An Equation at the Heart of Equity in Higher Education

WCET is thrilled to serve as the intermediary for Every Learner Everywhere, a network of twelve partner organizations with expertise in evaluating, implementing, scaling, and measuring the efficacy of education technologies, curriculum and course design strategies, teaching practices, and support services that personalize instruction for students in blended and online learning environments. Recently, Every Learner launched The Equity Equation, and today we are joined here by Jessica Rowland Williams, the Director of the Every Learner Everywhere network, to tell us about the campaign. We hope you will join Every Learner Everywhere and WCET in this conversation to help students everywhere achieve their educational dreams! Thank you Jessica for telling us more about this initiative and sharing your passion for helping students.

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Digital Learning + Innovative Teaching = Academic Success for Every Learner Everywhere 

equity equation logo

The Equity Equation hinges on the notion that digital learning is at the core of higher education equity. With more tools and greater access to quality education and innovative teaching, more students can succeed. This holds especially true for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, low-income students, and first-generation students. 

The Equity Equation campaign is intended to spark a conversation about what we can all be doing better to support better access and use of digital tools for educational success. The forum amplifies the voices of those most impacted by inequities: students. We gathered students of all different backgrounds and lived experiences to share their hopes and dreams with us. We also asked them to share what they need to achieve those dreams.  

A Dream Achieving Equitation

man focused on using a laptop
Image from Every Learner Everywhere

Their overall message was clear – that finishing their degree is harder because college was not designed for all students. While this is disheartening to hear, their message was also hopeful, in that with opportunity and the right resources, they know they can graduate and achieve their full potential.

Transitioning more coursework to digital formats has been a years-long goal for many institutions, and amid the pandemic, the switch from in-person to online learning was implemented suddenly and under emergency conditions. While digital courseware is pivotal for flexible and accessible learning, the systemic inequities that are present in all facets of our lives affect digital learning. We believe it is possible for higher education to achieve equitable, improved outcomes for every learner everywhere with innovative, equity-first, evidence-based teaching and digital learning. 

When we examined additional student feedback from a recent national survey of 1,000 undergraduates, we found similar sentiments to what the students participating in our campaign shared. College students’ satisfaction sharply dropped after schools shifted to all-online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey results are outlined in the report  Suddenly Online, a joint initiative of Every Learner Everywhere and partner organizations, Digital Promise and Tyton Partners. Among the most notable findings: 

Woman smiles while using a laptop
Image from Every Learner Everywhere
  • Undergraduate students learning remotely struggled to stay motivated and missed receiving feedback from instructors and collaborating with fellow students.
  • Significant numbers of students had problems with their internet connections, software, or computing devices—serious enough to impede their participation in their courses. 

But the survey included a glimmer of hope. Students reported much higher satisfaction with online courses using a larger array of recommended online teaching practices, versus courses that used fewer of them.

Not only do students fully recognize that they want more access to these tools, but research also backs the desire for their implementation. Digital learning tools can increase access and engagement, decrease student costs, and improve college students’ outcomes.

What Steps Can We Take Now?

The question then becomes, what steps can institutions and faculty take to improve and embrace digital learning experiences for all students?

  1. First and foremost, equity must be at the center of every planning decision.
  2. Higher education institution should prioritize investment in professional development for faculty with a focus on evidence-based, equity-first and culturally-responsive teaching.
  3. Faculty, staff, and institutions overall should engage with students frequently for feedback regarding student support services, teaching methods, technology, and other touchpoints.

These practices are ways to bring us closer to the Equity Equation outcome of academic success for Every Learner Everywhere. 

Our students – and our future – depend on getting this right. 

For more advice and to join our Equity Equation discussion, visit everylearnereverywhere.org/equity.


Jessica author photo

Jessica Rowland Williams
Director, Every Learner Everywhere
@DrJessWilliams

Jessica Rowland Williams is director of Every Learner Everywhere, a network that helps institutions of higher education across the United States implement innovative teaching and learning practices to increase the success for underserved students. She’s on Twitter @DrJessWilliams.


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My name is Lindsey Rae Downs. I am the Assistant Director of Communications and Community for WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. I work remotely from beautiful Helena, MT.

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