Creating Humanized and Purposeful Learning for All

Concurrent Session 4
Equity and Inclusion

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

What does it mean to create humanized and purposeful learning regardless of modality? Our panelists discuss how they worked to create, develop and deliver humanizing and inclusive courses so that all learners and instructors feel a sense of welcome and belonging and are provided equal opportunities to succeed.


Specializing in leadership and collaboration efforts for teaching, learning, access/ibility, inclusion, and innovation in higher education. Prior to my position with O'Donnell Learn, I worked for 23 years in the California State University system, leading and supporting student success efforts at campus and system levels. This includes 15+ years teaching experience in Educational Technology, Teacher Education, UDL/Accessibility, and K-12 partnerships. In addition to teaching, I have served in leadership roles in multiple state and national projects, such as EnACT (U.S. DoE) and Access by Design (NSF). The primary focus of these has been on professional development for more effective and inclusive teaching methods, accessibility/UDL, technology, and assessment. For eight years, I led systemwide efforts related to Quality Learning and Teaching (online-blended-flipped-augmented), Universal Design for Learning/accessibility, Supplemental Instruction, and Transforming Course Design. Many of these projects have involved leading Professional Learning Communities toward more effective teaching-learning outcomes and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning outputs. Finally, I am actively engaged in research and dissemination related to professional development, teaching-learning effectiveness, accessibility, inclusivity, and instructional technology. This includes a broad range of pedagogical topics, educational uses of technology, as well as developing effective online resources for broader implementation. Related presentations and consultations have been at the national and int'l levels, including North America, South America, Europe, Middle East, and Asia. Specialties: instructional effectiveness; curriculum & instruction; accessibility; Universal Design for Learning; innovation, instructional technology; online learning; blended learning; diversity, equity, and inclusion; educational leadership; project management; professional learning communities; instructional continuity.
For over 25 years, Carrie O'Donnell has been a change-agent in the education industry, focusing on digital learning solutions for the workplace and higher education, and on using customer insight to build great learning experiences. Her firm, O’Donnell Learn, is a leading learning experience (LX) design agency in higher education. Founded 30 years ago as a virtual company, the team includes hundreds of learning designers who partner with institutions and their faculty to improve virtual or blended learning.
Corinne Smolizza is the Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology and Instructional Designer at St. Francis College. In this role, Corinne is responsible for assisting with online education's overall administration and operation by promoting distance learning initiatives. Corinne is the principal instructional designer for online course development, support, and supervision while providing technical support to produce artifacts and tools that sustain instructional delivery. Throughout her 17-year career in higher education, Corinne has served in a variety of positions. Most notably, Corinne has taught for 14 years as a faculty member in the Management and Information Technology department. Corinne's focus has been and continues to be on students' academic success by encouraging their engagement and their development of real-world skills through stimulating and active pedagogy. Corinne's 3-year tenure in administration has been an Assistant Director and Director of Faculty Center for Curriculum and Technology Development. Corinne is a solutions-oriented professional recognized for supporting faculty in developing online and blended courses. Adept at writing syllabi to define curriculum requirements with a wealth of experience training faculty to incorporate new and emerging technologies into their courses and lecture materials. Corrinne is consistently recognized for mastering technologies to support performance-driven outcomes successfully. Corinne's educational philosophy is technology is a transformative tool whose purpose is to enhance pedagogy and enrich students learning experiences. Corinne earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business at St. John's University and a Master of Business Administration from Adelphi University.

Extended Abstract

Participants will be engaged in presentation-demonstration-discussion around ways to create more purposeful learning experiences that are humanized and inclusive – regardless of modality. Though a humanizing approach has not always been common  practice driving all learning experiences, it has become ever-critical given all that students now face through the extreme life and learning situation flux of the present. Courses should be developed and delivered in ways that are humanizing and inclusive so that all learners feel a sense of welcome and belonging and are provided equal opportunities to succeed. This is an effective practice for all students but one especially critical for enabling access and closing equity gaps. 

Initial Engagement: Brief discussion around the need for humanizing; the current condition of faculty, staff, and students. What are participants currently experiencing and how are their humanizing efforts in general?

The framework we will share was informed by over 10 years of large-scale efforts related to effective course design and delivery with resulting analysis of the impact on student success. We developed our framework to inform and support critical elements of course design and delivery in a way that is student-centric and humanized. Traditional quality assurance instruments are heavily focused on the design elements of a course and can be more about structure-function rather than serving the learner and their needs. In addition, most QA instruments are evaluative in focus. The framework, process, and resources we will share through this session emphasize and support a more iterative process that enables a shift in practice that could be called “faculty redesign” rather than course redesign. Our framework was informed by over 10 years of large-scale efforts (1000s of faculty and their students) related to effective course design and delivery with resulting analysis of the impact on student success. These efforts have informed those aspects that are most critical to student motivation and success in the learning experience. In addition, we also call upon and incorporate elements of proven models for humanizing and inclusion, such as Universal Design for Learning and Community of Practice. We will be able to share data showing the significant impact of these efforts on student success: increased course GPA; increased course completion rates; reduction of equity gaps between URM and non-URM students.

Brief Discussion: What have you done to systematically drive course design and delivery? How is it going? Where would you like it to go? How do you know where you are and how will you know when you get there? How to be as intentional as possible.

We will specifically share ways in which we work with instructors and designers to shift their mindset and process toward the student-centric. For example, we will share our Learner Empathy Mapping exercise that helps the focus to be on “Maslow’s Before Bloom’s.” Through this process we have seen many instructors shift how they approach course design, instruction, and interaction with their students. Another signature element that has helped instructors more effectively consider their students is the Learner Connectedness Survey we have developed and make available via Creative Commons license. This survey allows students to share with the instructor information about their identity and background, goals, strengths and any weaknesses they have as a learner, situational factors like bandwidth or access, as well as aspirations they have in the program and beyond. Instructors become more informed about their students and students feel like they are cared about.

Other target areas we will discuss include creating a sense of welcome and belonging through the syllabus, welcome video, and course home page. We have many examples and also emphasize recent research that tone (e.g., syllabus) makes a difference, particularly for students on the margins (e.g., needing help, first generation, suffering from imposter syndrome). We model in multiple ways and will discuss with participants how there can be a more effective on-boarding and learning experience for students.

Brief Discussion: Can you see how these resources, methods, techniques can be implemented? Which one(s)? What other strategies have you found successful?

Another area we make it more about students is through increased active and authentic learning, where students become more engaged, finding greater purpose and connection to the goals they have through and beyond the program. We have developed and share an extensive Techniques for Remote Active Learning resource that has over two dozen techniques that can be applied across online modalities, whether synchronous, asynchronous, or HyFlex.

Finally, in addition to the framework and resources that support a more humanized and inclusive learning experience, we will share and discuss ways in which we support the professional development that can take these efforts deeper and to scale. These efforts also help institutions and programs meet the new U.S. Department of Education (DoE) requirements for regular and substantive interaction (RSI) between instructor and students.

Closing Discussion: What is your Call to Action? What next steps can you take, short-term and long-term, to create or influence learning experiences to be more humanizing, purposeful, and inclusive? Any questions or requests of the presenters?

Participants in this session will:

  • Gain a further understanding to humanize learning through course design
  • Gain a further understanding to humanize learning through course delivery
  • Learn how these efforts support DEI efforts at the critical instructional level

  • Access a framework and many resources that these efforts create more humanized and inclusive learning experiences

  • Learn how the framework and its elements align with new DoE standards for regular and substantive interaction

  • Understand professional development efforts that can support these efforts at scale