A calendar page open to the month of february

This month, February, WCET’s main focus topic has been on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

February marks Black History Month, an observance that honors the rich histories and acknowledges the invaluable contributions of African Americans across various facets of society. In honor of this Heritage Month, we wanted to highlight the the inclusive and supportive nature of HBCUs, especially in the digital education space.

This week’s guest author, Barry Briggs, is currently an intern with WCET and Every Learner Everywhere and is close to completing his Masters degree from Auburn University. Barry has been engaged in research alongside WCET focused on Minority Serving Institutions. Today, he joins us to explore how the teaching and learning philosophy employed by HBCUs, even in the realm of digital learning, significantly impacts the well-being, achievements, and overall success of their students.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as beacons of inclusive education, fostering environments where every student’s voice is heard and valued. As we HBCUs now lead the way when navigating digital environments, showcasing a distinctive advantage in digital learning. Today we’re here to unravel the secrets behind this advantage and highlight how other institutions can follow their lead.

Beyond Teaching and Learning: The Rhetoric of Care

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the concept of a rhetoric of care takes center stage, becoming a defining characteristic of the digital learning experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). But what exactly is a “rhetoric of care?” First, let’s discuss the concept of a pedagogy of kindness to see how HBCUs implement these principles and create a uniquely nurturing digital learning environment.


A rhetoric of care in education goes beyond the traditional roles of teaching and learning. It’s a philosophy that emphasizes empathy, understanding, and genuine concern for the well-being of students.

At HBCUs, this approach is not just a strategy; it’s a fundamental aspect of their educational ethos. In the digital realm, a rhetoric of care manifests in various ways, each contributing to a more holistic and supportive learning environment. This manifestation involves:

  • actively listening to students,
  • understanding their individual needs, and,
  • adapting teaching practices to foster a sense of belonging.

In the digital context, this translates to faculty members going the extra mile to connect with students on a personal level. Regular check-ins, virtual office hours, and personalized feedback become not just tasks but expressions of care, ensuring that students feel seen and valued in the virtual classroom. These spaces have a culture of kindness woven into the fabric of every interaction. Faculty members model kindness through their communication, fostering a sense of community that transcends the digital divide. This intentional approach to teaching creates a ripple effect, as students, in turn, engage with course materials and their peers with a spirit of empathy and collaboration.

A great example of such an approach is the Psychiatry Clerkship at Morehouse School of medicine.

quote textbox: “In the digital context, this [“rhetoric of care”] translates to faculty members going the extra mile to connect with students on a personal level...

These spaces have a culture of kindness woven into the fabric of every interaction...

This intentional approach to teaching creates a ripple effect, as students, in turn, engage with course materials and their peers with a spirit of empathy and collaboration.”

The medical school collaborated with students to build a six-week e-learning Curriculum. Student exit surveys showed that students appreciated the inclusion of asynchronous e-learning modules into their curricula. 90 of 95 students who completed the psychiatry clerkship during the 2020-2021 academic year completed the exit survey, and 90 out of the 95 of students appreciated self-directed learning portion of their modules. This feedback indicates that there’s positive relationship between student comprehension and autonomy in learning. On a scale of 1-5, 5=most beneficial and 1=least beneficial, the ADMSEP e-modules received an average score of 4.16. This module was also free to the students. The Online MedED-Case E, a case assigned online and paid by the institution, received an average score of 3.93.The clerkship models the rhetoric of care philosophy by giving students power over their digital learning space. They played a huge role in how they online section of the course was crafted.

The result of implementing these models is an HBCU digital learning experience that is  both an academic journey and a transformative and enriching period of personal and intellectual growth. The combination of a rhetoric of care and a pedagogy of kindness sets HBCUs apart, creating a model for digital learning that prioritizes the holistic development of each student. In the next sections, we will explore how these principles extend beyond individual interactions to shape the broader inclusivity and collaborative spirit that defines HBCU digital learning.

Creating An Inclusive Online Campus Culture

Inclusivity is a hallmark of HBCU campuses, and this ethos can be extended into the digital realm. HBCUs leverage technology to replicate the on-campus inclusive atmosphere and move it online. Virtual clubs, events, and forums provide spaces for online learners to connect, fostering a sense of community regardless of physical location. The HBCU advantage lies in the ability to make each student feel valued and included, transcending the boundaries of the virtual classroom.

As part of my internship with Complete College America (CCA), I worked with a team of other students and staff to create a virtual app that could be pitched as an idea to our respective campuses.

College students using a laptop

These apps would have a plethora of virtual clubs and activities for students.  Working on this project with CCA gave me the opportunity to be at the forefront of shifting the Digital Landscape at HBCU and higher Ed spaces abroad, and the assignment left us with a glimmering hope for the future of digital learning at HBCU’s.

While working with CCA, we shared our individual experiences with technology at our individual HBCUs with the purpose of improving the digital learning landscape for future students. We envisioned apps, held talks with educational professionals, and took the time to assess how HBCUs can translate their rich cultural heritage to the digital learning space. We also discussed in detail updates to policies that will provide equitable student access educational technologies. By sharing our own individual student experiences, we began to imagine innovative ways to level the playing field for all students. ChatGPT and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools were at the forefront of many of our panel discussions. In the end, many of us believe AI will be instrumental in shifting the current educational landscape.

Elevating the Digital Learning Experience

HBCUs elevate the voices of their students in the digital learning landscape and their commitment to student input goes beyond lip service; it drives continuous improvement in digital learning practices. Morehouse  self-directed online learning modules have created the blueprint for transforming the digital learning sphere at HBCU’s and universities abroad. Dedicated platforms for feedback and suggestions empower students to actively shape their educational journey. HBCUs understand that by listening to students, they not only enhance the learning experience but also cultivate a culture of responsiveness and adaptability. The Collaborative E-learning program at Morehouse is a great example and can serve as a blueprint for other universities to follow.

The HBCU advantage in digital learning is a testament to their unwavering commitment to a rhetoric of care, inclusivity, collaborative assignment design, and amplification of student voices. The practices used by HBCUs can inspire and transform broader educational institutions. The lessons learned from HBCUs underscore the profound impact of nurturing, inclusive, and collaborative approaches to education, setting a high standard for the future of digital learning. Now is a great time to learn from HBCU’s digital learning practices and proactively influence the educational landscape rather than simply reacting to it.

Barry Briggs

Intern, Every Learner Everywhere



Cotton, N.K., Kalarithara, S. & Villongco, C. Increasing Learning Support, Access, and Equity When Using Digital Learning During the Psychiatry Clerkship at an HBCU Medical School. Acad Psychiatry 46, 294–297 (2022).


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