited about the change that course participants can bring about when armed with course- and institution-specific knowledge about student outcomes, impact, and equity. We hope to equip participants with techniques that will positively impact student learning, eliminate opportunity gaps, and make it so social determinants no longer reliably predict student outcomes. Stay tuned for more lessons from this course by subscribing to the Learning Sciences Connections newsletter.

To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on college student engagement and course satisfaction, check out our latest reports, “Unmasking Inequality” and “Suddenly Online.”

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