Humanizing: The Secret Sauce for Improving Equity Gaps in Online Education

Concurrent Session 9
Streamed Session Equity and Inclusion

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online community college courses play an important role in promoting social mobility. They are more likely to include students who are the first in their family to attend college, food insecure, and homeless. How do these factors exacerbate low online success rates and how might an aware, present, and empathetic online instructor support students to reach their academic goals?


Michelle Pacansky-Brock (@brocansky) has received two Sloan-C/OLC awards for her online teaching effectiveness and served as Chair of the 2015 Sloan-C/OLC Emerging Technologies for Online Learning Symposium (ET4OL). She is the author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, in its second edition with Routledge, and is currently serving the California Community Colleges as Faculty Mentor for Online Teaching and Learning with CVC-OEI/@ONE. Michelle is also researching the impact of humanized online instruction to improve equity gaps in online STEM courses with grant funding from the California Education Learning Lab.
Tracy Schaelen is the Distance Education Faculty Coordinator at Southwestern College, where she designs faculty training and develops programs and resources to support online education. She was recently honored with her college’s 2017 Faculty Leadership Award and 2017 Access Award. Tracy is a lead course reviewer for the Online Education Initiative and a course facilitator for @ONE. She regularly presents and consults on topics related to humanizing online learning, video creation, and teaching with technology. Tracy lives in San Diego with her husband, two children, and beloved Boxer, all of whom are often recruited to help make videos.
Mike Smedshammer (@mikesmedshammer) is the Distance Education Coordinator at Modesto Junior College where he has trained over 200 faculty to teach online. He is a Blackboard Catalyst Exemplary Course award winner, @ONE Course Facilitator, and a Lead Course Reviewer for California’s Online Education Initiative. Many of his workshops and presentations focus on using online tools to address student equity. When not at his computer, he enjoys time with his wife and two kids, running, playing golf, and fly fishing.

Extended Abstract

Research shows that a caring, engaged instructor is key to supporting underserved students who learn online (Jaggars & Xu, 2016). But faculty who teach online don’t always consider how important their presence is to their students. The majority of California’s 2.1 million community college students are ethnic minorities (67%). Forty percent of students enrolled in California Community Colleges (CCCs) are first generation college students and nearly half (48.9%) experience food insecurity, and roughly ⅓ experience the threat of homelessness. Online classes are critical to the mission of community colleges and today, more than 24% of CCC enrollments are generated through online courses.

The California Community Colleges offer a robust suite of free and low-cost professional development to prepare faculty to teach online including online courses. The online courses place faculty in the role of an online learner with a cohort of peers. One of these courses, Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning, inspires faculty to become present, aware, and empathetic online instructors and dabble in tools that enable them to cultivate their presence in their own course. Within the course, they experience the social and emotional impact of human presence, and apply research-based practices to their own course.

In this session, the presenters will:

  1. Highlight data that shows the importance of a caring, engaged instructor to the satisfaction of online community college students

  2. Provide a tour of the online course, Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning

  3. Identify key takeaways from the reflections of faculty participants

To open the session, participants will be presented data about equity gaps in online community college courses. Then in a think-pair-share activity, the will:

  • Identify reasons why underserved students perform lower in online classes than in face-to-face classes