A Rubric for DEI Course Design, Part One

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EDUCAUSE Exchange | Season 3, Episode 1

A working group of the University of California Instructional Design and Faculty Support (IDFS) community of practice has developed a DEI Course Redesign Rubric. This episode will introduce and cover the first four topics of the rubric. Read more about this topic in the article "A DEI Course Design Rubric: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Uncertain Times".

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Gerry Bayne: Welcome to EDUCAUSE Exchange, where we focus on a single topic from the higher ed technology community and hear advice, anecdotes, best practices, and more.

In 2020, when everyone was at home, higher education instructors and instructional technologists were facing a daunting task, moving a massive number of courses online put into stark relief the diversity of students' needs and access. The inequities and challenges that the pandemic brought up really caused instructors and administrators to rethink how they delivered courses. Forcing everyone to emergency remote instruction made them think about where their students were in physical space are some of the challenges that they had accessing course materials and some of the ways that the in-person course infrastructure didn't lend itself or needed additional tools to support the online learning modality. And with that, issues and principles around diversity, equity, and inclusion quickly became a higher education imperative.

Kim DeBacco: We had a conversation as a group of instructional designers and decided at that time that what we needed to do was to produce something to support instructors and faculty.

Gerry Bayne: That's Kim DeBacco, senior instructional designer at UCLA. She's part of a working group from the University of California Instructional Design and Faculty Support Community. With the help of resources from Peralta Community Colleges and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, Kim and her group responded to these challenges by helping to put together a DEI course redesign rubric for instructors and faculty.

Kim DeBacco: The University of California DEI Rubric is organized into eight dimensions, which we identified out of our original checklist. And the first dimension is focused on the syllabus. I mean, a lot of work's already been done out there, I think, in faculty development around diversity, equity, inclusion in the syllabus, so we were just identifying strategies that exist and bringing them together into the rubric.

Gerry Bayne: The syllabus is an important part of the list because sometimes it's the only point of contact or consult that the instructional designer might have with an instructor. Nick Mattos is senior instructional designer at the University of California, San Diego, and also part of the working group that put together this rubric. He says there are a couple of important things to remember about designing a syllabus.

Nick Mattos: With the syllabus, we want to make sure that learning objectives are clearly stated, because that plays into almost everything else about the course. You know that the content and the assessments are then aligned, that things are done intentionally within the course and it's not just sort of students are thrown into the deep end, so that things are well-thought-out. And then the other important thing about this topic, I think, is we're seeing a lot more statements of inclusion or recognizing that student populations are diverse and that that's valued in a course that we can learn something from other people who have different experiences than ours. Out of number one, those are the sort of most critical concepts.

Gerry Bayne: I should mention here that we're quickly covering each of the eight dimensions in this rubric over the course of this episode and the next. But if you'd like to read more about the list, check out their article from EDUCAUSE review entitled A DEI Course Design Rubric: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Uncertain Times. We'll provide a link in our show notes to that article. Folks are encouraged to use the rubric as needed at their own institutions and practices.

Dimension number two on the list is student support. It states that all learners should have access to academic and student support services throughout the course. This includes ideas like providing not just access to general support, technology support and resources for students with disabilities, but also soliciting feedback from students and providing clear pathways to access those needed resources. Nick Mattos says the student support dimension also acts as an overarching category within the list.

Nick Mattos: A lot of these things, if we were to categorize them, there's definitely some that relate to building community or learning communities in the course. And so this one, again, is critical to make sure that students feel that the instructor is available to them, that they have the tools that they need to succeed, and that there's also two-way communication, that it's not just instructor to student, but it's student to instructor as well within the course.

Kim DeBacco: Higher education teaching and learning obviously has become higher education learning and teaching. We have a greater focus on the student learning experience that's come both bottom up and top down in the research, and we are seeing a lot of interest in the student learning experience, and so student support is critical.

Gerry Bayne: The third dimension in the rubric is content and engagement.

Nick Mattos: This is an area as instructional designers, we may not have as much to say about the content of the course. That's left to the instructors, the subject matter experts. But this is just to start that conversation about, say, representation in the types of content that are being chosen for a course, or recognizing if there isn't a diversity of opinion, why that is. So being upfront and saying that this textbook or this resource is important to this discipline, and maybe recognizing that it is written in a certain viewpoint or that it doesn't recognize diversity. So covering one of those two things. Again, trying to let students see themselves in the course through the content that you're choosing, or, again, recognizing where those gaps exist and being upfront with the students about that.

Gerry Bayne: Kim DeBacco says another aspect of content and engagement to consider is the design of learning activities.

Kim DeBacco: How do we design a good discussion forum? What's a good forum prompt that's going to invite different experiences, multiple perspectives on a particular topic? Can we learn from the experience of international students and students from different cultural backgrounds? Becoming more aware of the assumptions we make about how students learn, but perhaps we can try new strategies that support different styles, different learning styles.

Gerry Bayne: Fourth on the list is building relationships. Like most of the topics in the rubric, this one relates fundamentally to every other dimension we're discussing. The instructor builds relationships with and among students to promote community building and academic success through opportunities for holistic social and emotional growth. Points of consideration around building relationships includes ideas as simple as the instructor creating a welcoming environment for students, many of whom, if you remember, were feeling particularly isolated during the pandemic. Also, getting to know students individually if the course is small enough, soliciting respect of students' individual communication styles, and encouraging collaboration.

Kim DeBacco: How do we get students to engage in collaboration? Do we think collaboration's important? What kind of knowledge might we collaboratively build? But it's new for some instructors. A lot of instructors need support. They need time to practice and try out group work. Group work's a classic, "Oh, I tried it and it didn't work for me." Sometimes with these practices, we have to work overtime. We have to be persistent. We have to go back and try it again with a tweak, and that takes a lot of experience and practice, I think. It's not something you can do immediately.

Gerry Bayne: That gets us halfway through the DEI Course Design Rubric. We'll cover the second half in our next episode. In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more, we'll provide a link in the show notes to the EDUCAUSE review article, DEI Course Design: Supporting Teaching and Learning in Uncertain Times. For EDUCAUSE Exchange, I'm Gerry Bayne. Thanks for listening.


This episode features:

Kim DeBacco
Senior Instructional Designer
University of California, Los Angeles

Nick Mattos
Senior Instructional Designer
University of California, San Diego