Celebrating Difference: Best Practices in Culturally
Responsive Teaching Online
Xeturah Woodley1 & Cecilia Hernandez 1 & Julia Parra1 & Beyan Negash1
Published online: 4 July 2017
# Association for Educational Communications & Technology 2017
Abstract Culturally responsive teaching and design practices
flip the online classroom by creating an environment that acknowledges, celebrates, and builds upon the cultural capital
that learners and teachers bring to the online classroom.
Challenges exist in all phases of online course design, including the ability to create online courses that reflect the instructor’s commitment to inclusive excellence, diversity, and social
justice. Designing an online environment that supports all
learners regardless of their backgrounds is important in their
future success as professionals; thus, it is important for faculty
to design courses with all students in mind. The purpose of
this article is to share best practices in the design of culturally
and linguistically responsive online courses that support the
culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students we
serve. Based on Gay’s (2010) culturally responsive teaching
practices, this article provides examples of online activities
that are validating; comprehensive; multi-dimensional;
empowering; transformative, and emancipatory.
Keywords Culturally and linguistically diverse students .
Culturally responsive teaching online . Online course design .
Online pedagogy . Social justice education
BIt is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability
to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.^
~Audre Lorde
Culturally responsive teaching and design practices flip the
online classroom by creating an environment that acknowledges, celebrates, and builds upon the cultural capital that
learners and teachers bring to the online classroom. By actively engaging learners in both the construction and teaching of
the online classroom, culturally responsive teachers become
guides for students as they create their own ways of learning
within the online environment. Students move from being
passive participants in their education to becoming coconstructors and responsible for developing self-directed
learning paths as they navigate the educational system.
The faculty, who are the authors of this article, bring decades of post-secondary experience in online course construction, culturally responsive teaching practices, collaborative
course design, student engagement, and innovative classroom
practices. Two of the authors have experience teaching in
K-12 classrooms including a focus on blended learning design. Within a Curriculum and Instruction Department at New
Mexico State University (NMSU), an institution located near
the borders of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, we teach
online, hybrid, blended and face-to-face courses that prepares
educators for work in Pre-K – 20 classrooms, government
organizations, and corporations. The students within our undergraduate, master’s degree and doctoral program, represent
the spectrum of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity as well as
bring gender, age, sexuality, size and differing levels of ability
into the classroom. Students of Color account for 60% of the
* Xeturah Woodley
[email protected]
Cecilia Hernandez
[email protected]
Julia Parra
[email protected]
Beyan Negash
[email protected]
1 New Mexico State University, MSC 3CUR, PO Box 30001, Las
Cruces, NM 88003-8001, USA
TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478
DOI 10.1007/s11528-017-0207-z
overall enrollment in our undergraduate and graduate programs while international students make up 5% of program
enrollments (New Mexico State University 2016, p.64).
Although not tracked by the institution, many students come
to our classrooms as English Language Learners (ELLs).
Thus, the students within our department represent the growing diversity that many institutions will face as growth continues in their online course offerings and enrollments.
As curriculum designers, we must have knowledge about
our student population as we design and teach any given
course. Teachers and instructional designers must consider
how the influx of diverse student enrollments can provide
new opportunities for designing online curriculum and learning
technologies. (Heitner and Jennings 2016; Lee 2003; Morong
and DesBiens 2016) After all, the lessons are meant to teach
human beings who have vastly variant life experiences linguistically, traditionally, religiously, and culturally. These unique
experiences are instrumental in informing the design of an online curriculum, which in turn influences in how well they will
be received by any students in general and, more specifically,
the online curriculum design. It is to these unique experiences
that an online instructor must be attuned to.
