What is equity in online education?
Achieving institutional equity is essential to student learning. To facilitate this process, equity-minded educators must deepen our commitment to providing supportive online learning environment that is based upon equity principles and high-impact practices to address disparities, close achievement gaps, and meet the needs of each student.
Among its definitions, Merriam-Webster (n.d.) defines equity as “freedom from bias or favoritism.” In the Distance Education context, Peralta uses the term equity to mean “freedom from bias or assumptions that negatively impact online learners’ motivations, opportunities, or accomplishments.”
Unfortunately, there are clear achievement gaps for certain student populations in online courses, which means every online teacher has to be proactive in addressing challenges and barriers that affect the success of those student groups. Those challenges and barriers can be as fundamental as access—making sure all students have access to online courses and the technology required to complete them. Conversely, they can be as complex as helping students combat stereotype threat or increasing their feelings of social belonging in an online course environment.
NOTE: The California Community Colleges’ California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI) has created a Student Equity Work Group that is charged with the following tasks:
- examining the institutional, systemic and learning barriers that result in inequitable outcomes and disparate impact in course and degree completion rates in online education,
- identifying disparities and challenges associated with online student equity, and
- identifying success strategies to address these inequities as it relates to course and degree completion.
Who faces equity challenges?
Studies comparing performance in face-to-face and online courses (Jaggars, 2014) found that the following groups have a higher risk of not completing or passing online courses:
- First-generation students
- Low-income students
- Ethnic minority students (specifically Latinx and African-American)
- Academically underprepared students
The four Peralta Colleges include the following additional groups in their Student Equity Plans that address equity in all classes—not just online classes:
- Foster youth
- Students with disabilities
- Military veterans
What equity factors affect success?
A wide range of factors affect student success, many of which can be improved by taking steps to improve equity:
- Academic factors: Generally, students’ level of preparedness for learning (e.g., currently having ineffective study or learning skills which can be improved) and, specifically, students’ readiness for online learning affect their success.
- Pedagogical factors: Your course organization and design, the quality and quantity of interaction opportunities, and timely and effective feedback all contribute to success.
- Psychological factors: Students’ feelings of social belonging and ability to address stereotype threat improve success, as do students’ perceptions of the course’s value relevance and the teacher’s compassion.
- Social factors: Students’ feelings of isolation or alienation in an online course have a negative impact, while joining a learning community has a positive impact.
- Technological factors: Access to and ability to use the technologies required for online course—or lack thereof—affect students’ success.
How can you increase equity?
Here are a few ways you can increase equity in your online and/or hybrid course:
- Identify and address unconscious bias – Whether we are aware of it or not, our behavior as teachers is affected by unconscious attitudes, stereotypes, assumptions and biases. For example, “instructors may assume that students know to seek help when they are struggling” (Yale CTL, n.d.).
- Identify and address image and representation bias – Our students’ perceptions are influenced by the images they see. As teachers, we rarely think about how the images in our textbooks, presentations, course materials, and other Web resources might show unequal representation (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age); and/or promote stereotypes (Kay, Matuszek & Munson, 2015). For example, textbooks may underrepresent women and certain ethnicities in images of people in prestigious professions or leadership positions.
- Create inclusive course environments and activities – If we’re not careful, online and hybrid courses have the potential to exclude different types learners from participating. Learners with disabilities are one of the most notable groups, but not the only one by any means! There are a wide range of inclusion strategies to change this dynamic.
- Increase personal connection with students – Increasing your personal connection with students is critical in an online or hybrid course. Alienation and isolation are real factors that drive students to drop out of or stop participating in online courses. Conversely, a higher sense of connection with the instructor leads to higher retention and success (CCCCO, 2013).
- Use clear language, goals and measures – It’s easy to think we’re being clear, but first generation college students don’t work from the same set of assumptions about completing work for college courses–especially online courses. USC’s Center for Urban Education (n.d.) shared five principles to achieve equity. The first principle outlines the need to use clear language, goals and measures.
- Refer students to support and resources – Student success is a team effort—it goes beyond any one course or teacher. In addition to setting up your course to foster success, point students to resources relevant to them. The Student Resources Site provides many links to relevant support for online students.
You’ll read more about these strategies and others as you complete this module. It’s worth noting that the CVC-OEI Online Equity Framework suggests that there are three aspects to increasing equity:
- Instruction and course design: Equity-minded online courses
- Student services: Equitable access and support for students
- Institution: Institutional policies and practices that promote equity
Sign up for the Online Equity Training offered at PCCD.
Attribution: PCCD Online Equity Training
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