Designing for All Students: Increasing Inclusion and Equity in Your Online Program

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Do you want to improve inclusion and equity in your online and hybrid programs? We suggest ways to institutionalize practices that support diverse student populations to succeed in the online environment. We focus on three primary areas where understanding student experiences are crucial: technology, resources, and instructional design.


Kevin Kelly, EdD, teaches online courses as a Lecturer in the Department of Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University, where he also previously served as the Online Teaching and Learning Manager. He works with colleges and universities as a consultant to address distance education, educational technology, and organizational challenges. Kevin co-authored with Todd Zakrajsek the 2021 Stylus book, Advancing Online Teaching: Creating Equity-Based Digital Learning Environments.

Extended Abstract

Title: Designing for All Students: Increasing Inclusion and Equity in Your Online Program


1.0 Background

1.1 Online Courses at Peralta CCD: Increased Demand, but Lower Success Rates

Among the challenges that Peralta Community College District (Peralta CCD) faces, a number of them are common to all of California's community colleges (e.g., flat enrollment, regional housing issues, equity gaps, and increasing demand for distance education). Learners are more mobile and demand online courses in greater numbers than ever before. Peralta CCD must continue to adapt to these learners' needs.


At Peralta CCD, the increased demand for online classes reflects national and statewide trends, doubling from 9.1% to 18.2% of total district FTEs in just five years. While increasing numbers of students seek distance education opportunities for flexibility and convenience (Allen & Seaman, 2011; Shay & Rees, 2004), they often underestimate the work required to succeed in online courses (Bawa, 2016). This and other factors have contributed to lower retention and pass rates for online students. Again mirroring national and statewide trends, students at Peralta pass online courses at lower rates than those in traditional courses overall. Further, specific groups face achievement gaps for student retention (course completion) and student success rates (passing grade). Success rates are lower than the overall average and the achievement gaps are wider for a variety of disproportionately impacted populations, including but not limited to students who identify as African-American or Latino/a, veterans, and students with disabilities.


1.2 Recent Activity at Peralta CCD

In Academic Year 2017-18, Peralta CCD crafted and ratified a Distance Education (DE) Plan that is directly aligned with the district’s strategic goals and accreditation standards, while taking into account the changing educational landscape and the nature of students in Peralta's service area. Among the district's guiding principles and values, the DE Plan and related programming are focused on learners and equity.


The district has begun working to achieve the three goals from its plan:

  • Increase student retention and success rates each year, through research-based success strategies;

  • Provide resources, support and services that are specific to online students and are necessary to close achievement gaps; and

  • Improve quality, equity, consistency and accessibility in the design and facilitation of Peralta CCD’s online courses.


In its efforts to improve online course quality, the Peralta CCD team has developed face-to-face and online training for faculty based on the Online Course Design Rubric created by the California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative (OEI). When the Peralta team could not find a similar rubric for online course equity, it created its own rubric. The district has solicited feedback from online teaching faculty, students from diverse backgrounds, and experts on inclusive teaching,.


2.0 Proposed Session for OLC Accelerate 2018

2.1 Session Description

While most institutions value diversity, they often struggle to institutionalize practices that support inclusion and equity in online environments. In this session, we suggest an expanded understanding and appreciation for student populations, particularly for disproportionately impacted students, and their experiences. We discuss three areas where this is most crucial: the implementation of technology, instructional design, and development of resources for online learners.


This session will be a panel presentation, with activities integrated that demonstrate the implications of failing to account for student experiences.


As we discuss the student experience, this session is designed to turn participants into students who experience:

  • activities that use unfamiliar or unclear language and are therefore challenging;

  • activities that require interdependence as well as, or instead of, independence;

  • activities that value, rather than elide, diversity of backgrounds and experiences;

  • activities that demonstrate how Universal Design for Learning principles are especially valuable in online environments


After generating awareness of common equity issues that online learners face, we will suggest practical strategies that participants, and their institutions,  can put into practice right away.


2.2 Session Outcomes

  • Awareness of assumptions and biases that impact the online environment;

  • Strategies to improve equitable use of educational technologies

  • Understanding of inclusive online and hybrid pedagogies,

  • Knowledge of a variety of online resources that support diverse students in the online environment;

  • A “toolkit” of strategies for teachers and institutions


To participate, you will need a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.