Educators face many challenges, both in the design phase
and teaching phases of their online courses. One such challenge
is the ability to create online courses that reflect the instructor’s
commitment to inclusive excellence, diversity, and social justice. BNot only must teachers encourage academic success and
cultural competence, they must help students to recognize, understand, and critique current social inequalities^ (LadsonBillings 1995, p. 476). The purpose of this article is to share
best practices and strategies in the design of culturally responsive online courses that support the culturally and linguistically
diverse (CLD) students we serve. As we share examples from
our instructional design and classroom practices, we are mindful that we alone are not responsible for the best practices and
activities we share today. Instead, we see ourselves as the voices
of the many faculty members, instructional designers, and students that have contributed to the creation of dynamic online
environments that lead to online student success.
What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
Culturally responsive teaching is about designing dynamic
environments and utilizing classroom practices that allow students to succeed academically. Culturally responsive teaching
uses Bthe cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching
them more effectively^ (Gay 2002, p. 106). It is this studentcenteredness and value placed on diverse student experiences
that provides access for students to maintain Bcultural integrity
while succeeding academically^ (Ladson-Billings 1995,
p.476). Within this environment, teachers become facilitators
for student engagement and assist students in achieving course
success by redesigning curriculum to embrace the cultural
capital students bring into the classroom.
Per Gay (2010), culturally responsive teaching practices
should be:
1. Validating. Culturally responsive teaching utilizes
Bcultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and
effective for them. It teaches to and through the strengths
of these students^ (p. 31).
2. Comprehensive. Culturally responsive teaching is about
educating the whole learner by Bhelping students of color
maintain identity and connections with their ethnic groups
and communities; develop a sense of community, camaraderie, and shared responsibility; and acquire an ethic of
success. Expectations and skills are not taught as separate
entities but are woven together into an integrated whole
that permeates all curriculum content and the entire
modus operandi of the classroom^. (p.32).
3. Multi-dimensional. BCulturally responsive teaching encompasses curriculum content, learning context, classroom climate, student– teacher relationships, instructional
techniques, classroom management, and performance
assessments^ (p. 33).
4. Empowering. BBecause culturally responsive teaching is
empowering, it enables students to be better human beings
and more successful learners. Empowerment translates into
academic competence, personal confidence, courage, and
the will to act. In other words, students have to believe they
can succeed in learning tasks and be willing to pursue
success relentlessly until mastery is obtained^ (p. 34).
5. Transformative. BCulturally responsive teaching defies
conventions of traditional educational practices with respect to ethnic students of color. This is done in several
ways. It is very explicit about respecting the cultures and
experiences of African American, Native American,
Latino, and Asian American students, and it uses these
as worthwhile resources for teaching and learning. It recognizes the existing strengths and accomplishments of
these students and then enhances them further in the instructional process^ (p.36).
6. Emancipatory. Culturally responsive teaching Breleases
the intellect of students of color from the constraining
manacles of mainstream canons of knowledge and ways
of knowing. Central to this kind of teaching is making
authentic knowledge about different ethnic groups accessible to students. The validation, information, and pride it
generates are both psychologically and intellectually liberating. This freedom allows students to focus more closely and concentrate more thoroughly on academic learning
tasks^ (p.37).
TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478 471
Within higher education classrooms, both traditional and
online, following these practices requires designing curriculum differently or, in many cases, redesigning existing curriculum to meet the needs of diverse learners. To create this
dynamic online environment, instructors must always be cognizant of the mosaic nature of the demographics of the student
body. This cognizance will go a long way in effectively
supporting the needs of students by using best practices and
making thoughtful decisions when designing courses.
Designing an online environment that supports all learners,
regardless of the CLD backgrounds from which they hail, is
important in their future success as professionals. Therefore, it
is important for faculty to design online courses with all
learners in mind, including CLD students.
Best Practices and Suggested Activities
With Gay’s (2010) practices as a foundation, we, the authors
of this article, critically reflected upon our own culturally responsive teaching activities, to identify the underlying best
practices that inform our online curriculum design. The following are recommended best practices and activities that can
assist in employing culturally and linguistically responsive
curriculum in any online environments.
