This month (September 2023) WCET is focusing on Culturally Responsive Digital Learning. While I, personally, had heard of this pedagogical framework, I didn’t have a lot of experience in this space. And, as a proponent of owning up to our own knowledge deficiencies and taking control of my own development on topics surrounding equity, I took this opportunity not only to introduce the theme to our members and readers, but to make sure that I also have a solid understanding of this topic.

Defining Culturally Responsive Teaching

Scabble tiles spelling out "equity"
Image by WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay

“Culturally responsive teaching incorporates and centers unique student experiences and identities, supporting educators to build learning partnerships that result in increased student engagement and ownership of learning” (National Equity Project, 2023).

Gloria Ladson-Billings, whose research conclusions led to the development of the culturally relevant pedagogy framework, created a way of teaching that “not only addresses student achievement but also helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools (and other institutions) perpetuate” (Ladson-Billings, 1995). The term was further defined by Geneva Gay: “when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference for students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly” (2000).

When I was a student, I found my coursework more meaningful and memorable when I was able to connect with the content, either through an active interest or because the topic related to me somehow. I also know that when I taught college classes, students showed more engagement and success when our class content and activities were chosen by them, related to them somehow, honored something in their experience or history, or even just related to current events. I understand that this framework grew out of a need to better support minoritized students, in Ladson-Billings case, she was researching how to better support black students.

As Zaretta Hammond says in her work Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, we have to understand how students process information so we can help them be successful learners who remember what we’ve tried to teach them. By actively engaging with content and in information processing, all students will be more successful. But it is important for teachers and learners to understand that this active information processing is more important for students of color so they can “leverage their home cultures ways of learning and processing information” (Hammond, 2012).

Implementing The Framework

There are four main components for culturally responsive pedagogy:

  1. Affirmation
  2. Validation
  3. Cognition
  4. Processing

These strategies help create a classroom setting that supports culturally responsive pedagogy:

  1. Create a welcoming and affirming environment,
  2. Hold high expectations and maintain rigorous instruction,
  3. Use inclusive curriculum and assessment,
  4. Participate in ongoing professional learning and support (New York State Education Department (NYSED, n.d.).

Instructors and/or course designers can use cultural course content, or materials, resources, and activities that “reflect the diversity of the students in class and the diversity of the contributors in the field of study or discipline” (Singhal & Gulati, 2020). Each student (and therefore, each instructor and staff member too, right?) comes to the classroom with their own behaviors, beliefs, and characteristics, plus their values and their language. This framework helps instructors and students “embrace culture in the classroom” (Singhal & Gulati, 2020).

Making it Digital

Graphic of a person holding a smart phone with images of various technology icons showing off the screen

Technology can help make the classroom and teaching and learning strategies more culturally responsive. Here are some important elements of culturally responsive digital learning:

  • Accessibility

Creating accessible digital materials, websites, and other media not only ensures that students with disabilities can fully participate in a course, and can help ensure that your class and class resources are fully usable by all students, of all ages, of all backgrounds, and of all abilities. Ensuring your content is accessible benefits the entire community.

  • Translation

We have seen some increases in the diversity of college campuses across the U.S. More women are earning degrees and the share of Americans who do complete a bachelor’s degree has increased for all races and ethnicities (Schaeffer, 2022). This means, though not where we need and want it to be, there has been an increase in the diversity of the college classroom. With that comes the need to overcome language barriers.  Technology tools such as Google Translate can help students who do not speak English, or need assistance with some translation, especially when delving into more advanced topics.

  • Multidimensional media opportunities

Through some of my reading, I learned the importance of encouraging family and community engagement throughout the course. Consider the different media options that can help bring family, friends, and community members into the classroom to share their experiences or to highlight and showcase learner experiences and accomplishments. Livestreaming platforms such as YouTube Live, online meeting platforms like Zoom, or audio and video recording can provide meaningful moments of cultural engagement.

Three students work together on a computer.
Image by makhtoom from Pixabay
  • Collaboration

I know, we have all heard student complaints about the dreaded group project (or have voiced such complaints ourselves). But we also know that collaboration between students on classroom activities, assignments, projects, etc., can be great teaching techniques. Collaboration tools not only connect students to students for completing group work, but also connect students to experts around the world to learn about different topics, locales, and cultures.

Learn with Us This Month!

I’ve just scratched the surface of what I know is waiting for me to learn about culturally responsive digital learning. I’m so excited to continue learning this month with my colleagues at WCET and our members. We hope you’ll join us on this journey. Here are some of the upcoming opportunities and events focused on this theme:

Lindsey Downs

Assistant Director, Communications and Community, WCET



LinkedIn Profile


Fingal, J. (2021). 4 Ways To Use Tech To Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Accessed from

Gay, Geneva. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Najarro, I. and Will, M. (2022). What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching? Education Week.

New York State Education Department (n.d.). Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education Framework. Accessed from:

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. (1995). “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3.

Singhal, M. and Gulati, S. (2020). Five Essential Strategies to Embrace Culturally Responsive Teaching. Faculty Focus. Accessed from:  

Hammond, Z. (2012). Beyond Flesh-Colored Crayons: The Four Components of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Accessed from:


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