Re-imagining Computer Literacy Instruction with an Equity and Inclusion Lens

Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Join us to see how we updated instruction in an online computer literacy course from an equity and inclusion lens, by moving away from a PC (windows) centric approach to one acknowledging that students complete coursework on a myriad of devices, and that technology access is varied, limited and inconsistent.


Dr. Bhalla holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Virginia and has published and presented in the areas of spatial perception, body image, and the pedagogy of teaching and assessment, especially with regards to serving the non-traditional/post-traditional learner. She is active in the American Psychological Association's working group on Undergraduate Education in Psychology. For over two decades, she has served traditional and non-traditional students, both campus-based and online, in the capacity of faculty member, department chair, undergraduate dean, and vice-president of academic affairs. She currently serves as the Dean for General Education at American InterContinental University.
Dr. Kathleen Embry currently serves as the Online Program Chair for General Education at American InterContinental University. She holds a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education from Capella University and has presented and co-authored on the supervisory relationship with virtual faculty members. With more than 20 years’ experience in on-line and face-to-face higher education teaching and administration and an additional 15 years in marketing, management, and entrepreneurship, Dr. Embry brings a plethora of experience to her engagement with online faculty and students, and within the online classroom. Positions held in higher education include adjunct instructor, Program Chair, Dean of Design Studies, and Director of Education; with additional corporate experience in Regulatory Compliance.

Extended Abstract

This presentation will discuss one institution’s efforts at implementing authentic, meaningful, and sustainable actions related to equity in computer literacy instruction and access to technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has served to highlight the fact that disparities in technology access can often play a pivotal role in determining whether a student is successful in their studies. Other factors, such as motivation and academic preparedness often become irrelevant if the student cannot access digital learning products such as electronic textbooks, or the LMS and/or create digital products such as documents, spreadsheets, etc. Institutions must do more to ensure equitable outcomes and opportunities for all students regardless of the devices they use to access and complete coursework. For our institution, this came in the form of moving away from a PC (windows) centric instructional approach to one that acknowledges the myriad of devices students can use to access their class and complete coursework, and that it may vary from week to week.

There were two additional reasons for this shift. First, this course, being one of the foundational courses for all undergraduates, has a domino effect on student success if students are not successful in this class: Students are ill-prepared for subsequent coursework which required creating documents using common office productivity software. Second, this approach also mirrors real life where one may have a Chromebook at home but be expected to use a Windows PC at work. Thus, this broadening of instruction results in better preparedness for the diversity of devices that our students are bound to encounter.

Our institution requires an introductory (100-level) FYE course on computer and information literacy of all undergraduate students, counting towards our General Education requirements. Examining data from multiple sources pointed to a need for changes that would help us address extremely low assignment submission rates which indicated that students were not engaging with the content. Our goal in this presentation is to share how we sought to increase student engagement in the class as measured with assignment submission rates and the Fail/Withdraw rates for the course. We will also brainstorm collectively on how this approach may be adapted for other institutions and types of student served.


Our university was faced by the several issues related to this class. These included:

  • Student access to technology was limited, inconsistent, unpredictable and varied from week to week due to a variety of reasons:
  • Unable to prioritize the purchase of equipment over other more basic needs.
  • Waiting for financial aid disbursement to purchase additional, suitable equipment.
  • Relying on equipment at work or the local library or a device borrowed from family/friend/neighbor.
  • Lacking confidence to use the information provided by the university to purchase the equipment on their own.
  • Pandemic related restrictions when public libraries closed and workplaces shifted to work from home, or students lost their jobs.
  • Students with varied levels of technology expertise and comfort level.
  • Students experiencing high anxiety at learning this content for the first time.
  • Students feeling embarrassed to share their lack of access.

As a result, students were often working on their smartphone, tablets or other devices not supported/addressed in the class, which was mostly PC (windows centric). Individual faculty were providing just in time instruction to students when they reached out to them for assistance with completing assignments on alternate devices. But faculty expertise across multiple devices and availability for help as needed was limited. In addition, many students just gave up without even contacting their advisors or instructors for assistance. This resulted in low assignment submission rates, and consequently, high failure and withdrawal rates, and a high percentage of students repeating the class multiple times.

