Conversations on Equitable Engagement: What does inclusivity and justice look like in global online degree programs?

Concurrent Session 8
Equity and Inclusion

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Join us to grapple with inclusion and equity in an online degree program in a residential university. Examine how global programs require a distinct approach to achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Collaborate with others who are trying to achieve similar equity and inclusion objectives.


Amy connects the University of Michigan Office of Academic Innovation (AI) with faculty, staff and students across the University of Michigan to support the successful growth of digital edu tech tools, and innovative higher education interventions at U-M. Amy works to ensure broad adoption and responsive design of AI's portfolio. Amy leads AI's advocacy efforts including communicating across various university stakeholders, representing AI in and outside of the institution and convening communities of practice focused on digitally mediated pedagogy. Prior to her position in AI, Amy worked throughout the University of Michigan including in the Alumni Association, Student Life, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) and the College of Engineering with increasing responsibility for launching or stewarding new education and career initiatives at scale in her various roles. Amy was also an Adjunct Instructor in LSA and is currently an Adjunct Instructor at Eastern Michigan University, where she teaches graduate students. Amy is a certified MBTI practitioner, StrengthsQuest educator and is trained in Motivational Interviewing. Amy received her MSW from Grand Valley State University and her AB from the University of Michigan.

Extended Abstract

Many historically exclusively residential universities are scaling fully-online degree programs, motivated by increasing reach beyond physical campus boundaries and diversity of students other than likely residential ones. These students vary, sometimes significantly, in age, geographic location, social identity, and professional experience. Their professional motivations are often disparate. They may be committed to switching careers, advancing careers, or investing in personal enrichment. Creating an equitable and inclusive environment for such a diverse group of learners can be challenging, especially when the degree program is rooted in a U.S. residential college setting. This presentation will introduce participants to some of the challenges and early successes of one global 100% online STEM master's degree program at a historically residential large public research university grappling with creating an inclusive and equitable community of exclusively online degree learners. 

Building this kind of environment, both in and outside of the virtual classroom, requires a multi-faceted approach responsive to difference while sensitive to cohesiveness. It affects us at an instructional level (what, where, when, and how we teach); at a program level (student support, engagement, community, and progress to degree); and at an institutional level (technology implementation, online learner advocacy, and application of university policy). From the interpretation of university policy to the construction of a Slack workspace, how does a unit within a large university system concurrently acculturate students, faculty, staff, and administrators to understanding the critical differences in building and delivering an online program, while also honoring the strong desire for online students to be considered full members of the larger university?

Throughout this interactive presentation we will navigate, together with our audience, questions like “How do we advocate for our students when institutional priorities and attention often lie with residential students?“How do we make our curriculum and program beneficial to those who do not live or work in the U.S.?” In other words “how do our international students see themselves and their cultures represented in our courses?” “How do we facilitate effective communication with students who are in different time zones and who have different cultural norms?” Not surprisingly these questions span systems levels from a single class and course design to the bureaucracy of an entire institution. 

In addition to meaningful discussion with the audience on how these themes show-up at their institutions and in their programs, we will introduce two additional ways to spur quality interaction. One, a handful of complex and stimulating case studies based in real-life experiences to rapidly design solutions to access, equity, and inclusion issues in online degree programs. Two, to collect problems from the audience they would like to gain feedback on, and to use a collaborative peers-to-peers in-real time consulting method to get feedback on their most pressing access, equity, and inclusion challenges. 

By the end of this session we expect that participants will have come together in community to both learn from the experiences of one online degree program who is thinking and acting both broadly and deeply about its place in a residential university setting, and hearing from other voices about their experiences doing the same. We anticipate our audience will have had the opportunity to ideate on ways to solve equity and access problems, and get feedback on the ways in which they are thinking and acting on equity and inclusion in their programs. Participants will gain both conceptual and practical tips from lived experience on how to start breaking down some of these barriers.