Driving Digital Equity by Leveraging Innovative Technologies

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

The classroom can be the first experience a person has with the digital divide. As the pandemic created a deeper chasm in the digital divide in many campus environments, digital equity has become a predominant goal for many institutions. Here we outline some innovative ways to leverage the power of technology toward your campus’ digital inclusion efforts.



Sherri is an Associated Faculty with the Psychology Department at CCU, and specializes in teaching upper division level classes in lifespan psychology, such as Child Development, Adolescent Development, and Gerontology. Sherri has served in academia within the field of online learning for over 20 years in the role of instructional designer, LMS administrator, faculty, and over the last decade plus as a university-level administrator, having recently transitioned into faculty-only role. In addition to her work with Coastal, Sherri also serves the MERLOT organization as the Editor of the Professional Coaching board, as well as Associate Editor for the Psychology MERLOT board. She serves as the Associate Editor for the Journal of Educators Online (JEO), and enjoys volunteer work with the Alzheimer's Association. Her current research focuses on methods for improving student success in the academic environment, to include all modalities of learning (online, face-to-face, hybrid, flipped, etc.) and inclusive design and tools. She also enjoys consulting for a number of organizations to support the development of online learning initiatives. Sherri is the recipient of the 2021 OLC Gomory-Mayadas Leadership Award in Online Education.
Dr. Melissa Hortman has worked in community colleges, liberal arts, and professional institutions for over a decade. Throughout her career, she has led initiatives in good instructional design practices, enhancing online learning programs, ensuring digital accessibility, institution-wide faculty development, and innovative teaching techniques. Dr. Hortman has a passion for change management around disruptions as well as being innovative in her approach to designing and delivering online learning. Working with diverse student and faculty populations throughout her background, success is found in the connections that are formed, and her passion is to facilitate and enhance these connections with technology.

Extended Abstract

The classroom can be the first experience a person has with the digital divide: the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not (as defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance). As the 2020 pandemic created even more of a chasm in the digital divide in many campus environments, digital equity shifted into-many times for the first time on campuses-a predominant goal for many institutions to focus on in their overall student recruitment, retention, and support strategy. 


The area of digital equity, inclusion, and accessibility have seen a growing momentum over the last several years in Higher Education, spurred on even further as campuses were forced to make emergency remote teaching a reality-without the underlying, necessary technologies, policies, or support in place for a widely varied student audience. For example, “digital inclusion” and “digital equity” were codified into law in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Digital Equity Act which was passed in 2021, with over $65 billion allocated toward a range of digital inclusion efforts which is a critical first step in addressing the digital divide. However, there is a long way to go within higher education to understand the end goal of digital equity and how we get there through digital inclusion efforts at our institutions.

A true focus on digital equity includes a comprehensive, holistic view of where every student can be more successful and develop the skills they need for the future. Innovative technology can be a common thread for digital equity and student success, and challenges in sifting through the vast array of available instructional and accessible technologies are a common hurdle on many campuses-how do we choose which to select, and which one meets the most students’ needs, as well as is compliance with all regulatory demands? From personalizing the student learning experience to increasing access for all students in skills, innovative technologies can help to keep digital equity as a top priority in the age of digital acceleration.

This session will discuss common trends that are impacting digital equity in higher education, along with best practice, innovative solutions that are readily and immediately available to faculty, administrators, librarians, instructional designers, and others starting today. We will bring along recommendations, as well as crowd-source via a collaborative online curation tool to allow attendees to also share best practice sessions live during our session. All materials will be immediately available as take-aways to attendees. 

This session is led by senior associates from Microsoft and Automatic Synch Technologies, who also serve as Higher Education faculty members, and former Digital and Online Learning Administrators, and we will be sharing a specialized collection of resources with attendees regarding digital access and equity, helping each campus to make enhanced access and inclusion a reality for higher education.