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Culturally responsive teaching online

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

November 15, 2018

Students studying at picnic tableHave you ever thought about your social presence and that of students when teaching an online class? Have you thought about the messages you send to students in the online environment? Do they feel like they belong? Do they feel they are being heard? Do they feel they are a part of the learning process? 

Hopefully, you have thought these things through, but if not, they present a way to think about the online climate and possibilities of social presence in your online and hybrid class. And knowing what we know about the college-attendance experience of historically underserved groups, it is so important to make sure students feel included, heard and valued in the online world as well.

It is important to recognize that, as teachers, we react to what we see visually in a face-to-face environment but that it gets complicated in the online environment because we have no frame of cultural reference with which to form our approach. We might think of the culture of our classrooms if we are teaching in culturally responsive ways (CRT) when we see students but forget about it a bit if they are online (we have several SIPs that address CRT). But what do we do online when we do not have culturally identifying information about one another?

Take a SIP of this: Cultural Responsiveness Online

A lack of understanding about culturally responsive practices to meet the needs of online students can lead to miscommunication, mistrust, poor guidance, frustration, attrition and delayed program completion. These issues may be worse in the online space because of mediated faculty-student interaction, the asynchronous nature of the instruction, the lack of visual cues in online interactions and the lack of opportunity to make small talk that often occurs before/after class and helps develop relationships.

So how does culturally responsive teaching happen in online modules? Basically, the same way it does in classes. Thinking through how to build community, run discussions and offer choices in learning in hybrid and online classes makes the classes more culturally responsive. CRT online is often accomplished through increasing social presence online for you and your students.

Work on social presence online explains that it “can be defined as being connected and interacting with other human beings as ‘real people’ through the medium of communication being used.” (Edgar Garcia O’Neill). Students should be able to interact with one another in a way that promotes their and others’ learning. Research demonstrates the importance of attending to cognitive and social presence online as an important aspect of increasing student achievement online.

Culturally responsive teaching asks for instructors to create equal opportunity for academic success for students from all cultural backgrounds while acknowledging students’ diverse backgrounds, prior knowledge, learning preferences and experiences (see, for example, James Banks, Geneva Gay and Gloria Ladson-Billings).

Five ways to increase Culturally Responsive Teaching Online

1. Build community

First of all, instructors can share about themselves online. Have a page that is about you, who you are and what you like, and include a picture of yourself. Let students see that you are a real human! Even posting a short video is helpful. Students love to see short videos of you throughout the semester. You can record 30-second spots focusing on an interesting fact in your field, details for an assignment, etc. Make sure to have these videos captioned so all students can access them.

Make space for students to share about themselves, too. Encourage them to post photos of themselves and to share a little (either in writing or in video) about themselves in the discussion board. Ask students to complete a learner information form that helps you gain a little more information about who they are and what they think about learning online.

Continue to engage with students over the course of the semester. This can include pre-made announcements that are dated to be released from week to week to encourage them through the semester. For example, send a reminder that a big project is coming up or provide encouragement for getting through the hump of midterms, etc.

2. Enhance discussions

Work to make discussions as engaging and authentic as possible. This can be done through offering a variety of prompts on the discussion board and a variety of ways in responding to discussions (written, audio and video). Also consider asking students to provide some of the prompts.

3. Offer choices in learning

It sometimes feels like students have to all show what they know the same way, but depending on the assignment, students can work in online groups or on their own. They can reflect with others on the discussion board or directly to the instructor instead. They can complete assignments in writing or using audio or video. There are so many choices online that when instructors take advantage of these choices, they give students more ways to show what they know in a class.

You can also ask students the best day for assignments to be due online. Take a quick poll, and let the class decide if assignments are due Sunday or Monday or whenever. That way they have a say in setting the online schedule. Even better, allow a range of submission dates.

4. Awareness

Students need to feel safe online, just like they do in person. It is just as important online as in person to set norms of the classroom, and if you see or hear comments that seem inappropriate, flag them immediately. Instructors really need to keep up with the students’ discussions (even if you don’t participate) and not wait to read them until it is time to grade. Read (or at least skim) for potentially inappropriate comments often, even daily, and either delete inappropriate comments (after saving a copy) or redirect the conversation as soon as possible.

5. Remind students you exist in person

Remind students that they can always see you in person during your office hours. Sometimes, students think that if you are teaching an online course, they can’t see you in person (this may be true for other institutions that offer online degrees). Also, offer to call students if they don’t want to come to campus or can’t come to campus. Our new phone system allows us to call via our office number without our being in the office. You can also offer video conferencing. It makes students feel better knowing that you are available in multiple formats at multiple times of day.

In all classrooms, online and in person, we seek to create a community of learners. These simple ways of affirming relationships and creating learning opportunities online will give students the opportunity to seek the sort of community they desire.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Culturally Responsive Teaching Online:

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!

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