Best Practice 1: Validate Students’ Pre-Existing
Knowledge with Relevant Activities
Instructors and students are social creatures and creating a
sense of instructor-student and student-student presence
enhances relationships, engagement with the content, and
thereby the learning that can occur in an online course
(Conrad and Donaldson 2012; Lehman and Conceição
2010). There are a variety of ways by which curriculum
designers can establish a presence, relationships, and rapport with their virtual students by creating activities that
build on the students’ existing knowledge bases. Some of
the activities enumerated herein have dual purposes. On
the one hand, as Gay (2010) asserts, the activities validate
the knowledge students already bring into the online classroom by inviting them to engage in relevant activities; On
the other hand, they serve as best practices because they
are embedded as part of our overarching online course
design. These subtle and not so subtle activities work
because we are keenly aware, as Palloff and Pratt (2010)
succinctly put it, Ban effort to establish presence is always
needed^ (p. 8). And these are accomplished partly by their
unobtrusive presence at the beginning of the online
courses. The following are examples of culturally responsive activities and teaching practices that validate students
by utilizing Bcultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames
of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse
students to make learning encounters more relevant to and
effective for them^ (Gay 2010, p. 31).
Activity 1: Assessing Technology Comfort Level As an online instructor, it is important to understand the differences in
student comfort levels with using technology. One way to do
this is by including a preliminary course assessment that students complete at the beginning of the course. It can be as
simple as a 3-item survey via the Learning Management
System (LMS) quiz tool that asks:
& Tell me about your experience using (Blackboard,
Canvas, D2L, Angel, etc.).
& Tell me about your background using technology in learning environment.
& On a scale from 1 to 10, how comfortable are you with
using technology and software tools like Skype, Google
Docs, MS Word, YouTube, Twitter, etc.? Please explain.
Choose questions that will help you gauge student comfort
levels with online learning and with their ability to use technology or software to meet course objectives. Embedding this
type of activity at the beginning of the course provides the
instructor with important information about the knowledge
and skill levels that students already possess. Instructors can
then use this information to design relevant course activities
that support diverse learners.
Activity 2: Student Introductions on Discussion Board As
a prelude before an online course begins, creating a welcoming virtual environment by giving an assignment for students
to introduce each other is one great way to establish a rapport.
As part of introduction process, the instructor models the salient points that need to be included in that background as he/
she shares with the students. For example, asking pointed
questions that students can incorporate in their entries, such
as whether English is their first language; whether they are
fluent in other languages; whether they prefer to work in small
group or large groups or solo, etc. The sharing of background
information would have three distinct purposes:
(1) as a way for students to get to know one another;
(2) to gauge an idea of the students’ writing capacity, the most
important component of any online course. This background information is to be used to help tailor and/or accommodate to students for whom the language of instruction may not be their primary mode of communication;
(3) the last important component of this activity is to help
remind the instructor of the Bimplicit bias^ that all human
beings are prone towards, and higher education institutions are no exception. Recent research shows that PhD
level professors are prone to implicit bias against names
472 TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478
that bear resemblances to African American, Latino/a,
Indian, Chinese names in favor of Caucasian sounding
names. (Milkman et al. 2012). The activity serves as a
way for students to inform the instructor of their preferred way of identification thus helping to reduce the
implicit biases.
By learning more than just the names of students, there is
the understanding that there is more to these students than
meets the virtual eye.
Activity 3: We are Superheros! The use of introduction or
ice breaker activities in online courses supports studentstudent interactions, develops students’ social presence, and
begins the process for developing a learning community
(Conrad and Donaldson 2012; Lehman and Conceição
2010). Another introductory activity used at the beginning
of an online courses is titled, It’s time to be a Superhero! If
you were a Superhero, who would you be? There are two parts
to the activity. First, students are asked to create and share their
superhero identity in the related discussion forum. They are
prompted, but are not required, to use online tools such as
those for video, avatars, comic strips, etc. to create a superhero
avatar. As part of sharing their superhero identity, they are
asked to provide a description that includes cultural as well
as academic (their skills as teacher, learner, and researcher)
characteristics and powers. Second, students are asked to read
and reply to their classmates’ posts. Over time, after feedback
from students, regarding the importance of getting to know
each other early in the course, the point (grade) value for this
activity has been increased as well as the required replies.
