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Toward Ending the Monolithic View of “Underrepresented Students”

Why Higher Education Must Account for Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Variations In Barriers to Equity

Higher education in the United States has a tendency to treat all “underrepresented” students as a monolith in ways that are counterproductive to the cause of equity. This aggregation of racially and ethnically minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation students obscures significant variations in admissions, course-level outcomes, persistence, graduation, and career success. Digital learning is particularly lacking in disaggregated data. To make progress on equity, educators and institutional leaders must be able to balance seeing and examining the patterns of lived experience among people in specific student populations with hearing how every student’s experience is unique.

Toward Ending the Monolithic View of “Underrepresented Students”: Why Higher Education Must Account for Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Variations in Barriers to Equity, synthesizes commentary, research, and programmatic activity on how higher education has grappled with disaggregating and using student data to confront and close equity gaps for particular student populations. A literature review of relevant studies and commentary was complemented by original interviews with 17 experts, including faculty, administrators, researchers, advocates, and students. Those experts are quoted at length throughout the report. The purpose of the report is to advance high-level evidence-based conversation about equity and learning — especially digital learning — in U.S. colleges and universities.

The Impact of Digital Learning on Minoritized and Poverty-Affected College Students: A Literature Review

The focus of this resource paper is to assess the effectiveness of digital learning in decreasing equity gaps as well as the impact digital learning has on specific student populations: those who identify as Black, Latino, and Indigenous; students from low-income backgrounds; and first-generation students. In this study, digital learning includes a broad range of curricular models, content and communication tools, design strategies, and instruction that personalizes instruction for students in both blended and online learning environments. This does not include emergency remote instruction during the lockdown and shelter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic as the variables of that situation—such as illness, trauma, and lack of digital learning tools and broadband access—cannot be reasonably included in data collected during normal campus operations. Rather, this study will focus on specifically designed curriculum and pedagogy for online and blended classes.

Partnering to Promote Equity and Digital Learning

Partnering to Promote Equity and Digital Learning describes a 15-month collaboration between three Every Learner Everywhere partner organizations (Achieving the Dream (ATD), the American Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and Digital Promise) and five colleges, all engaged in a research-practice partnership (RPP) around enhancing equity and digital learning in gateway courses. The report describes the key features of research-practice partnerships, the design choices made for this Equity and Digital Learning RPP, the process of establishing the RPP, RPP activities both within and across institutions, and data on student perceptions and academic performance in the target courses before and after the RPP activities.

The partnership was motivated by the desire to fill gaps in our understanding of how to integrate culturally responsive practice and digital learning tools to promote equitable outcomes. The partners wanted to work together to go beyond high-level abstract descriptions of desirable features of instruction (e.g., “inclusive” and “technology-supported”) to elucidate and try out specific practices that designers and instructors could implement. The team at each higher education institution selected one or more of their high-enrollment gateway courses as the focus for their Equity and Digital Learning work, examining student data for the course, brainstorming course improvement ideas, and laying the groundwork for implementing a revised version of the course in spring 2022.

To ground the RPP work in student needs, Digital Promise developed and supported the administration and analysis of a student survey focused on equity and digital learning. The Equity in Digital Learning Survey (EDLS) solicited students’ course experiences and perspectives related to course quality, digital learning practices and challenges, and equity and inclusion practices.

Teaching, Learning, Equity and Change

Realizing the Promise of Professional Learning

Research shows that professional learning (often called “faculty development”) has the potential to transform teaching and advance equity, learning and student success. Yet notable gaps in practice undercut its impact. This report, Teaching, Learning, Equity and Change: Realizing the Promise of Professional Learning, can inform the strategic action needed to realize the promise of professional learning at our nation’s equity-focused campuses.

Recent research demonstrates the effectiveness of professional learning in advancing equity-focused change in education. It also provides a clear picture of the best practices used by effective Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs). Yet key questions remain:

  • What is the status of professional learning on campuses serving most of the nation’s racially minoritized and poverty-affected students?
  • How do these institutions deploy professional learning to support equity-focused teaching and learning?
  • What does best practice look like? What obstacles and gaps in practice get in the way?
  • What kind of assistance would be helpful?

In 2022, a team of field practitioner leaders from Achieving the Dream and the Online Learning Consortium gathered data to explore these questions. We conducted a survey with nearly a hundred respondents – CTL directors and staff, as well as Provosts and other campus leaders. They represent Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), community colleges as well as research universities. We also interviewed 20 leaders, intentionally including those from campuses with exemplary CTLs. This report summarizes our findings and recommendations.

WCET Report: Supporting Instruction & Learning Through Artificial Intelligence: A Survey of Institutional Practices & Policies

Artificial Intelligence in general poses numerous challenges for educators and students alike, such as academic integrity, lack of knowledge and training, misinformation, and implementation costs. However, AI also presents opportunities to support equity and access, increased efficiency, new understandings of (and urgency around) digital literacy and crucial workforce skills, and improved instruction and learning, among others.

In April 2023, WCET – the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, undertook a national survey to ascertain how and why postsecondary institutions are using Artificial Intelligence to support instruction and learning, what policies are in place, and what are the perceived barriers to, and benefits for, its use.

This report highlights the survey results plus six in-depth interviews conducted post survey.

WCET Closer Look – Microcredentials