Online Learning Can Lead to Increased Success for Minority Students in Higher Education – EdTech Magazine: Focus on K-12

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Mol Doak is a contributor to EdTech Magazine. In addition to a passion for writing, Mol enjoys traveling, spending time with friends and family, and exploring new activities, cultures, and cuisines

Mol Doak is a contributor to EdTech Magazine. In addition to a passion for writing, Mol enjoys traveling, spending time with friends and family, and exploring new activities, cultures, and cuisines
Research shows that student performance in gateway courses can predict retention, the likelihood of graduation and all-around student success. Historically, minority students have been underserved in these courses. This leads to a higher number of minority students receiving grades of D or F, withdrawing or receiving incomplete grades, often resulting in lower retention rates.
While online learning is not without its challenges, experts say it can be a catalyst for improving course outcomes for disadvantaged and historically marginalized students.
Jessica Rowland Williams is the director of Every Learner Everywhere, a network of 12 organizations that help post-secondary education institutions use new technology and innovative teaching solutions to help Black, Latino, Indigenous, economically disadvantaged and first-generation students. In a recent EDUCAUSE webinar, she shared strategies on how faculty and institutional leaders can implement equitable online learning at scale.
DISCOVER: Four barriers to digital equity in 2022 and how to overcome them.
Williams said the way forward begins by looking at the higher education environment and its history through the lens of social justice.
“Social justice is about the fair distribution of opportunities and privileges as they apply to individuals within a society,” Williams says. When it comes to education, it’s important to consider how race, gender and wealth, among many other factors, determine the quality of education to which a person has access.
To emphasize social justice and enhance access to higher education for underserved groups, society must acknowledge and understand existing privilege and ensure other factors such as poverty, mental health and safety are addressed.
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Equitable education requires innovative teaching and the use of digital learning tools, inclusive courses and a representative, culturally diverse curriculum.
Innovative teaching begins with “an awareness that all students do not have access to the same time, space and resources needed for success,” Williams says.
It also requires the use of digital learning tools that cultivate an online learning space for every student. These spaces should include easy-to-navigate educational platforms to access course content. Resources like breakout rooms should be incorporated for synchronous activities during live classroom sessions. Finally, ensuring students can engage with their peers and instructors through virtual activities is crucial.
EXPLORE: Rethinking technology accessibility in higher ed.
The first step to creating inclusive courses is ease of access. Students should be able to focus on doing a task rather than on how to do it. Content should be easily accessible and supported by internal platform resources, like virtual office hours and discussion boards. Above all else, platforms housing inclusive courses should be intuitive and consistent.
The second component to inclusive courses is acknowledging that students accessing these courses hold a variety of intersectional identities. It is not enough to merely provide content to students; this content should also be representative of those varied identities. Digital learning tools such as adaptive courseware support and engage students in their learning across cultures and identities.
RELATED: How to keep cyber shenanigans out of the digital classroom.
Once digital tools are in place and curricula are updated, how do institutions ensure equitable education is maintained?
Williams notes that higher education is “one of the few mechanisms that can provide opportunities for historically disenfranchised students and empower them with knowledge.” Optimizing online learning environments to support this mission can bring us one step closer to closing the gap.
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