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Designing and Using Online Discussions to Promote Social Justice and Equity

Abstract

The online student population continues to grow as students look for convenience and flexibility, which has positive consequences as online courses are often equivalent in quality to face-to-face courses and provide access to higher education for students who otherwise may not attend. However, some groups of students have lower rates of persistence than others, which may be due, at least in part, to issues of equity and inclusion that arise in online courses. In this chapter, we begin by sharing the reasons some groups of students are underrepresented in online courses and why they have lower persistence rates when they do attend. Then we discuss how online discussions differ from face-to-face discussions and their impact on students from underrepresented groups. To improve online student experiences, we outline a plan that builds off student strengths. We emphasize the creation of a welcoming classroom culture, culturally responsive pedagogy, universal design for learning, and transformative learning to create equitable small group online discussions using multi-modal asynchronous and synchronous technologies. Within this plan, we also address barriers related to bandwidth and access to technology.

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Abbreviations

Asynchronous::

Students participate at times that work best for their learning while meeting a set schedule of deadlines.

Discussions::

Interactions among peers guided by the instructor.

Instructors::

People teaching online courses, including those involved with course design.

Microaggressions::

Acts of everyday systemic racism which include acts of disregard or subtle insults stemming from often unconscious attitudes of white superiority (Bell et al., 2016; Solorzano & Perez-Huber, 2020).

Online learning::

Post-secondary, credit-bearing coursework that is delivered through a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard or Canvas.

Persistence::

Students enrolling in a course and completing it with a passing grade.

Synchronous::

Students participate at the same moment in real-time.

Underrepresented::

Students who have historically been less well represented in higher education (e.g., LatinX and Black students).

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Appendix A

Appendix A

Designing and Using Equitable Online Discussions Checklist

Prior to the first discussion , instructors should…

  • Share the purpose and usefulness of discussions.

  • Survey students to learn more about their discussion preferences and access to technology.

  • Based on survey information, create small discussion groups, prompts, and determine type (asynchronous and/or synchronous). Individually reach out to students who may have technology needs to problem solve.

  • Co-create discussion guidelines with students.

  • Share the grading rubric.

  • Educate students about bias and microaggressions in online environments.

  • Plan how to address bias and microaggressions when they occur.

  • Identify campus agencies who support students struggling with anxiety, depression, acculturated stress, and marginalization.

During each discussion , instructors should…

  • Facilitate discussions by providing consistent and timely feedback.

  • Continue to educate students about microaggressions. Keep an eye out for those “teachable moments.”

  • Be ready to immediately respond to bias and microaggressions.

After each discussion , instructors should…

  • Immediately review student self-reflections and contact students about concerns that arise, especially as they relate to bias and microaggressions. Refer students to campus agencies as needed.

  • Gather take-aways from group members and yourself and post the take-aways in your announcements.

  • Provide discussion grades and feedback in a timely manner.

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Gilpin, S., Clinton-Lisell, V., Legerski, E., Rhodes, B. (2022). Designing and Using Online Discussions to Promote Social Justice and Equity. In: Parson, L., Ozaki, C.C. (eds) Teaching and Learning for Social Justice and Equity in Higher Education . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88608-0_2

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