Seven Strategies for Fostering Equity in the Virtual Classroom
1. Learn what your students need
The best way is to discover what your students need is simply to ask them, in the personal connective style we are known for here at TCU. Consider using the survey in TCU Online to send out a confidential survey to help understand your students’ preferences and individual needs for remote learning. While it might not be possible to accommodate all requests, surveys can be enormously helpful in shaping the choices you make regarding remote instruction — and your students will feel like you are taking their personal situations into consideration. To avoid duplication, touch base with your department leadership or administration to see if similar surveys are being deployed.
2. Address unequal access to technology
During periods of remote teaching or during campus closures, not every student will have access to broadband internet service, or current software and hardware, and this is a reality whether or not students are on or off campus.
3. Identify potential impediments to remote learning
- Unstable, unpredictable or consistently reduced levels of access to internet or WiFi
- Dependence on data plans that decrease or run out before coursework is completed
- Lack of access or limited access to working laptops, tablets, web cameras, printers, or other hardware. While students might normally be able to take advantage of community resources to solve some of these access issues, these resources may not be accessible to all students when needed — and perhaps not at due to facility closures.
- Lack or access to the latest or specialized software / an inability to run certain apps or software on their device
- An unstable home or living environment
Additionally, students may need extra accommodations for remote instruction, and students who have not requested accommodations before may need them now. Refer students to Student Access & Accommodation.
4. Be flexible
Stressful times call for flexibility. You might also ask students if they have concerns about accessing other campus resources (health care, financial aid, counseling) outside of class. Be prepared to connect students to resources or to support.
Both students and faculty might find themselves needing to prioritize caretaking, health and safety or other needs before coursework. During the unpredictable times a pandemic can create, faculty, staff, and students all face increased levels of stress. Students may face a combination of challenges (physical, emotional, cognitive, financial) that can impact their motivation, focus, and performance. Students don’t have to be directly touched by a crisis experience an elevation in stress levels. Some may be struggling in ways that won’t they wish to share. When possible, be flexible about deadlines, adjusting workloads to adapt to each student’s changing situation.
5. Advocate for students with needs
Remember that not every student has a safe and welcoming home to return to and that some may depend upon campus resources for their access to food, shelter, employment, and health care (including mental health). These needs may be invisible, and students may be reluctant to disclose this. Consider the impact remote teaching and campus closures have on all students. Be an advocate—encourage other faculty members and administrators to make support available to all students.
6. Recognize varying impact
A crisis like a pandemic can impact communities in different ways. Students from different identity groups (race, ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation) may have different reactions to a situation. In times of crisis, some communities may become targets of bias incidents, discrimination, and even hate crimes. Prepare to diffuse tension, heated moments, or incidents of bias should they happen in your class. Step up and immediately thwart hurtful or inflammatory language (such as referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”) or actions. Take time to reflect on how your own response to such a situation and how it impacts you, your approach to teaching, your interactions with students, and how you can best support your students.
Be transparent with students. Misinformation can spread easily in times of crisis, and students may have misconceptions about the causes of an issue or about communities being impacted. When possible, correct any misinformation that students might be sharing.
7. Practice self-care
Moving to remote teaching requires balancing a lot of competing needs and expectations–a balancing act that can be stressful and require more emotional labor than usual. It’s ok not to aim for perfection during a time of certainty and constantly changing landscapes; allow flexibility in course planning, and expect that the unexpected can happen.
As you support your students, remember to seek support and assistance from your fellow instructors, department and university administrators, university support staff, as well as friends and family when you need it.