Enabling Difference – Stories of Equity in Higher Education

Published by: WCET | 6/11/2021

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The WCET team has committed to working toward a more equitable world through our work on digital learning in higher education. This fall we will dedicate the month of August to discussion of equity and inclusion in higher education, planned and coordinated by a work group of the WCET Steering Committee. Today, we’re joined by Chantae Recasner, to introduce the focus and dedication our team and our leadership has and to ask for help in exploring how you, our members, are Enabling Difference. Thank you to Chantae and the members of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion working group for your guidance as we all move toward a better education system and a better world.

Read on to learn more about how you can join us on this journey.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

In the last year, we witnessed a global explosion of interest in the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the United States, many attribute this resurgence of interest to the murder of George Floyd—the social media traction it gained, the public outcries and protests, and the synergistic rage against injustice it inspired in people of all ages, all races, and all nationalities. The struggle for equity in higher education, however, is as old as the creation of the university itself, and the vicious intersection of racism, sexism, and classism have long since haunted educational outcomes. For decades, theorists have argued the inherent fallacy of formal American education—an institution built upon inequity—as the great equalizer. Yet, we persist. In the most steadfast and unyielding way, educators lean into this social institution’s regenerative power and leverage reform and innovation as tools that can simultaneously cut the destructive limbs (irrespective of how deeply rooted they are) and rebuild better ones. Why? Simply because we can.

A Formula for Equity

photo of several hardcover books

There is no one formula for how best to do education: change out one of the significant variables (who’s teaching, who’s learning, who’s leading) and the outcomes could change. Thus, experimentation is par for the course.

Yet, when it comes to equity, in the absence of a formula there is fear. Scholars have responded to the fears:

None of these references are intended as definitive or comprehensive, just illustrative of how the field has responded to fears. Equity work, whether pedagogical or personal, is indeed scary. The work often feels like a challenge to reboot an entire nervous system as opposed to cutting off just one bad limb. But, there is no one formula for how best to do equity.

Enabling Difference through Equity Innovation – Help Us Learn More

In many ways, equity work is akin to innovation as it starts with empathy and people, and it necessitates experimentation. WCET is particularly interested in showcasing and/or exploring what’s being done in the digital landscape to advance equity. In fact, WCET recently partnered with DETA to sponsor the creation of “Research Review: Educational Technologies and Their on Student Success for Racial and Ethnic Groups of Interest” and also works in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere to address equity and digital learning. Over the summer and into the fall, we are looking for ways to advance stories that “Enable Difference.” What does enabling difference look like? We believe difference is being enabled in so many outstanding ways at institutions across the country. From learner profile development to training in equity-based pedagogies to diversifying leadership and faculty, there are so many available narratives about how colleges and universities are centering and valuing difference as a core component for strategic success.

So, what are you doing differently? How are you talking differently? How are you planning differently? What’s different about how you are facilitating teaching and learning? Here are some other questions for consideration:

  • How are you/your colleagues navigating impact versus intention in your work? Have you implemented strategies or integrated technology that caused unintended harm? Are you creating space(s) for dialogue about intention and impact?
  • How is your institution differentiating the college experience for students? Are you challenging “one size fits all” notions about enrollment, advising, instruction, tutoring, etc.? Are there technologies that you are using that help with this differentiation?
  • Has your institution identified particular friction points, i.e., particular courses/subjects/administrative processes, that are creating challenges to building equity? Are any of those friction points either caused or alleviated by technology?
  • How is the concept of “student ready” versus “college ready” driving your institutional practice? What does it look like to take the onus of success off of the student and put it on the college/university? Are there ways that technology can help or hinder student success and institutional ownership?

In All of Your Considerations, Don’t Lose Sight of The Goal: EQUITY.

textbox reads "enabling difference"

Equity in education exists when explicit and implicit barriers are removed so that all students and employees have optimal access to success. Expressed differently, equity is created when we design systems that yield it. If systems inherently produce what they are designed to produce, we must embrace change to see the equitable outcomes we desire. Maybe you have a story about how your organization is changing to advance equity. Who’s involved? What’s being done? How are you measuring what has been done? What metrics are driving your conversations/actions? What are you learning? Or maybe you would like to share your campus’ strategic plan and the ways that it centers equity and student success. Those documents and answers to the above questions will help us frame our collective conversations around equity and student success.

WCET understands that change is a process and that equity is ongoing. You might have a successfully completed project that you want to share, but it is also okay to provide the story of how you attempted something and found it challenging. In other words, evidence of success is very valuable but so is any and all evidence of learning. If you’re about to launch an initiative on your campus or in your system, what are the key considerations you are making before the launch? If you attempted a read-in for all staff in your area and it failed, what did you and your team learn from that failure?

In the coming months we will be exploring equity and digital learning in greater detail including a series of blog posts and other learning opportunities throughout the month of August. The journey to equity is about becoming, and we are on that journey with you. We welcome any and all stories of how you are Enabling Difference to become more equitable.

Please share your stories by emailing me at crecasner@alamo.edu. Thank you!

Chantae Recasner

WCET Steering Committee Chair, WCET Executive Council, Vice President for Instruction, Seattle Central College


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