This activity has also proven to be another example, much
like the Activity 2 example above, when the instructor could
identify inherent biases and adjust based on student input. Of
note, during one online course, a female student from India
struggled a little with this activity because she was not aware
of the superhero concept. She ended up providing an amazing
introduction wherein she assumed the identity of a legendary
Indian character. The dialogues with the student about the
cultural-context of the Bsuperhero^ model and the feedback
given by the student, led to a redesign of this activity. The
directions for the next iteration of this introduction activity
will include a note validating, affirming, and providing further
options for students to share the cultural wealth (Yosso 2005)
that they bring to class.
Best Practice 2: Provide Comprehensive
and Multi-Dimensional Learning Opportunities
Culturally responsive teaching is all about educating the
whole person. By providing comprehensive and multidimensional learning opportunities, instructors create
dynamic activities that foster student engagement. Fostering
student engagement is evidenced in a variety of ways with the
activities shared in this section. Some of the listed activities
defy the erroneous assumption made about CLDs and ELLs –
that being less fluent in the English language equates to a lack
of high cognitive skills (Macedo 2006). Instead, students are
better able to demonstrate their abilities with these types of
online activities. The following are examples of culturally
responsive activities and teaching practices that provide
comprehensive and multidimensional learning opportunities
for students (Gay 2010).
Activity 1: High Cognitive Demand Tasks Using a science
and mathematics methods course as an example, the goal of
the High Cognitive Demand (HCD) task project adapted from
Stein et al. (2009) is to assisting teacher candidates in learning
how to plan, implement, and assess math and science content
using high levels of thinking activities. The candidates enrolled in the online course are required to select an ELL or
bilingual secondary student in a science/mathematics middle/
high school classroom and have him/her complete three successive tasks at varying levels of cognitive demand. The goal
of each of these activities is to elicit high order thinking in the
content area. The candidates enrolled in the online course can
work on the activities during the weekly synchronous class
meetings, and discuss them as a group. Prior to working on the
activity with the middle/high school student, the candidates
are required to predict and write about the type of thinking the
task stimulates. Then they compare their prediction to the
level of thinking their middle/high school student demonstrated while working on the activity along with the responses she/
he provided. After each meeting with their middle/high school
chosen student, the candidates enrolled in the online course
can discuss, and analyze the tasks, the responses, and support
each other in designing the next task. After each response,
candidates are required to write a reflection on the task and
how it helped them write the next one. After all the tasks and
revisions are completed the teacher candidates submit a final
reflection on the entire process at the end of the semester.
Activity 2: American Library Association Readout Project
It is important to include online activities that meet course
objectives. At NMSU, one of the core courses for the
Masters in Education degree program is EDUC 518 –
Technology and Pedagogy. One of the course objectives is
to have students participate in a social justice project using
technology. That proved to be a difficult task especially with
students enrolling and participating online from all over the
world. To meet the objective, the American Library
Association’s Virtual Read Out project is included as one of
the course requirements. The project allows individuals to
record themselves reading from banned or challenged books
and then submit the recording to the Virtual Read Out project
TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478 473
in the fall semester of each year. This virtual social justice
project allows students the opportunity to engage with technologies all while activity participating in a social justice
movement online.
