Iterating Toward Equity

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years working with doctoral students as they search for “the question” that will guide their graduate studies and, eventually, their dissertation work. While the question can often be expressed in a single sentence, its power to shape a student’s graduate experience and frame their dissertation work is undeniable. Properly asked, the question implies which electives to take, determines what literature is in and out of scope, and even suggests a research method for the dissertation. The question, clearly articulated, is an incredibly powerful tool for focusing and aligning work toward a meaningful answer.

At Lumen, last year we found a set of words that clearly articulated our aspiration as an organization: “eliminate race and income as predictors of student success.” Our particular focus is on students who are Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and/or from low income communities. In the time since, our guiding question has become “what can we do to eliminate race and income as predictors of student success?” The clarity and power of this question has renewed my energy and sharpened my focus, as I believe it has for many others at Lumen. I feel particularly challenged and inspired by its relentless focus on results. No matter what else we do – no matter what our process looks like – if we do not eliminate the academic success gap that has historically existed between marginalized students and their peers, we will not have finished the work yet.

The Belonging Framework

This work kicked off in earnest last year when we began the process of identifying evidence-based teaching practices that can help students feel a greater sense of belonging in their classes. This work was led by the amazing Daysha Jackson Sanchez, with contributions from a wide range of people outside and inside Lumen. The results, which we call the Belonging Framework, are now integrated into our broader Evidence-based Teaching Practices Framework.

The Evidence-based Teaching Practices Framework is the intellectual core of our professional learning offering, Lumen Circles. Consequently, the Belonging Framework is now integrated into all our professional development, including our learning circles focused on online teaching, active learning, OER and OEP, and evidence-based teaching. Later last year, Daysha led another group of SMEs in creating a circle focused solely on helping students feel a greater sense of Belonging. It quickly became our most popular professional learning offering.

User Testing Centers

Last year, the work took another large step forward when Lumen CEO Kim Thanos had the brilliant idea to invite the students at the heart of our work to participate more directly in doing and shaping the work, by creating user testing centers embedded within minority serving institutions (MSIs).

This work has been led by the incredible Carie Page, who has turned Kim’s great vision into an even better reality. Last week we announced our first user testing center at Rockland Community College. (Two more will be announced soon.) You can watch the full press conference video, or you can just watch Pascalyn Omotosho’s portion (Pascalyn is one of the student interns who works in the center).

The user testing centers work as follows:

  • Lumen works with the institution to select a faculty coordinator.
  • The faculty coordinator selects and manages four interns.
  • Lumen trains the faculty coordinator and interns in the process of conducting user tests.
  • The user tests run in two week cycles, and focus on either learning material designs or learning platform designs.
  • At the beginning of the first week the interns receive a test protocol. They provide feedback on the protocol and spend time practicing administering the tests to each other. They also spend this week recruiting participants.
  • In the second week, they run the tests with participants, analyze the feedback, and then meet with the Lumen team to share what they learned. In these sessions, we hope the interns won’t just report what they heard but will actively suggest ideas for what we adjust and do next.
  • The user tests are focused specifically on issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. For example, in a learning materials test, students might provide feedback about which version feels most relevant to their individual lives, or which version they see themselves best represented in. They might also provide ideas about how to do these and other things better than any of the versions do.

This setup is amazing for a couple of reasons:

  • Because everyone who participates is compensated for their time, the students who are the focus of our work are able to participate (which they would likely not be able to do in a scenario where the participants are volunteers). And at Rockland Community College, they get college credit, too.
  • The interns gain valuable skills and work experience as they conduct the user tests.
  • Because the tests are run by students with students, there is far less of a “filter” on the feedback students provide. Students will say things to other students they would never say to faculty or other staff. (We’re already hearing this play out!)

Moving Forward

These are some of our early hypotheses about what we can do to eliminate race and income as predictors of student success: help faculty better understand their individual students, as well as systemic issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and involve marginalized students early, often, and directly in the creation of new courseware. There will be a lot to learn about these and additional hypotheses as we iteratively move the work forward. It will be incredibly complicated, and incredibly difficult. But it is work worth doing.

(Cross-posted from Lumen Learning)