Oct 27 2023
Senior VP- EdTech Solutions
The pandemic-induced jump from traditional to virtual classrooms is here to stay. Higher education institutions are expanding their online course offerings to enable students from anywhere to learn effectively. The learning environment must be inclusive when the online learning platform welcomes learners from diverse backgrounds. It must be sensitive to cultural changes and offer each student personalized and diversified learning journeys. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are crucial for education publishers.
As per the 2020 census, the “white alone” population decreased to 57.8% in 2020 from 63.7% in 2010. The increase in ethnic and racial groups means educators are expected to create an inclusive and diverse learning environment. DEI in education is not about policies. It is a firm commitment to create and improve content for all students, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic background, and sexual orientation.
Diversity in the education landscape needs acknowledgment, respect, and understanding from all students, regardless of their differences. Equity in education requires educational institutions to offer every student the individual support and resources they need to reach common goals. Inclusion is essential to creating an environment that welcomes every student and fosters a sense of belonging.
Technology is revolutionizing every sector, including education. However, technology isn’t inherently neutral. If educational institutions are not careful about their online and hybrid learning environments, bias can penetrate courses and classroom technologies, which can cause great harm to students. No student should ever feel left out of the education system due to intrinsic and conventional biases. Some of the common types of biases that still exist in the educational system are:
Discrimination between men and women has always been an important topic of discussion, and even in the modern world, fewer women are pursuing STEM education than men.
In education, racial bias may manifest in curriculum, instruction, assessment, discipline, funding, and access to opportunities. Students of color usually face harsher punishments and lower expectations.
Many students face invisibility, exclusion, bullying, violence, and hostility due to the ignorance of educational institutions.
Educational content may be biased by portraying a one-sided view of events.
Educational institutions must welcome students of all religions, and educational material should be sensitive to different religious beliefs and practices.
A mixed class of online learners will include students from multiple cultures. Faculty and educational content must ensure no stereotyping or generalization of people from minority cultures.
In traditional classrooms, many students suffer because teachers favor a specific student or group of students over others. This can result in biased assessments and demotivate other students who feel invisible to their teachers. Such bias may also creep into the online learning environment.
EdTech publishers must ensure course designs are inclusive, diverse, and equitable. They must also pay attention to how students interact with the learning environment. Every step of the learning journey must be designed and customized, keeping DEI sensitivity at its core. Some of the questions that publishers must ask themselves before designing online courses are:
Social belonging in a learning environment is a key predictor of learning outcomes. Students who feel a sense of belonging will persist and graduate successfully. Otherwise, it will result in psychological disengagement and poor educational outcomes. This is especially important in STEM education, which is still dominated by high-status groups. An inclusive climate is essential for academic success and student retention. Some of the best practices for educational publishers to promote DEI sensitivity are:
Use diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures throughout the course content. Include people from multiple ethnicities, genders, abilities, and experiences in the images and videos. Eliminate biases and stereotypes in the content. You must consult experts and sensitivity readers to ensure accuracy and fairness.
Adhere to the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) to ensure the platform suits individuals with different disabilities. Include alt text and descriptions for images, keyboard navigation, and captioning for videos. Conduct QA testing of your platform with users with disabilities to identify and address usability issues.
Ensure that the content and design include culturally diverse pedagogy. Tailor the content effectively for users with different cultural backgrounds. Offer the course in multiple languages to cater to diverse language students.
Incorporate customization settings to enable users to adjust contrast, font size, and other elements to view the content according to their preferences. If possible, include text-to-speech functionality to accommodate different learning styles.
Ensure that your EdTech offerings are affordable and accessible for all learners from multiple socioeconomic backgrounds. To cater to underserved communities, you can offer scholarships, discounts, or free access for some part of the course. You can extend the reach of your EdTech service by partnering with nonprofits, schools, or government agencies to reach students without internet access or technology devices.
Offer educational resources in multiple formats to enable students with different learning styles to utilize resources of their choice. Thoroughly conduct user testing with diverse users from all target markets to ensure that the content is tailored to their requirements. Regularly obtain feedback from users and continuously update EdTech course content.
DEI sensitivity in online educational content helps eliminate stereotypes and biases to avoid discrimination. This will ensure that harmful beliefs are not reinforced. Creating a fair learning environment will enable positive interactions among students. When students see themselves reflected in their learning materials, they will feel included in the educational process. It will boost their motivation and result in a positive learning experience. It will also enable the students to empathize with and understand diverse perspectives. Only then can educators create competent global citizens.