Activity 3: The Great Debate: An Interactive Discussion
Like role-play or fishbowl, debate is an interactive discussionbased activity that can be used effectively in an online course
using the discussion forum tool (Douglas and Johnson 2010;
Lehman and Conceição 2010; Sautter 2007). Debate is a strategy that acknowledges when a topic has more than one perspective that should be explored. The Great Debate is a discussion activity that has been used for 10 years in a course
about fostering online learning community. The Great Debate
is designed to help students consider the problems and barriers
related to the fostering, developing, and participating in online
learning (and knowledge building) communities. But more
importantly, by identifying the problems and barriers, there
is also the opportunity to identify solutions and design. Of
note, this format can be used for any key topic that can be
debated through a problem and solution strategy. The Great
Debate occurs in three parts:
1. In Part 1, students are provided with relevant resources
and asked to create a post where they problematize the
concept of fostering online learning community in an online course. They are prompted to do this by identifying
and elaborating on problematic issues related to online
learning communities, considering how the problem issues can affect learners both long term and short term,
and/or putting themselves into the shoes of a person encountering the identified problem. They are further
prompted to consider having fun being in this role and
putting on their best debate Bvoice.^
2. In Part 2, students read through their classmates’ posts and
choose two for Bdebate.^ They are prompted to do this by
replying and addressing the problems and negatives in the
Part 1 posts with solutions and positive aspects.
3. Finally, they learn about the importance of reflection and
summarization (concepts further discussed in the next activity description). Students are prompted to review the
original posts and responses and then to create a reflection
that includes a summary of what they learned about both
the problems and solutions and to consider the questions –
Is there still anything unclear or that you have questions
about? How has your thinking about online learning community changed since you started this class or since your
last reflection?
Activity 4: Multiple Ways to Reflect or Summarize
Reflection is valuable for both teachers and students (Boud
et al. 2013; Conrad 2004; Lin et al. 2014) and is a vital
component for transformative learning (Palloff and Pratt
2007). Brookfield and Preskill (2005) note that summarizing
or synthesizing is considered one of the most valuable types of
activities for helping students solidify learning and recall information. When assigning reflection and/or summarization
activities, it’s important to provide some guidance to students
on this process and equally important to recognize that this
can also be a very individual process (Palloff and Pratt 2010).
When asking students to do a reflection or summarization
activity, often at the end of a learning module or at the end
of a course, multiple ways can be provided that address student levels of comfort with technology and how each student
prefers to reflect and/or summarize. Students can choose from
the following methods:
1. Create a text-based or multimedia response using the
built-in LMS video tool and use the discussion option
2. Create an audio/video response with an external audio/
video tool (such as Soundcloud or YouTube) and use the
discussion option provided.
3. Start or use an existing blog (such as Blogger or
WordPress), either private or public, and post it there.
Use the discussion option provided and provide the link
to your blog reflection/summary.
4. Create a reflection using one of the previous options and
send privately to the instructor via the messaging system.
Some people need to dig deep in reflection and sometimes
baring one’s soul needs this 1–1 option.
Activity 5: Collaborative Group Work Setup Collaborative
group work in an online course provides students with opportunities for social learning and co-creation of learning artifacts
(Conrad and Donaldson 2012; Palloff and Pratt 2010). It also
brings challenges such as different levels of student skills with
online technology, student scheduling issues, the cultural differences that students bring to the group, and lack of instructor
organization, just to name a few (Cohen and Lotan 2014;
Popov et al. 2012). Scaffolding collaborative group work with
a set of resources and activities like the following, minimizes
these challenges and provides increased opportunities for
1. For every unit that is designed using the module tool in
the Learning Management System (LMS), there is an
overview. The Collaborative Group Work Overview is
provided to students and discussed during a relevant live
class meeting. See the resource for this at http://bit.ly/
CGWO2017. This resource also includes the below
discussed Group Work and Roles Guide, Group
Contract template, and Fun Group Activity,
474 TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478
2. Student groups are developed. LMS tools often provide
group tools so students are notified if this is an option.
3. Students are provided a Group Work and Roles Guide
explaining the benefits and challenges of group work;
guidance for establishing group policies and procedures;
and relevant online collaborative tools are provided.
4. A Group Contract template is provided and groups work
together, copy/paste the template to a collaborative document and each student uses a different color to help complete the contract. The use of voice conferencing is promoted but not required. This is an opportunity to practice
the technology and collaboration skills needed to complete a collaborative group project.
