Preparing Students for a Multicultural, Digitally Connected World

Universities and colleges are using technology as a tool to help students feel welcome and to mitigate some of the barriers to equity in education.

This was the main point of the session “Preparing Students for a Multicultural Digitally Connected World” at the REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit. The presenters were Brian Tinsley, Senior Research and Communications Associate with Digital Promise, an independent bipartisan 501(c)(3) non-profit that aims to spur innovation to advance equity and improve learning opportunities, and Naseer Alomari, Assistant Professor, at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York.

The session looked at the Digital Promise: Research Practice Partnership (RPP), started by Every Learner, Everywhere, funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It brings together Digital Promise, Achieving the Dream (ATD), Association of Public and Land-Grand Universities (APLU), Harper College, Jackson State University (JSU), University of Maryland Baltimore County, which brought together Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and New Mexico State University (NMSU). “Professors at those universities were very committed to the goal of achieving equity in the classroom,” Tinsley pointed out. “We anted to bring folks together to ensure that they had access to one another to share experiences and challenges, as well as insights into their successes.”

Tinsley discussed the experiences of two primarily Hispanic universities – New Mexico State University and Borough of Manhattan Community College – and their efforts to make their classes more inclusive, given the diversity of their student body. Both schools participated in the research-practice partnership that sought to reduce equity gaps in course success rates in a large, required, in-person speech and communications course.

New Mexico State University (NMSU)

New Mexico State University, which had a sustained enrollment of approximately 600 students each semester in its speech and communications course. The course was presented in multiple sessions and several different versions, including a 16-week course and an 8-week online version of the course as well as an honors and STEM version.

As a result of its involvement in the RPP, the NMSU group was able to revamp some of the classes, engaged in some workshops in order to re-evaluate some lab activities, re-wrote their syllabus to integrate more inclusive language and student resources and incorporated Zoom and GoReact into the course. They evaluated their lectures and altered some of their assignments, lab activities and integrated diversity programs across NMSU into the course.

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) 

Some BMCC students faced the same barriers as their counterparts at NMSU, including lack of community and belonging and purpose in the course, haps in academic preparation, socioeconomic challenges and speech anxiety. The barriers are especially acute for minorities, marginalized and/or unconventional students. Black and Hispanic students at BMCC withdraw from the required speech courses at higher rates than other groups.

“This is about bridging the gap,” said Naseer Alomari, Assistant Professor at BMCC. “It’s about bridging the cultural gap, the linguistic gap, the academic gap that our students have to cope with.

Alomari explained that to help students bridge the gap by themselves, institutions can meet the students where they are. “We have to evaluate their strengths, which include their own native language

and their own rich, cultural background and heritage and encourage their participation,” Alomari noted.

In his instruction, Alomari works to help students overcome their challenges in a holistic manner and work to be culturally responsive, which entails considering the immediate and long-term actions to promote equity and access, and the digital tools that can be used to promote equity. 

The digital task is what you ask the students to do. Digital tasks have to be rigorous, collaborative, scaffolded and there has to be a lot of modeling and support for these students, Alomari said. “This is exactly what I do for all assignments,” he said.

Alomari asked students to bring in their own understanding of multiculturalism, and asked them to bring in their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds, which students discussed in the classroom. Students posted videos and talked about issues, engaged in research and interacted with others. They used four language domains: reading, writing, speaking and listening. As ESL students, they did an excellent job of preparing and videotaping their responses to prompts and then engaging in academic discussions with others,” he said. “The task integrated linguistic, academic, social, affective skills critical for their success as college freshmen.”

For more articles from the REMOTE Summit, see:

The Metaversity: Leveraging a Shared Learning Platform

Urban Serving Universities are Disrupting Structures for 21st Century Skills

Lessons Learned: 8 Strategies for Effective Instruction

Faculty Needs to Be Drivers of Institutional Change

Supporting Experimental Pedagogy with Social Animation Tools