We, like Western Governors University (WGU) and other institutions, are committed to changing all learners’ lives for the better by creating pathways to opportunity. In this pursuit, we seek to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at a systemic level in higher education and workforce development by expanding access, improving learning efficacy, and creating environments where faculty and staff become advocates for DEI in their own networks. We bring this mission into action by striving to center equity in our research, design, and EdTech acceleration.
We work towards equity by prioritizing learners’ perspectives in these ways:
Learn Directly from Students. As much as possible, we put the student journey and full student experience at the heart of our data collection and analysis. We incorporate data about their studies and listen to students to record their perspectives. With a student-centered focus, we have a better opportunity to understand what it looks and feels like to be a learner at their institution.
Recruit for Equitable Representation. Learners are diverse. To fully represent all learners, we strive for targeted recruitment of research participants that honors their individuality. Through this, we can better understand the distinctiveness among learner populations, rather than generalizing across one group.
Rich Disaggregation. The experiences of all students are important to us, no matter how few of them are part of a study. To capture data representative of even the smallest groups, we disaggregate individual trends and data points, and when possible look at the intersection of relevant parts of learners’ identities — especially their race, ethnicity, and income. Engaging in this process allows us to better determine the effectiveness of the different interventions on distinct populations, rather than making broad claims about their impacts on the learner population.
We invest in an equity-first process to learning design. Using one-on-one interviews with institutional stakeholders and students, we go beyond assumptions and honor learners’ full identities. We carry over the perspectives and needs of learners to an iterative co-design approach. Then we balance what we’ve learned with our team’s deep knowledge of various educational technologies and cross-platform standards. Using all of these strategies and skills we create content that is culturally relevant, sensitive to learners’ unique needs, and platform agnostic.
Facilitated Sessions that Amplify User Voice. Our co-design approach to facilitated sessions aims to lift up the voice of users. Through this user-centered approach, students are better positioned to be the experts in the room and play an active role in the design and creation of future interventions. Our goal is to understand what learning looks and feels like to students. The interventions would likely not ring true to all learners’ experiences without incorporating student-created insights.
Often the solutions that receive interest and funding are those that benefit the largest number of students, the most privileged students, and the most well-resourced institutions. It’s a cycle created by inequitable systems that creates inequitable access to opportunity for students and workers from historically marginalized groups. We are focused on breaking this cycle by supporting EdTech founders working to develop solutions for learners who are the furthest from opportunity. We measure the social impact of EdTech companies through the holistic, evolving Evaluation Framework for Social Impact. This approach incentivizes prospective participants to lead innovation with inclusivity rather than profit.
In all of our communications, internally and externally, we actively pursue inclusivity. We know that no group is a monolith and that language is constantly changing. We created and follow an Inclusive Language Guide — a living document that offers guidance on vocabulary when referring to various communities. In practice, equity in communication can look like many things. For example, in our survey design, we record respondents’ full range of identities. This is an action based in respect, rather than political correctness. Self-identification enables people to fully express themselves in all of their complexity and unlocks key insights that might have been missed through other approaches.
Equity must be at the core of our organization’s culture. To work toward this goal, we strive to have a team with diverse perspectives and lived experiences, and demonstrated knowledge or interest in universal design and accessibility. We are working intentionally to create an environment where all team members and partners can feel safe surfacing their ideas, perspectives, and concerns, even if they lead to uncomfortable conversations. These efforts often do not follow a linear path, but they are ongoing and ever-evolving as we deepen our understanding and practices of equity.