Equity in a Virtual Space
Equity in a Virtual Space avatar

This week’s materials really spoke to concerns that continue to be important when considering the intersections (or lack thereof) between online learning and equity. In both postsecondary and K-12 education, it often seems that “technology” is used as a band-aid or cure all for issues that have deeper causes. As danah boyd suggests, “. . . just because people have access to the Internet does not mean that they have equal access to information. Information literacy is not simply about the structural means of access but also about the experience to know where to look, the skills to interpret what’s available, and the knowledge to put new pieces of information into context” (317).

One approach that I take to address this, especially as I work to integrate Canvas more and more into my f2f classes, is to “become [more] accepting of students as cocreators of content and knowledge” (Chen & Bryer 2012) in the hopes of building community and creating a classroom (both f2f and online) where I become “a learner along with students” (Chen & Bryer 2012). This also helps in addressing some of the concerns I have about Canvas- my first experiences with it led me to think it was very intuitive, but I’m finding opportunities to continue to return to my course pages during class to assure that my students know where to find important information such as prompts, and unit-specific information that I post under the modules tab. Sometimes it’s as simple as demonstrating the need to scroll down further on a page where I’ve posted an important question or reading.

Far too often, in my assumption that students are more familiar with the ins & outs of technology, I don’t account for how students access information online. Often students’ main access point is the smart phone. The Canvas app behaves much differently than the computer version. In my English 52 class, we have the luxury of using chromebooks and there is one for each student and when I teach in 4611 each student has a computer to use, so we can make use of these resources to troubleshoot any issues we might be having with Canvas literacy.

Having taken J. Luke Woods’s Teaching Men of Color certification program, it was really compelling to see how his methods can translate into teaching online courses.

Considering, the self-paced nature of online classes, his push to “be intrusive long before it’s too late” seems especially relevant. This is something I do in my f2f classes. I often feel that I start out strong with this practice, but as the semester progresses and the work mounts, it becomes more difficult to keep up with regular emails to students who may be in need of increased contact.

But I do think there is value in working in “mandatory interactions” – adding credit or points to office hours, finding more opportunities to learn about our students (especially in an online setting). Many of the suggestions seem to be in line with Warnock, -live office hours, personalized feedback and generally making students aware of our humanity.

Most useful are Woods’s suggestions for making online courses culturally relevant to counter the deficit mentality that is often assigned to students of color. I especially appreciated his mention of “mirror books” that are reflective of our students’ lives and experiences. However, in my focus on social justice issues in past semesters, I worry that I included too many texts where African Americans were portrayed in positions of disempowerment and desperation-Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy being a prime example. It’s a powerful book and, in my opinion, a very important one, but I think students were often put off by the harrowing nature of the vignettes about people of color on death row/ serving life sentences. So I’ve shifted to developing units on education, technology, success, and gender- I’ve found these to be much better for developing a climate of openness and accessibility.

Finally, one of the most eye-opening suggestions from Wood was to monitor our virtual discussions for microaggressions. Part of being race-conscious is being aware of students’, perhaps unintended, racially insensitive remarks. This is something I need to be aware of in the f2f classroom- and I think attention needs to be given to acknowledging and addressing microaggressions even when it’s uncomfortable for both teachers and students.Insensitive remarks about gender, disabilities, and mental health issues can’t be ignored- openness and directness are, as far as I can see, the best approach to addressing this. Opening up a class discussion (either in a discussion thread or in a class meeting), and one-on-one interactions with the student who makes the remark are two steps I plan to take in addressing microaggressions.

Many questions and much to ponder still.