Editor's Note: This article was co-authored by Tiffany Brown, a faculty training specialist who has coached and trained over 100 faculty members responsible for designing course content and facilitating live sessions.
In steps one and two of my series on creating equitable learning spaces, I outline ways that educators can first evaluate their current practices and then initiate more inclusive ones. But virtual classrooms are inherently dynamic environments, and students’ needs continue to evolve. To adapt their teaching practices to an ever-changing learning landscape, educators must not only repeat these steps on a regular basis, but also purposefully engage their students in all aspects of the reviewing and reshaping process.
The Third and Final Step: Involve
When educators collaborate with students to collectively develop goals, set expectations, and celebrate successes on the path to a more equitable classroom, they take a vital step toward hearing and seeing their students’ experiences more clearly. Actively inviting this level of student input and combining it with educators’ own reflections and evaluation helps them identify more inclusive practices to implement across a course.
“Feel,” one of the three science-informed dimensions of 2U’s Learning Experience Framework, focuses on fostering students’ internal motivation to increase involvement. As Rachel Koblic, 2U’s senior director of course strategy, explains in her article “Why We Put All the Feels into Learning,” “Studies have shown that students who are more intrinsically motivated are more engaged. They show up, they try harder, and they stick around when things get tough.”
In applying this approach to equitable learning, educators can ask themselves, “What ideas do my students have for holding me, as well as the entire class, more accountable for equalizing student participation and engagement?” To help faculty in 2U-powered degree programs answer this question, my team recommends two strategies.
1: Set Clear Expectations
Educators can begin by communicating appropriate and realistic expectations, remaining mindful of the technology capabilities at their disposal, and willing to try new strategies and adjust as needed. Faculty should not only involve their students in goal setting and planning activities, but also explain “the why” behind their shared vision.¹
Adult learners are more likely to take charge of their own learning when they understand the reasoning behind what they are asked to read, discuss, and do. We encourage faculty to check in on their class’s progress toward equity throughout the term—not just at the beginning and end—by eliciting students’ thoughts in group or smaller breakout conversations and then noting their feedback for further action.
2: Intentionally Design Curriculum So Students Own Their Learning
In a flipped classroom model, students and faculty both benefit when the material to be discussed in a future live session is made available prior to the class. Students can come to class with some knowledge of the content in advance, which encourages them to take more accountability and ownership of their learning because their instructor is no longer the only expert in the room.² Early access to new, and oftentimes complicated, concepts also gives students who need accommodations the valuable support they require to actively engage.
For example, letting students choose how they demonstrate content mastery is a great way to assess their knowledge; it can also help educators identify where they should employ a wider variety of modalities to enable greater participation. This practice delegates more authority, rather than work, to students, so that faculty can focus on facilitating other equitable engagement opportunities in parallel. “Jigsaw” activities—in which students become experts by teaching a topic to the rest of the class—are a prime example of this approach in action.
Moving Forward with More Equitable Classroom Strategies
As I’ve demonstrated in this three-part series, restructuring classroom communities to be more inclusive and inviting for all students is an ongoing and iterative process. To build a more equitable classroom experience, we advise that educators activate three strategies. First, evaluate the syllabus, course content, and communication style. Next, turn discoveries into action and initiate new practices—so that all students, especially the historically marginalized, can shine on a stage built for their individual needs. Finally, involve students in this process every step of the way by creating regular opportunities for self-reflection, intentional social learning, and formative peer feedback.
Evaluate, initiate, involve: These three steps empower educators and students to create a more equitable classroom community together. At 2U, we’re here to help make sure every student feels universally welcomed, uniquely appreciated, and unconditionally supported throughout their entire learning journey.
¹ Chester, E. (2016). 10 ways to encourage employees to take ownership in their work. ericchester.com.
² Williams Beechum, N. (2020, September 9). What happens when students have ownership over their success. Education Week.
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