From Small Steps to Big Leaps: Creating and Coordinating Individual DEI Innovations Across Campus

Concurrent Session 1
Leadership Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

It can be difficult to understand where one might start with advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their courses, programs, or institutions. This session will detail how a campus initiative formed around DEI, as well as document the stories of two projects and lessons learned in this initiative. 


Dr. Nicole Weber is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Foundations Department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she also coordinates the Instructional Design and Learning Technology (IDLT) master’s degree program. Prior to her current position, she served as the Associate Vice President (AVP) of Learning with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), working closely with staff and global partners to advance professional learning opportunities, continuous improvement efforts, and research in support of quality digital, blended, and online learning. Before joining OLC, she was the Director of Learning Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she led online and blended faculty development efforts, technology training for the digital learning ecosystem, and emerging technology exploration and evaluation, collaborating across the institution to support student learning and success. With a depth of experience leading global, national, and campus initiatives that support continuous improvement of digital, blended, and online learning, Dr. Weber has presented widely at conferences in the field, as well as published various blogs, reports, playbooks, and articles sharing her work. Dr. Weber holds a B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, a M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Ph.D. in Urban Education specializing in Social Foundations of Education with an emphasis on designing engaging digital learning environments. Her research interests focus on the impact of technology on the learning environment and research-driven practices for effective digital, blended, and online learning, support, and leadership.
Dr. Eric Loepp is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he teaches courses in American government, political behavior, and research methods. His disciplinary research focuses on candidate evaluations and electoral decision-making, particularly in primary elections. He also studies pedagogy, with an emphasis on data- and technology-enhanced teaching techniques. This work has been recognized with distinctions including the American Political Science Association’s CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation and the Cisco/Presidio Teaching with Technology Innovator Award, and has been featured in such journals as Electoral Studies, the Journal of Political Science Education, the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, & Parties, Research & Politics, American Politics Research, and PS: Political Science & Politics.

Extended Abstract

Higher education has in recent years embraced and extended commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in its courses and on its campuses. Hundreds - if not thousands - of initiatives and innovations have been created by staff and faculty eager to contribute to DEI objectives. Yet for all the enthusiasm fueling these efforts, it can be difficult to get started. There are so many options and possibilities. Needs assessments can return a variety of findings that may not always align with each other. How can individual efforts be coordinated to achieve strategic goals at the institutional level? In this presentation, we share a path to do so.


In Fall 2022, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s division of Academic Affairs announced a campuswide competitive grant program for faculty and staff to participate in during the 2022-2023 academic year: Incorporating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Academic Affairs (IDEIAA). This initiative is currently supporting dozens of projects aimed at addressing a variety of issues, from redesigning courses and programs to creating inclusive workplaces to supporting mental health. Although individuals (teams) proposed their own innovations, one objective of the program is to showcase and disseminate these initiatives widely via institutional events like the upcoming Celebrating Teaching and Learning Conference in May 2023.


This session will share information about how the initiative was created (e.g., how it is funded, how it leverages a community of practice, why focus in this area) and how smaller projects can support scalable and sustainable change. The presentation will include two components: first, two participants in this initiative will share their projects and stories that focused on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in their digital, blended, and online courses and programs. Second, we will discuss strategies for coordinating a large-scale initiative like IDEIAA in ways that are coherent yet comprehensive.


The first project establishes guidelines and practices that review and revise course imagery and use cases via a process that the instructor refers to as “informal inclusivity.” Informal in this context does not mean insignificant or non-meaningful; rather, it means focusing on small visual and content adjustments to course materials and activities that often go unreferenced (that is, the instructor does not make a point to mention them) but serve to promote a culture in which the integration of diverse imagery and examples is normal. This project story will include how the presenter did a comprehensive analysis of (1) all non-textual elements of daily presentational materials (namely, PowerPoint images), (2) in-class videos, and (3) case studies/examples used in assignments and assessment, and describe why informal inclusivity exercises are particularly at promoting DEI objectives in online courses.

The second project focuses on increasing inclusivity and sense of belonging among fully online graduate-level adult learners by enhancing welcome letters (e.g., instructor sharing of their belonging story), syllabi (e.g., analyzing for tone, managing expectations for course conduct, acknowledging possible challenges like caregiving), and first week activities (e.g., humanizing home pages, caring-focused individual information surveys, community-building and learning space-building activities). Student perspectives from early data collection will be shared, as well quick tips of getting started with small changes that make a big difference.  


After sharing our project stories, we will lead a conversation with participants about how to effectively scale small-scale DEI innovations for strategic success. Both presenters have experience serving as members of the faculty as well as institutional-level leaders in efforts to enhance teaching and learning through technology. We will share some of our successes - as well as our not-so-successes! - promoting tools and practices developed through pilot or individual projects to a wider university community. At the same time, we are eager to facilitate a session that prompts lively and thoughtful discussion from participants about DEI efforts on their own campuses, and how small-scale steps at the local level can lead to big leaps for institutional growth across all of our campuses.


Participants will leave the session with good practices for: 

  • Starting campus-wide DEI initiatives; 

  • Making small course-level changes that make a big impact; and 

  • Scaling course-level change to larger-level change (e.g., program or institutional levels)