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7 Keys to Building Equity in Digital Learning

college student studying in library

A new report from Every Learner Everywhere, produced in collaboration with Tyton Partners and the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities, offers strategies for investing in digital learning infrastructure while bridging equity gaps to better serve under-represented students.

The organizations studied seven institutions with a variety of student populations — Cuyahoga Community College, Fayetteville State University, Georgia State University, Ivy Tech Community College, Tennessee Board of Regents, California State University, Fresno and the University of Texas at El Paso — to glean best practices and recommendations based on their digital learning implementation successes. According to the report, the institutions were selected for meeting the following criteria:

  • Serves significant numbers of minority and/or poverty-affected students;
  • Has invested in redesigning general education courses and using high-quality digital learning tools (such as adaptive courseware);
  • Uses digital learning as a strategy to close equity gaps;
  • Presents evidence of success on student, faculty and institutional outcomes; and
  • Shows signs of scaling up efforts.

The report outlined seven "key actions" for implementing digital learning infrastructure to support equitable outcomes:

Create an institution-wide approach to defining and implementing a plan for equity and digital learning. Institutions need clearly stated, measurable goals as well as "adequate data and evaluation procedures to monitor progress," the report emphasized.

Build a sustainable business plan, incorporating internal and external funding sources. The institutions profiled in the report "use a portfolio approach to digital learning funding sources," the researchers noted. "A combination of an internal budget allocation, state funding, the use of technology fees, and external philanthropic and grant funding are typical sources that sustain digital learning initiatives across the academic enterprise."

Build capabilities, expertise and policies to support high-quality and equitable course design. For example, the University of Texas at El Paso focuses on "incorporating high-impact practices throughout the curriculum and clearly embedding those using a common framework throughout course shells and syllabi," the report said.

Create a learning culture and equip faculty for success through effective professional learning, incentives and technologies. It's important to support and celebrate instructors who incorporate digital pedagogies into their courses. Key resources for faculty development include Centers for Teaching and Learning; faculty learning communities; and external organizations such as Achieving the Dream, the APLU's Personalized Learning Consortium, the Association of College and University Educators and Lumen Circles, the report pointed out.

Engage in ongoing evaluation and analytics. "Ensure that data — disaggregated by race, income, and other factors — is available and interrogated within courses, across courses, majors, and the institution as to identify challenges and learn from progress," the report recommended.

Equip students for success. "Students enter their educational experiences with varying levels of access to WiFi, devices, and literacy and experience with digital tools," the report noted. Institutions must support all students in their ability to access and use these technologies in order to succeed in digital learning.

Use external partners and vendors strategically to augment internal capacity. "We encourage knowing your institution's internal capacity or internal capacity limits and bring in expertise and support for historically under-resourced students," the report said. "Considering where to partner for capabilities and services versus where to invest in them permanently is a strategy that can offer cost savings for institutions or access to targeted expertise in digital learning and equitable course design."

The full report, including concrete examples of putting practice into action and full details on the institutions studied, is available on the Every Learner Everywhere site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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