The General education program initially launched a special initiative for students retaking the class. This initiative had retakers assigned to one of four faculty’s sections. These faculty were selected because of their high touch instructional practices and a history of success with retakers. They were each well-versed in at least one of the devices most commonly used by our students: PC (windows), PC (Mac), Mobile phone and Chromebook. As part of the initiative, they each recorded detailed walk-throughs of assignments using that specific device and shared across their course sections. They also conducted extensive proactive outreach to discern which device the student was using and subsequently to assist them in completing assignments using that device. Success with this group of students gave us insight into the need to implement this approach for all students and not just retakers.

Changes Implemented:

  1. Device specific walk-through videos for all the assignments in the course (PC (windows), PC (Mac), Mobile phone and Chromebook)
  2. Simplified navigation of instructions and ease of access to instructions/templates/videos etc. to complete work on the assignment.
  3. Rewritten assignment instructions and rubrics to ensure both were clear and comprehensive, so students could complete assignments independently without the necessity of follow-up explanations from the instructor. This was especially important because our students often work on assignments at the last minute, literally hours before the midnight deadline.
  4. Simplification of language listing the university hardware software requirements.
  5. Inclusion Admissions and Advising in this culture shift by sharing the device specific videos and brainstorming ways to tackle student anxiety with this course.

Changes planned for future sessions:

  1. Address device differences in the initial lessons in the course and then focus on common features of common productivity software regardless of device.
  2. Provide students with inexpensive, yet classroom appropriate devices if they were unsure or unable to obtain them themselves.

Data and Results:

The course revisions have now run for four sessions, and the outcomes have been both rewarding and promising. Assignment level and session level data reveal that more students are submitting work, and the grades for work completed are better. This has resulted in pass rates improving by almost 10% (from around 46% to 56%) as can be seen in the graphs depicting F/W rates across four sessions of data from before (July- November 2021) to four sessions after (December 2021 – April 2022) the changes were implemented. This is the biggest improvement we have seen in the last few years, attributable in large part to increased submission rates, but also in improved grades on individual assignments. Presentation will include graphs for the following:

  1. Fail rates comparing four sessions of data from before (July- November 2021) to four sessions after (December 2021 – April 2022) the changes were implemented.
  2. Withdraw rates comparing four sessions of data from before (July- November 2021) to four sessions after (December 2021 – April 2022) the changes were implemented.
  3. Submission rates for five paper assignments comparing four sessions of data from before (July- November 2021) to four sessions after (December 2021 – April 2022) the changes were implemented.

Qualitative Feedback:

Faculty and students Comments received from students and faculty mirrors the positive results seen with F/W and submission rates. Whereas students are often silent when things are going well in a course, they have shared positive comments on the student end of course surveys regarding the device-specific videos:

  • This was a hard class for me because I didn't know a lot about using the computer. With the support from my instructor with the step-by-step instruction in the assignment I feel that it help me a lot to understand the assignment and feel that I have learned a lot that will help me as I move forward in my career.
  • The videos was extremely helpful, also intellipath was of great help.
  • The class offered all the tools necessary to complete the work which was presented in an easy to understand manner.
  • Thanks for a great course! Those assignment videos were perfect.

Similarly, faculty have shared positive feedback regarding the device-specific videos during monthly UNIV106 faculty cohort meetings:

  • The videos are a great help. I think we have a larger number of visual learners and they respond better to them.
  • The videos are super helpful!
  • I seem to have a lot more struggling in their personal lives. Videos are helping and I can tell those who are using them.
  • The videos seem to be working well in my classes.

Session Focus and Goals

This presentation will highlight how literally walking in a student’s shoes can sometimes provide insight into the changes needed for course content or instructional strategies. While the data was telling us that something needed to be done to address low submission rates for assignments, more of the same (additional instruction in the PC (windows) centric approach) was clearly not what was needed. What the institution needed was to pivot and truly see where the students were (and on which devices) to then take them where they needed to go.

Presenters will share the ‘before and after’ sample assignments and grading rubrics as well as the slides used in the presentation (including the data). The goal of the session will be for participants to come away with ideas for improvements they can implement at their institutions from this technology equity lens. Hence we will devote about 25 minutes to sharing our approach to the data collection and resulting revisions, and the rest of the time (20 minutes) to engage the audience so participants can:

  • Share the challenges their students encounter with technology access (and how they gather this information)
  • Describe what strategies they have adopted and how they have worked
  • Share best practices in both curriculum design and instruction of such courses
  • Brainstorm how some of our strategies can be adopted at their institution