Advancing Culturally Responsive and Social Justice Education: An Equity Minded Approach to Digital Teaching and Learning

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session examines how digital learning aligned with culturally responsive and social justice teaching strategies can address disparities within higher education. We will explore how digital tools and courseware features grounded in culturally affirming and sustaining pedagogy can be operationalized to dismantle persistent inequities inherent in traditional teaching practices.



Ruanda Garth-McCullough, PhD., is the Director of Program Development at Achieving the Dream (ATD). Dr. Garth-McCullough leads equity-minded teaching and learning service development and the Every Learner Everywhere digital learning initiative at ATD. Her expertise in culturally responsive teaching guides her faculty-focused professional learning and coaching work in the equity and social justice space. For over 25 years, she has worked with colleges and public schools to support educators to apply the principles and methods of culturally responsive teaching, center student learning, and assess and revise curriculum across disciplines. Ruanda approaches her work from an inclusive, culturally affirming and asset-based perspective that supports educators to create opportunities in their practice in ways that invite and integrate their students’ cultural knowledge and experiences as a cognitive tool in service of their achievement and success. Her workshops and coaching lead teams of educators to investigate equity for each element of their practice from policies, materials, and instruction to assessments. Previously, Dr. Garth-McCullough was a faculty member in the School of Education at Loyola University of Chicago for 12 years. At Loyola she taught graduate level courses including Multicultural Education, Teaching and Learning in Urban Communities, Sociological Analysis of Urban Education, Classroom Assessment, Curriculum Development and Implementation, and Qualitative Methodology. Dr. Garth McCullough was also a founding partner at Specialized Urban Community Collaborative for Educational and Economic Development, (SUCCEED) Consulting, Inc. At SUCCEED she led a team for 20 years to conduct short term and longitudinal program evaluations for organizations, schools, and colleges’ curricular initiatives. Ruanda Garth-McCullough, Ph.D., earned her doctorate and master’s degree in Administrative Institutional Policy Studies/Urban Education from the University of Chicago. Her research focused on the effects of culturally-bound prior knowledge on African American students’ reading comprehension. She received her BA in Psychology and African American Studies from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
H. Ray Keith currently serves as the Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at Achieving the Dream. He is a core member of Teaching & Learning team and will guide and accelerate evidence-based change at ATD institutions. In this role he is responsible for managing programs and projects designed to build institutional capacity supporting intentional integration, professional development, and engagement of full-time and part-time faculty in fostering inclusive, student-focused college cultures. Ray brings 25 years of professional experience in higher education, K–12, and nonprofit community-based organizations. At the core of his work is diversity, equity, and inclusion, while improving educational outcomes for students of color through practices that validate and affirm their cultures, identities, and lived experiences. His expertise includes leading institutional transformation, strategic planning, and advancing student success. As the associate dean of instructional intervention and support at a community college in Colorado, his department provided professional development and learning through a multi-pronged approach grounded in evidence/research-based and culturally responsive teaching and learning. Ray led the development of the college’s Center for Teaching and Learning in addition to establishing institutional initiatives and programs designed to eliminate equity gaps for the diverse student body at the college. Prior to joining higher education, he worked in K–12 as a high school administrator and college counselor. As the founder and CEO of E&A Educational Consulting he leads comprehensive instructional professional development and learning services to higher education and secondary educational institutions Ray has established a Community of Practice framework, Equity by Design Teaching Academies, a Department Chair Equity Academy, and an Equity by Design Leadership Academy at colleges in Colorado, Tennessee, and Minnesota. His research emphases are equity, inclusion, and social justice, culturally responsive pedagogy, persistence and retention, and academic success for historically marginalized and racialized populations. Mr. Keith holds a master's degree in Higher Education from the University of Denver and a bachelor's degree from Oklahoma City University.

Extended Abstract

To transform teaching, instructors need to be supported to learn how to leverage cultural knowledge in their pedagogy in ways that not only engage their students but also strengthen their discipline-based learning. The role culture plays in cognitive development is a significant element that continues to be dismissed or overlooked in the analysis of instructional disparities in college classrooms. When our instructional practices acknowledge, invite, and integrate nondominant cultural norms, practices, assumptions, priorities, and beliefs we can disrupt and dismantle persistent and profound inequities. This session will identify how digital instructional technologies can be employed to support equity-minded teaching and learning approaches, such as culturally responsive, anti-racist teaching, and open pedagogy. By breaking down specific instructional strategies within each pedagogical approach we provide targeted guidance on which digital learning tools, courseware and LMS features can be employed to build on students’ sociocultural identities, culturally-bound prior knowledge and lived experiences. Our societies learnings from the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism forced academia to rely on digital tools to address the gross inequities that could no longer be ignored. Much has been revealed and recognized since March 2020 that changed the way the academia views the role that our structures, policies and practices serve the inequitable status quo of institutions of higher education.  During the rapid transition to remote instruction, many faculty were afforded an opportunity to build different relationships with not only technology and their disciplinary content, but also with the students and the communities they serve. At the same time our community of leaders and innovators struggled to keep up with the demands from faculty to bridge the gap between theory and practice with equity-minded teaching and learning practices that serve the students that were disproportionately impacted by the interaction of the public health crisis and systemic racism. This session will provide actionable guidance for culturally responsive, impactful, and equity-minded digital teaching and learning strategies that facilitate student engagement and equitable learning outcomes.  