5. The groups are provided a low risk (low points) Fun
Group Activity to complete. Again, voice conferencing
is promoted but not required and a template activity can
be used to scaffold collaborative group work success.
6. Finally, students can reflect on these activities regarding
their Collaborative Group Work Set Up and they are now
prepared for the higher risk/higher points group project
later in the course. See the previous activity for strategies
that support reflection.
Best Practice 3: Transform Student Learning
with Synchronous Online Meetings.
Critics of the online teaching and learning environment feel that
the quality of the online experience is not supportive of group
work and does allow students and instructors to communicate
well (McDaniels et al. 2016, p. 2). However, technology has
advanced to the point that it is now possible for instructors to
provide the students enrolled in online courses with opportunities to interact with each other and to be seen and heard in realtime. Hosting synchronous online meetings provides opportunities for instructors to empower students by checking in with
them to make sure expectations are clear, and to help with any
problems they may be having with assignments (Gay 2010, p.
224). The following are examples of culturally responsive activities and teaching practices that create transformative (Gay
2010) learning environments for students.
Activity 1: Program and Course Orientations Providing an
initial meeting with online students, referred to here as an orientation, provides an opportunity for building community;
reviewing goals, objectives, outcomes, activities, etc., demonstrating course navigation; and setting the tone (Cooper 1999;
Vai and Sosulski 2015). For the Online Teaching and Learning
Graduate Certificate (OTLGC), a 100% online program, a program orientation and individual course orientations are provided. A web conferencing system is used to provide these orientations. A program orientation is offered at the official start of
the program every year. It is recognized that students who
choose to take an online course or program, may do so because
they need flexibility as they face constraints such as family and
job responsibilities, time zone differences, sudden illness, etc.
Thus, attending a live synchronous event such as program or
course orientations is highly recommended but not mandatory
for students to attend. All orientations are recorded for students
who are unable to attend but want or need to access the content.
The goals for the program orientation include:
& Building community including time for instructor and
learner introductions,
& Providing an overview of the program and addressing any
existing questions,
& Preparing learners to use the common online tools used in
the program, and
& Preparing learners with some of the common content and
pedagogical approaches in the program.
Course orientations are provided during the first week
of class with goals similar to program orientation but specific to the courses. These orientations are required in that
there are points assigned for either a) attending live, or b)
viewing the recording. Further, an instructor may choose to
run multiple orientations if needed. The goals for online
course orientations include:
& Building community starting with introductions;
& Providing an overview of the course including goals, objectives, modular breakdown of the course activities;
& Providing a course navigation tour and specific instructions about getting started, communications, and pedagogical approaches; and
& Providing an opportunity to address any questions.
Activity 2: Weekly Course Discussions The course focuses
on methods of teaching that enable students to successfully
integrate varied uses of technology into their learning environments using partnering pedagogy to increase student learning
in Mathematics and Science at the secondary school level. The
candidates enrolled in this online course meet one time faceto-face to solidify expectations and to assist in forming a cohesive cohort of colleagues. They then meet synchronously
online for two hours once a week throughout the semester.
The purpose of the weekly meetings is to assist the teacher
candidates in understanding a variety of teaching methods,
how to integrate technology, and how to best deliver content
to support diverse student needs. The teacher candidates are
assigned readings that are then discussed during the weekly
meeting that is facilitated through the university’s course management system using Adobe Connect™. In this way, the
teacher candidates have the opportunity to clarify
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misunderstandings and to give their colleagues timely advice
on how to implement a variety of teaching methods, technology tool, and ideas.
Activity 3: Student and/or Team presentations: Sharing
Practices The purpose of the sharing practices assignment is
to assist all students in acquiring knowledge and skills that
they could then use in their own classrooms. The students in
the online course are required to share an activity or lesson that
they had implemented in their science or math classroom. The
assignment provides an opportunity to learn different activities from each other and to discuss accommodations from
different classrooms perspectives. Each presentation is meant
to be no longer than 15 min and is presented as a video they
recorded while performing the lesson in their classroom.
