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The Key to Generating More Equitable Results in Higher Education? Uniting the Faculty and Edtech Communities

Over the last year, many consequential changes have been thrown at higher education – new legislation impacted DEI, artificial intelligence entered the classroom in a big way, and we’re still working through the residual effects of the pandemic. Our industry is indeed at an inflection point.

Daysha Jackson-SanchezDaysha Jackson-SanchezThrough my conversations with other providers, as well as faculty and institutional leadership at colleges and universities across the country, I am increasingly optimistic that we are well-equipped to handle these shifts. The past few years have taught us how important it is to stay nimble and adapt to the changing landscape in education. To adapt effectively, we need to rethink how we deliver the educational experience, which requires innovation and collaboration from everyone, regardless of whether you’re supporting an institution or working at one. The more we work as a community – one that is uniquely interconnected and striving toward a common goal – the greater our chances of being able to produce more equitable results in higher ed, specifically for the growing population of students in need of our support.

Technology enables higher education to move the needle on equity

There is ample opportunity for edtech companies and faculty to work together and lead the charge in bringing more equity to higher education. We can come up with sustainable solutions to the thorniest problems because continuous learning is embedded in what we do.

Take the example of the courseware we deliver to students in gateway classes. As educational materials become increasingly digital-first, we have more opportunities to bring equity to the products we develop and reimagine what student success looks like. Using an equity-centered research and design approach, we can collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders who bring unique perspectives, including researchers, product designers, and even students, to create something that truly meets the needs of today’s learners. Moreover, this approach allows for co-creation and continuous improvement. We can take feedback not only from students but also faculty to ensure we’re creating more equitable materials that have long-lasting impact.

While technology undoubtedly presents opportunities for advancing equity in higher education, it is imperative to recognize its limitations and remain vigilant about access disparities. The lack of access to technology for some students has exacerbated existing equity issues. Therefore, as we harness the potential of technology to promote equity, we must simultaneously work to bridge the digital divide and ensure that all students have equal opportunities to benefit from technological advancements in education.

Collaborating for better student outcomes

We can look for guidance to many great examples of where innovative ideas are being accelerated to drive equity. The Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success strategy is dedicated to ensuring that more of today’s students complete their certificates and degrees and eliminate race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success. As a grant recipient of this program, Lumen developed new courseware for Introduction to Statistics, built with equity in mind. Other Gates Foundation grantees are hard at work to achieve this goal and ensure better access for more historically disadvantaged students.

But funding is only one piece of the puzzle. The ability to scale technology is another means of increasing the pace of innovation, especially for the learners who need it most. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) is an organization whose 250 members are public research universities, university systems, and affiliated organizations across all 50 U.S. states, Washington, DC, and several territories in Canada and Mexico. Through partnerships with organizations like APLU edtech leaders can scale courseware and reach minoritized students at participating institutions.

Another important piece to highlight is the implementation of innovation. We learned about the work of Intentional Futures, an impact design consultancy, which developed a research-based "equity scorecard," a comprehensive tool designed to guide courseware developers in prioritizing essential equity standards while creating educational products and content. Recognizing the significance of this initiative, my colleagues and I have expanded and evolved the scorecard to align with our specific needs, ensuring its relevance at every stage of our product development process. This amalgamation strengthens our commitment to equity and empowers our courseware developers to uphold the highest standards of inclusivity and diversity, thereby enriching the educational experiences we offer to a broad and varied audience.

Edtech companies and faculty can – and should – work together

Higher education is a collegial space. As edtech providers, our approach to developing solutions is closely intertwined with the perspectives of faculty members who depend on course materials to craft impactful learning experiences for their students. We value the collaborative relationship with educators, working hand in hand to create effective and tailored solutions that enhance the overall educational journey. Not only can we learn from and lean on each other, but we can also make progress in the spaces that need it because of our mutually shared goal – academic success for all students.

For faculty, recognizing technology as a tool rather than a sole solution can help fulfill its potential to support equity and student success. By fostering a collaborative relationship with edtech partners, faculty can contribute their valuable insights, ensuring that technology aligns seamlessly with their pedagogical objectives. This collaboration is crucial to the success of any technological intervention, as faculty bring a nuanced understanding of students’ needs and the learning environment. Ultimately, it is the combined effort of faculty and edtech partners that maximizes the positive impact on student success, emphasizing the essential interplay between technology and the critical role faculty plays in its effectiveness. 

If we can partner to respond to societal shifts together and keep the focus on equitable results, we’re set up to embrace the changes of today and into the future.

Daysha Jackson-Sanchez is vice president of equity solutions at Lumen Learning, overseeing the equity-centered design strategy, approach, and implementation.

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