5 Examples of Critical Service in Digital Learning


Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer and Jessica Knott, AVP of Community Strategy, Experience, and Management

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It has been a momentous week here in the United States. On Monday, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, his legacy, and his commitment to service. It was a bittersweet day shadowed in pandemic limitations and steeped in the knowledge that so much work remains to be done regarding issues of equity in digital learning and beyond.

In light of Dr. King’s persecution for his views by a majority that feared change, this blog post intends to highlight changemakers in our field who foster critical dialog and ask critical questions around the practices and structures at the center of not only teaching and learning but the institution of academia. Critical conversations remain the core of what drives learning and innovation, and progress.

Madam Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden

As of Wednesday, January 20, 2021, we have a woman of Black and South Asian descent in the highest levels of national leadership and a community college professor in the White House who intends to continue her teaching career.

Social media is filled with rhetorics of glass ceilings and historical moments, but I focus here on Kamala Harris’ recollection of a challenge from her mother “you may be the first to do many things but make sure you are not the last.”

May this week be a turning point in equitable representation in government, academia, and beyond. Let us not dig on each other for the differences in the perceived worth of our different college degrees.

Dr. Ruha Benjamin

OLC Innovate 2018 keynote speaker Dr. Ruha Benjamin is the author of “Race After Technology” and vocal advocate for equitable coding in not only artificial intelligence but the basic technologies that touch our daily lives.

From pointing out that even the simplest technologies such as spell check are not neutral to challenging us to reimagine the role we allow technology to play in our decision-making processes given how prevalent the discrimination within it truly is.

Enjoy this 40-minute Conversations for Change video from 2020 where Dr. Benjamin discusses the problem of default settings in a world that is anything but a default.

Dr. Chris Gilliard

Digital privacy and surveillance is a conversation that has surfaced more heavily since COVID-19 brought us home for emergency remote learning.

In the emergency remote teaching world, patterns and habits shifted, often relying on larger technology spends to bridge gaps in time, capacity, and funding for faculty development.

Since 2015, frequent OLC contributor Dr. Gilliard has been vocal in his study of digital redlining and his critiques of the hidden racism in modern conveniences such as digital assistants, smart home technologies, and online teaching tools.

In 2019, he was invited to testify before Congress where he presented Banking on Your Data: the Role of Big Data in Financial Services, which I’ve linked here.

Every Learner Everywhere (ELE) Network 1-1 Experts Dr. Elaine Villanueva Bernal, Dr Tatiana Bryant, Dr. Chandani Patel, Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons, Dr. Blaine Smith, Dr. Cherise McBride, and Dr. Tazin Daniels

The Every Learner Everywhere Network offers access to a network of experts that will meet with you one on one to help coach you in equitable digital education practices. From preparing to meet with your coach to helping you figure out how to push for the changes you need to make, the Every Learner Everywhere Network offers resources to help.

You, the Reader

Who, me? Yes. You. Because it’s on all of us to do this critical work. We can’t rely on the legacy of Dr. King, the White House, ELE, and Drs. Benjamin and Gilliard to do the hard work for us, we need to do hard work ourselves.

For each article we read about new technologies that can make teaching easier, it’s on us to ask ourselves, “at what cost?” Further, we must recognize that cost is more than money in so, so many cases.

Some questions to reflect on:

  • Who does the practices I use in my teaching serve? Who do they not serve? How might technology be contributing in ways I may not have noticed before?
  • What am I not seeing concerning the inequities in my technology selections? Who can help me see it?
  • What is the impact on my students of the technologies I’ve selected? Have I asked them about that impact?

As we spend this week in reflection and celebration of both the legacy and future of service, I leave you with this question – what does it mean to serve equitably, and what changes can we make today to keep moving in the right direction?


One Response to “5 Examples of Critical Service in Digital Learning”

  1. jhansen

    A great post here! Many important issues are brought to light and should be considered by the academic community. Thank you! All the best, John Hansen (Mohave Community College)


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