Classmates then give constructive feedback about how to improve the lesson and offer suggestions regarding classroom
management techniques to help make the lesson more student
centered and engaging.
Activity 4: Students Facilitating Discussions Assigning
group work to online students at the start of a course rests in
making erroneous assumptions that all students have had exposure to a virtual learning environment and that all students
prefer group work. The transition from individual work to
group work can be made seamless if the instructor is aware
of his/her student needs in any given course. Per Boettcher
and Conrad (2010), Bsome students work and learn best on
their own^ (p. 41). Nonetheless, studies continually bolster the
idea that small group activities as one of the most effective
learning environment B…when students participate in lessons
that require them to construct and organize knowledge, consider alternatives, engage in detailed research, inquiry, writing,
and analysis, and to communicate effectively to audiences^
(Darling-Hammond and Hammerness 2002; Newmann
1996). How does one thus transpose this face-to-face study
to a culturally responsive online course design is a legitimate
question to ask. Activity 3 can fill in that void by letting
students lead a discussion thereby addressing all the important
areas quoted above. For example, to lead a discussion a student must construct and organize knowledge and would naturally have to engage the participants in the discussion.
Additionally, facilitating requires due diligence to details
through the written word continuously throughout the allotted
time-frame in which the student is a leading discussant.
Behind the scenes, the online instructor should be there for
each student when scaffolding is needed while the discussion
is ongoing. Essentially, the instructor is not only gauging the
lead discussants’ zone of proximal development (ZPD), but
also making sure that ZPD is occurring within the larger group
discussions as well. So, while the lead discussant is in the
foreground engaging and interacting the instructor is in the
background engaging the discussion leader via e-mail, thereby
facilitating in that process of knowledge production. This oneon-one email exchange with a discussion leader is effectively
hands-on mentorship that can serve as conduit for a rich virtual content based discourse.
Best Practice 4: Empower Students
through Liberatory Leadership Opportunities
Mentoring and modeling behavior are key practices when preparing students to become teachers, corporate trainers, and instructional designer in virtual environments. Because students
bring differing levels of teaching and technology expertise to
our online courses, it is important to provide a variety of activities that speak to the differing levels of preparedness. One of
the most empowering and transformative ways to mentor and
coach students is by creating opportunities for them to become
co-creators in course design and even assume classroom
leadership. The following are examples of culturally responsive
activities and teaching practices that create liberatory opportunities as well as empowering and emancipatory (Gay 2010)
virtual learning environments for students.
The activities that follow are examples of how these liberatory opportunities can be created in virtual classrooms.
Activity 1: Session Facilitation Geneva Gay (2010) stated
that she believes in Bcooperative learning, learning by doing,
and learning in ways similar to how they should teach their
own students…^ (p. 221). In a similar way, this assignment
provides the students in the online course with the opportunity
to lead the weekly discussion using the instructor assigned
readings in an effort to Bshare teaching tasks and trade
student-teacher roles^ (p. 221). Students are responsible for
preparing questions and/or any other materials they feel are
necessary to facilitate a quality class discussion based on the
required session readings. The facilitator for the week is also
allowed to construct a separate exercise/activity of their own
design or implement a process for participation by their classmates at session facilitator’s discretion. Students are not limited in how to facilitate the discussion throughout the week
and during the synchronous online meeting. The goal is to find
multiple and creative ways for engaging the material based on
their development in the context of the course.
Activity 2: Group-led Discussion Inherent in an online course
is the fact that it is a moving target in that as technological
innovations continue to enhance the quality of life in general
and they will also keep on changing the efficacy of learning.
Therefore, online curriculum designers and educators must
keep on evolving with new innovations. Group-led discussions
are no exception. Per Mehlenbacher (2010), BDesign is by nature multidisciplinary and invites an inevitable tension between
476 TechTrends (2017) 61:470–478
general advice and specific design problems: design is at its
core both constructive and argumentative^ (p. 95).
