Initiatives in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on one hand and in education technology on the other hand are often developed separately, but two major events in 2020 inspired Every Learner Everywhere and its network partners to create multiple ways for educators to confront how these are overlapping and mutually reinforcing.
The first transformative development was how many students were left behind in spring 2020 when colleges and universities scrambled to set up online learning. The second was the growing protests for social justice after the killing of George Floyd.
2020 illustrated how embedding technology in a college course won’t automatically close equity gaps if institutions uncritically reproduced old inequalities in new formats. Now was the time to redouble efforts to help educators make their digital learning initiatives more equity centered.
Every Learner Everywhere already had in progress many of the customary resources for support on this kind of challenge, including professional development courses, workshops, and published assets for faculty and administrators. However, equity-centered digitally enabled learning is a complex challenge so unique to each institution that Every Learner Everywhere felt a more personalized solution was called for.
That’s where the idea for an Expert Network came from. In partnership with The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Every Learner Everywhere assembled a cohort of faculty, researchers, and academic leaders who excel in their fields and are champions of equity and digital learning.
Meet the experts
The network includes seven professionals with a wide range of experience in cultural pedagogy, social justice, and digital learning. It is designed to provide faculty and administrators in higher education a resource for on-demand, flexible coaching. There is no cost to talk with an expert in the network.
“One thing we looked for in our experts was someone you can trust when you’re having that one-on-one deep conversation,” says Norma Hollebeke, Manager of Network Programs and Services for Every Learner Everywhere. “But trust is usually something built over time, and you only have a one-hour coaching session, so how can you build trust right away?”
Every Learner Everywhere looked for deep expertise along with the ability to empathize and stay non-judgmental about the varied experience of the people consulting with them. Hollebeke says, “We wanted to make sure our experts had a very holistic view and a human side.”
For example, the seven coaches in the network include:
- A research librarian in the digital humanities who works with colleagues to create a “generous pedagogy” around challenging topics
- The creator of an asynchronous professional development course on inclusive pedagogy
- A professor of New Literacies and Bi/Multilingual Immigrant Learners
- The National Director of CDF Freedom Schools, who is an expert on culturally responsive pedagogy, distance learning, and educational leadership
These experts and others began opening their calendars for one-on-one consultations in January.
Read more: The Every Learner Everywhere blog features individual profiles of all the professionals in the Expert Network.
Unique challenges, unique help
The personal coaching sessions are more empowering than mandatory training, says Joshua Werth, Senior Project Manager of Learning Partnerships at ISTE. “Something we’re really proud of is how the Expert Network encourages participants to explore issues in a way that works for them,” he says. “You can choose the expert who resonates best with you.”
Many participants so far come to the sessions because they’re interested in becoming more inclusive or equitable in their teaching, but they don’t know how to do it. Hollebeke says, “The one-on-one sessions support participants as they operationalize their goals.”
One reason it is difficult to move forward on equity-centered digital learning is that it requires confronting uncomfortable subjects. But the one-on-one model of the Expert Network creates a safe zone where participants can ask questions they might not ask in a group session. Brandon Olszewski, Director of Research at ISTE, says, “You don’t have to feel embarrassed that you might ask the wrong question or use the wrong language.”
For example, participants may learn to work with their institutional leadership or colleagues to cultivate more cultural responsibility. “That can be really awkward,” says Olszewski.
“But comfort is not a success metric in an equity and inclusion conversation, especially if you’re white. You should go into it expecting to be challenged. With the Expert Network, you can have those conversations in a safe space and come away with practical ideas on how to advance more equitable education using digital tools.”
Because all the experts are up to date on effective and emerging digital technologies, participants are also exposed to practical tools to support them in their courses.
The network is open, at no cost, to anyone in higher education who is interested in learning more about the intersection of equity and digital learning.
To get started, go to the Expert Network page and click on the expert profile that resonates with you. The website walks visitors through how to schedule a meeting. If you prefer that Every Learner Everywhere choose an expert for you, that option is available. You can also schedule sessions with more than one expert.
Hollebeke also recommends that individuals from groups at a single institution each schedule a session with a different expert and then come together to share what they’ve learned and how they can use it in their institution.
The time for change has come
Hollebeke says, “I hope we start seeing the needle move on campuses. This isn’t necessarily going to immediately transform an institution, but it takes just one step at a time. With one instructor here, and with an instructional designer joining the movement, and then a dean, you build the champions on your campus who will nurture an institutional transformation.”
Olszewski says, “For years we’ve been talking about digital access, and then when COVID-19 hit, many students were left behind. That’s not something we’re willing to accept. There’s no time like the present to find someone in the network who works for you. Take that next step. Learn something new. We’re here to help.”
Learn more about the experts and sign up here.