The Equity Rubric That Became a Community College Initiative

The following is a guest post by Kevin Kelly, consultant at MindWires and long-time colleague, that grew out of a series of posts on e-Literate.

At the end of her Tuesday morning keynote at the 2019 Online Teaching Conference last month, educator and author Flower Darby challenged the participants to conduct their own online learning research. To paraphrase, she said “If it doesn’t exist, go do it yourselves.” In Part 3 of my recent e-Literate blog series about online course design rubrics, I promised to write a follow-up article about the Peralta Equity Rubric, which was created by a group that took on Flower Darby’s challenge before she issued it. Without further ado, here is that follow-up. 1

About distance education at Peralta

The Distance Education team at Peralta Community College District (“Peralta”) wanted to align its training for online teachers with two goals:

  • increase online course quality and accessibility through the California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative’s Course Design Rubric; and

  • increase online course equity to align with a core district value and to address notable achievement gaps for disproportionately impacted student groups, such as Latinx students and Black/African-American students (see Figure 1, which is based on data pulled from Peralta’s student information system).

Figure 1. Peralta Community College District – Student Success Rates by Ethnicity – Traditional and Online Courses – AY2014-15 through AY2017-18

Bar chart showing Peralta student success rates and equity gaps from Academic Years 2014-15 through 2017-18

Figure 1 above provides a few important details about Peralta’s online student success rates—i.e., the percentage of students completing and passing online courses—from AY2014-15 to AY2017-18:

  1. Overall online success rates increased: Taking an average over the four-year period and comparing online and traditional (face-to-face) courses, the overall online student success rate (4-year average) improved to roughly 5.5% below the overall average traditional student success rate.

    1. This is in line with the statewide trend—in February 2019, Phil Hill showed how online students across California have reduced the student success gap to just 4% below the rate for face-to-face students (see Figure 5 from that blog post). Not shown in Figure 1, the online student success gap in AY2017-18* at Peralta (2.53%) was better than the statewide average (4%). [*The districtwide average traditional success rate (69.10%) minus the districtwide average online success rate (66.57%).]

    2. For AY2017-18, the online success rate for Asian students was higher than the traditional success rate.

  2. Online success rates increased for each ethnicity group: Over the four-year period, each ethnicity group at Peralta improved online success rates. Peralta saw modest gains for White students (+2.72%) and Latinx students (+4.71%), and more substantial gains for Asian students (+7.26%) and Black/African-American students (+9.32%).

  3. A large equity-based achievement gap remains: While the success rates for all major student ethnicity groups improved over the four-year period, the AY2017-18 online success rates for Asian and/or White students were still 13% to 27% higher than online success rates for Latinx and/or Black/African-American students. In particular, Black/African-American students made the biggest 4-year improvement—over 9 percent—but still have the lowest online student success rate and the largest equity-based achievement gap.

NOTE: It was not possible to get similar data from the student information system to calculate success rates for other student groups (e.g., first-generation students). Those fields are not (yet) consistently filled by or for all students in the district’s Student Information System database.

Equity rubric background

Aligning training with the CVC-OEI rubric was made easier by the facts that a) the rubric existed and b) the California Community College system had put together a variety of resources. The CVC-OEI rubric addresses issues like the online course navigation issue described by Phil Hill. However, incorporating equity into distance education training required starting from scratch—in other words, it didn’t exist, so we did it ourselves.

Like many course design rubrics, the equity rubric criteria are based on research related to equity for online students (see Peralta’s @ONE blog post for descriptions of the criteria). This boiled down to a) equity-based factors that have been shown to have a negative impact on different online student populations (e.g., presence of human interaction bias, inadequate access to devices or the Internet) and/or b) equity-based interventions that have been shown to have a positive impact on different online student populations (e.g., social belonging and values affirmation activities that increased student retention). The team working on the rubric included faculty, students, and staff (e.g., technology help desk). It became clear that the rubric should support not only online faculty but also anyone who works with online learners—before, during and after the course timeframe; and inside and outside the online course environment.

The team created an online training course to help faculty redesign their own online courses using both the equity rubric and the CVC-OEI rubric. Over the past academic year, about 10 faculty have completed the training course, and began redesigning their own courses—with the caveat that Peralta has no instructional designers to offer high-touch support. This fall, some of those first few faculty will facilitate their redesigned courses. This will provide the Peralta team with its first chance to collect feedback from the students.

Recent and upcoming equity projects

In May, the Peralta team revised the equity rubric substantially enough to call it “version 2.0”—the new version clarified language about what it means to meet the criteria, combined some concepts related to human bias, and introduced new concepts like social belonging.

Over the summer, the team will be engaged in multiple projects that turn the equity rubric into an equity initiative:

  • updating the online equity training to map more closely to the updated equity rubric and to allow faculty to complete the training in less time;

  • creating a separate-but-parallel, institution-level equity rubric and equity training for staff who support online learners outside of an online course environment;

  • creating ancillary materials to support other institutions that want to start their own equity initiatives; and

  • preparing to run a year-long grant to disseminate the rubric more widely (see Scaling and Testing below).

For the training, I am looking forward to seeing Peralta’s new scaffolded model—Learn, Explore, Apply—designed to support people unfamiliar with equity issues as they prepare to implement new online teaching strategies:

  • Learn: Many faculty, instructional designers, and campus leaders know that equity gaps exist—i.e., certain groups of students have lower retention and success rates in online courses. However, few know about the factors, such as different forms of bias, that may contribute to those gaps.

  • Explore: The Peralta team wants to model what equity-based strategies actually look like a) in an online course, b) in providing comprehensive student services at a distance, or c) in supporting online learners as an institution.

  • Apply: Last, the Peralta team wants to support faculty and staff as they implement the strategies in course environments and student support environments. They’ll do this by providing access to resources (e.g., diversity-focused image libraries to address representation bias), templates, and more.

Scaling and testing the equity rubric

Over the next year, the Peralta team has a unique opportunity to move their equity initiative forward at a faster pace than is usually possible for a small team, thanks to an Improving Online Career & Technical Education (CTE) Pathways grant funded by the California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative. The one-year grant will allow them to increase efforts to disseminate the rubric, and hopefully train enough faculty to support conducting more rigorous rubric validation research in the near future.

The plan is to start by incorporating equity principles into Peralta’s online CTE courses that will support students who have taken courses through the CCC’s new fully online college, now known as Calbright College. Then it will expand the effort to train over 300 CTE instructors from Peralta and across the entire CCC system, starting with the large number of colleges that referenced the Peralta Equity Rubric in their own Pathways grant applications. This is ambitious for a small team, but they have already shown they are ready to do what has not yet been done—i.e., a community college equity initiative doesn’t exist, so they are doing it themselves and sharing it with the world.

Stay tuned. We will follow and report on Peralta’s progress over the next academic year.

Disclosure: CCC CVC-OEI is a consulting client of MindWires. I have been working for over two years with the Peralta Community College District on a variety of distance education projects, including the equity rubric. Peralta granted me permission to share this information.

1 Full disclosure: I have been working for over two years with the Peralta Community College District on a variety of distance education projects, including the equity rubric. Peralta granted me permission to share this information.