Therefore, incorporating state of the art designs can be
made to enhance the scaffolding process. For example, at the
initial stage of group-led discussions the online course instructor could make efficient use of the various media innovations
to bring group-led discussants together and encouraging them
to make use of these innovations when they lead discussions.
Being open to embracing technology is a first step to
Baccept[ing] openness as including forms of peer production,
peer property, and peer distribution as the very heart of digital
social media and culture^ (Peters and Roberts 2012, p. 6).
Though Peters and Roberts (2012) question the notion of open
society as they wonder of its limits, for the purposes of groupled discussions, it is a safe bet, however, that group-led discussions merit no such perturbation. This kind of engagement
with each group-led discussion is an activity-prior-to-activity
that would assist in helping sooth the potential rough edges
that any group-led discussions are prone to fall prey towards.
Activity 3: Co-Design this Course At the beginning of a
course, students can be invited to be co-creators of their learning and co-design their course by helping develop the learning
outcomes, activities, and assessment (Bovill et al. 2011;
Brubaker 2012). The process is as follows:
1. Students are provided a rationale for co-designing their
course with an overarching view of the course including
key course concepts, additional related concepts, activities done by other classes, and the encouragement to do
online research about the course concepts.
2. Upon engaging with the course information, students are
prompted to identify their own personal goals for the
course and post to the related discussion forum. They
are prompted to reply to each other.
3. A live synchronous meeting is provided. As previously
noted, live meetings are not always an option for students
who choose to take an online course, thus attendance is
required in that there are points assigned for either a)
attending live, or b) viewing the recording. The instructor
facilitates brainstorming in small groups wherein students
draw upon the knowledge they previously built regarding
personal goals to identify five class outcomes for the
class. Each team posts their five outcomes to a collaborative document. Students who cannot attend will view the
recording and post their ideas to a discussion forum for
the instructor to review. Providing options such as this
aligns with culturally responsive teaching practices by
honoring students’ lives and conditions.
4. The instructor provides a 10-min break and synthesizes the students’ ideas to create a co-designed list
of class outcomes.
5. The instructor gives this list back to the teams prompting
the teams to now identify activities and assessments that
will help the class achieve the co-designed outcomes.
6. The instructor has an assignment such as Collaborative
Group Work Setup, previously discussed, ready for the
class to do while the co-designed activities and assessments are developed and added to the online course.
7. Students are notified when the completed activities and assessments are ready and facilitates any negotiations needed
at that time and throughout the duration of the course.
The educational landscape from pre-Kindergarten through
graduate school programs have changed markedly over the
past 30 plus years. In addition to this shift in demographics,
the change in how students are taught has been profound and
far-reaching, given the advances in technology with online
technology being particularly impactful. BBeyond cultural
awareness, teachers must identify cultural implications and
modify instructional approaches to address both the students’
academic and cultural needs^ (Martins-Shannon and White
2012, p. 4). As educators and instructors of culturally and
linguistically diverse students it is our responsibility to meet
the needs of our students by using the best possible methods in
curriculum and course design. This article allowed us to share
how we address this with best practices in designing and
teaching in culturally responsive ways online.
Acknowledgements As social justice educators, we are concerned with
the continued reinforcement of elitist notions of privilege in higher education including in the value placed on authorship order as it regards
journal articles. Thus, we want to acknowledge that the authorship of this
manuscript is credited equally to all four authors. Each contributed toward
its visioning, construction, writing, and editing. Regardless of where
names fall on the authorship list, we are all Bfirst^ author.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest Dr. X. Woodley declares that she has no conflict of
interest. Dr. C. Hernandez declares that she has no conflict of interest. Dr.
J. Parra is an advisory council member for the National Geographic
Network of Alliances and is a member of the board of directors for
Online Learning Consortium. Mr. B. Negash declares that he has no
conflict of interest.
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