As higher education continues to grapple with diversity, inclusion, and persistent inequitable outcomes, we must be committed to asset-based, student-centered, and equity-minded approaches to learning. Culturally responsive teaching is a multidimensional equitable approach that encompasses discipline-based content, learning environment, student-faculty relationships, and assessment. It requires upholding and embracing a wide range of cultural knowledge, experiences, contributions, and perspectives within educational experiences. Through culturally responsive teaching there are direct connections made to discipline-based academic content, students' culture, and their lived individual and communal experiences. Through culturally responsive teaching students are empowered intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by the instructor’s use of cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This approach provides college students with relevant and liberating educational experiences that impact learning and performance. Culturally responsive instructional strategies include:    

  • Assess and activate prior knowledge  
  • Create opportunities for students to analyze and research topics from a social-cultural perspective 
  • Differentiate instruction 

There are a wide array of interactive web-based polling or game-based assessment tools, LMS blog and discussion board features that assess and activate prior knowledge. The more flexible tools allow instructors to add or revise question items in ways that provide opportunities for culturally-bound and general prior knowledge to be engaged. Faculty can align their culturally responsive teaching practices with digital tools like Voki and VoiceThread in ways that illuminate the global connections revealed in their research of course content from diverse context and culturally informed points of view.  Adaptive courseware’s use of personalized learning pathways and individualized feedback loops provide a comprehensive mechanism to efficiently facilitate a key culturally responsive teaching strategy: differentiated instruction.   

Digital learning technologies can also be used to enable social justice education strategies like anti-racist teaching.  Borrowing from Kendi’s (2019, p. 18) definition of anti-racist policy, the staff and faculty engaged in this work at Brown University define “anti-racist teaching” as intentional syllabus design, class content, or pedagogy that creates or develops racial equity, with applications for face-to-face and remote/hybrid teaching environments. Digital learning tools can be used to enact anti-racist strategies including confronting racist perspectives in discipline, authentically representing history, incorporating conversations about race in relation to course content and developing service-learning projects to connect student learning to transformative social action.  

Open pedagogy’s use of learner-generated content and participatory technologies afford many opportunities to invite and center cultural knowledge.  Through socially constructed media such as blogs, wikis students engage in reflective practice and work collectively to produce artifacts that they share, reconfigure, and redeploy. Open pedagogy is a form of experiential learning that can be intentionally designed to increase equitable access to education by reducing economic, technical, social, cultural, and political barriers to education. To some, open pedagogy, is a movement to promote social justice. It entails far more than the types or cost of instructional materials. Open pedagogy encourages a connected community with enhanced access to high-quality, peer-reviewed online resources, with the ability to participate in the technology. Open pedagogy supports faculty-student collaboration, adding voices and perspectives that are reflective of the diverse student body in college courses. Open pedagogy is based on the belief that academic progress is generated by collaboration, that the playing field for empirical research should be leveled globally, and that work conducted in a democratic environment, with the use of innovative technologies, should be made available to every student.     

During the session, attendees will have the opportunity to engage with the intersection of equity-minded practice and digital learning by working together in triads to discuss how to center cultural knowledge and students’ lived experiences. Each triad will be given a specific instructional strategy and the name and description of a digital tool, LMS or courseware feature to consider. Together they will identify how the digital and instructional element can be aligned to invite, validate, and/or affirm students’ cultural knowledge.  

Participants will be able to: 

  • Identify digital tools that integrate with equity-minded instructional approaches: culturally responsive teaching, anti-racist teaching and open pedagogy. 
  • Recognize the benefits of culturally responsive teaching and social justice education and identify potential digital teaching and learning strategies that support the equity-minded approaches.   
  • Take steps to create course elements that validate, affirm, and embrace the diverse perspectives, lived experiences, and cultures of the student they serve. 
  • Engage in culturally responsive practice to advance equity minded teaching and learning. 

The call for educators to examine equity requires implementing inclusive, innovative, and student-centered instructional approaches that require the thoughtful and purposeful use of digital technologies. This session not only amplifies an equity-minded approach to teaching and learning but offers actionable steps to operationalize the equitable use of digital learning technologies.