Every Learner Everywhere

What Are Equitable Teaching Practices in Digital Learning Environments?

Equitable teaching practices are classroom methods that proactively identify and confront the barriers to academic progress that disproportionately affect minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation students. Equitable teaching practices encompass culturally responsive teaching, assets-based pedagogy, cultural-wealth pedagogy, care-centered pedagogy, and other student-first approaches to teaching and learning. These practices can inform syllabus design, courseware selection, textbook selection, assessment, and how data is collected, analyzed, and used.

When developing equitable teaching practices, equity should be understood as distinct from equality, which is limited to improving access to existing systems and structures. Equitable teaching practices examine and account for how the systems and structures in which students learn contribute to unequal opportunities and results.

Why equitable teaching practices are needed

College and university educators must actively work to develop equitable teaching practices to avoid defaulting to so-called “neutral” or “colorblind” practices. As the authors of the report What Our Best College Instructors Do: Reflections by Students About Meaningful Learning Experiences argue, “any teaching approach that is not intentionally inclusive cannot be universally ‘good’ teaching but only good for the particular demographic of students around whom it is designed.”

Equitable teaching practices reject the assumption of a universally “good” teaching method and  challenge educators to consider how their students are unique. For example, the key takeaways of “What Our Best College Instructors Do” are that:

  1. Students want to be recognized as individuals and appreciated in the classroom.
  2. Students value the connections instructors make between course content and “real life.”
  3. Students want to be treated with respect and trust.

Equitable teaching practices allow students more agency and individual voice in the classroom.

Applying equitable teaching practices in the classroom

A series of teaching strategy guides from Every Learner Everywhere outline ways that effective educators center equity in their classrooms. The first, An Equity-First Approach to Evidence- Based Teaching Practices, outlines six practices that have been shown to benefit Black, Latino, Indigenous, poverty-affected, and first-generation students. They are:

  1. Transparency: sharing the expectations and course design with students
  2. Active Learning: learning by doing
  3. Formative Practice: practicing skills with timely and targeted feedback
  4. Data Analytics: using data to optimize student success
  5. Metacognition: helping students understand their learning process
  6. Sense of Belonging: creating an inclusive learning environment for all students

By using these practices, students are given an equitable learning experience that supports their success. Additionally, these practices can be used in conjunction with culturally relevant pedagogy to create an engaging learning experience tailored to each student.

Another application of equitable teaching practices includes the use of cultural wealth as proposed by Dr. Tara J. Yosso in her article Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth. This perspective, which reframes students’ previous life experiences as valid classroom learning tools, allows for a connection between course content and a student’s “real life.” It also conveys respect as the instructor validates unique circumstances and cultural wealth that may have previously been undervalued.

Equitable teaching practices and digital learning

Equitable teaching practices become even more important as digital learning becomes a greater part of a college education. While digital learning has the potential to close equity gaps, if deployed uncritically it can also extend or amplify existing inequities.

The strategy guide An Equity-First Approach to Postsecondary Digital Learning outlines seven key principles for effective equitable online teaching practices:

  1. Ground the pedagogy in evidence-based teaching practices
  2. Provide instructors with engaging, no-cost professional learning opportunities
  3. Take an ecological approach and leverage support services
  4. Use high-quality courseware
  5. Use open educational resources
  6. Leverage courseware adoption and decision-making resources
  7. Gather qualitative and quantitative user data

Using this framework, digital learning has the potential to contribute to equitable learning opportunities for Black, Latino, Indigenous, poverty-affected, and first-generation students.

More resources on equitable teaching practices

In addition to the strategy guides and the student survey referenced above, the Every Learner network partners have developed several practical and evidence-based resources on centering equity in teaching practices:

The Every Learner Everywhere YouTube channel archives webinar and conference presentations, many of which feature experienced faculty and instructional designers who center equity in their teaching practices.

Browse the Every Learner resource library for more on digital teaching and learning