When researchers set out to review the most beneficial digital learning practices for students who identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Native American, or Native Hawaiian , or Pacific Islands, they soon ran into a problem – there wasn’t much research to review.
“I was shocked that I didn’t find anything at first,” said Margaret Becker, a research assistant at the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advances, who spent weeks searching for relevant studies. “It just blew me away – why hasn’t more research been done on underrepresented students?”
After weeks of research, Becker and her colleagues at the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advances—the nonprofit DETA tasked with producing a research review for WICHE Cooperative on Educational Technologies—identified dozens of research papers that met the criteria for inclusion in the research review. Beginning with mainstream educational journals, then smaller ones, Becker gradually turned to more obscure sources specific to the discipline.
“It was a good process,” Becker said.
One study, which was published in a scientific journal, proved to be an excellent example of the kind of research the group expected to find, said DETA director Tanya Justin. But it’s likely that very few people outside the system ever read it, she said.
“It was terrifying that we couldn’t find more,” Justin said. “We barely found a dozen journals, and two of those were articles we wrote. We were looking for interventions or changes in practice that affected student outcomes, and we couldn’t really find much at all.”
A joint report between DETA and WCET, published yesterday, highlights key findings from that small group of peer-reviewed research. Based on the available research, the report makes recommendations for administrators, staff, and educators. It also includes a background discussion of race, ethnicity, and student success. The findings of the report will be discussed in a webinar for WCET members on May 20.
Lindsey Harnes, co-author of the report and assistant professor of communications and technology at Alverno College, said the background section of the report would be particularly important for readers to review in order to understand the context that drove the report and its findings. A liberal arts college in Wisconsin that is also an institution serving Hispanics.
The report will be particularly useful for educators who teach the majority of learners who racially or ethnically identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, Native American, or Native American, including American Indian, or Alaskan Natives, or Native Hawaiians, or Pacific Natives said Harness. But, she said, “every institution must commit to creating equal learning spaces for all learners, not just those who are their primary students.”
For administrators and staff, the report recommends investigating institutional structures that may hinder the success rates of all students before investing in more student support services — which is often the right solution. For faculty and educators, the report recommends considering a “more culturally inclusive approach when possible” and also discusses the benefits of blended learning, which combines face-to-face teaching and the use of online resources.
Joosten is a big advocate of blended learning, as it allows students to process information on their own time and at their own pace.
The report said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the digital divide between different students difficult to ignore, especially when students have been displaced from institutional student housing and good internet connection. She recommended that students be able to access technology and broadband on campus and in their homes.
There is research looking at student success in general using different curricula and teaching tools. It would be very helpful, Justin said, to focus the research on students who are already facing the biggest barriers to success.
“While there are some strong results of strategies that work well with these underrepresented groups, this whole process really highlighted that we need to focus on these groups in the future,” Becker said. “I was shocked that there was no more research available.”
Part of the reason for not doing more research is a lack of funding, Justin said. She said DETA has struggled to secure funding for research focused on educational technology and learning outcomes for students of lesser ethnicity in the past, often losing out on projects that tackled modern areas of research. She now hopes to fund more research focused on equity and inclusion, but isn’t sure how long the wave of interest will last.
“Thank God, people are paying attention to our black and white family and friends now, and we hope we can continue that effort,” Justin said.