• Joana Jebsen

Challenges in Equity and Inclusion for Online Learning: An Interview with Dr. Brett Christie



At O’Donnell Learn, we’ve always believed the path to great learning includes every learner and provides alternative pathways for different learners. When higher education shifted to emergency remote learning in March, significant gaps in equity and inclusion became evident. As institutions seek to resolve these gaps for online learning, we reached out to Dr. Brett Christie, our Director of Learning Experience Design to share some insights. Brett is an expert in equity and inclusion, with extensive experience in faculty development.


It seems some of the preliminary challenges in addressing equity and inclusion for learners begin with a few misconceptions. Would you help clarify this?


Equity and inclusion are often seen as something to be considered outside of the learning experience, or an adjunct to it. For truly effective learning, equity and inclusion need to be considered within the entire learning experience and how it’s designed, every step of the way. Additionally, attempts at resolving equity and inclusion gaps often start with providing different support to students, depending on individual need(s). The intent is to improve access to learning more equally, while treating everyone equitably. Unfortunately, using different add-on supports may actually do the opposite, by singling students out versus making them feel included. For true equity and inclusion to exist, systemic barriers need to be removed altogether with the learning experience working for all students, equally.


Would you share an example of this?


Think about assessments and the challenges some learners might have demonstrating what they have learned with certain assessment types over others. For example, a learner who is dyslexic or legally blind or without consistent internet access or a working mom pressed for time. All have different needs affecting learning success. An instructor might offer only one type of assessment. Or an instructor might provide specific assessments to meet the needs of individual learners. This calls attention to their needs and singles them out from the rest of the class. The more equitable and inclusive solution would allow for different forms of expression to demonstrate subject knowledge and letting learners choose from a range of ways to demonstrate what they have learned.


What are you hearing from institutions and faculty? What are some of the struggles they’re experiencing around equity and inclusion for virtual learning?


Many faculty are teaching online for the first time. The emergency remote learning last semester emphasized a lack of faculty development and preparedness, not only for equity and inclusion, but also designing or converting courses for online learning. As a result, both a lack of awareness and difficulties raising awareness exist. Challenges also arose around internet access and available technology, home learning and teaching environments, faculty and student apathy, language barriers, generational learning differences and content preferences, disabilities, no campus role models for how to do this well and the list goes on.


Next week, you and Carrie O’Donnell are conducting an encore presentation of an equity and inclusion webinar, hosted by PADLA*. What can participants expect?


The first webinar was so well-received, we’ve been invited to present again next week. Participants will learn about using the principles of Universal Design for Learning as a framework for inclusive course design and delivery. We’ll share about resources and solutions available right now to help guide course changes and minimize learning process equities. We’ve also created some interactive exercises to give participants room to share about the issues they are facing and ideas for improvement. After the webinar, participants will have access to our presentation outlining the Universal Design for Learning strategies.


Join Brett and Carrie for “Equity and Inclusion in Online Course Design” on September 10, at 12 noon or 6 p.m. ET. This online webinar is free, but registration is required. Sessions are identical.


* PADLA - Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey Distance Learning Association


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