HSU Teams with Colleges to Improve Equity of Online STEM Learning

May 10, 2019
Humboldt State and other partner universities have been awarded a $1.3 million grant to improve access and success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses in California’s colleges and universities.

Funding provided by the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research will support Humboldt State University and partners Foothill-De Anza and Modesto Community Colleges, and UC Irvine to expand an online professional development program for faculty.

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Called “Eliminating Equity Gaps in Online STEM,” the three-year project is designed to address one of the main challenges to successful learning in an online environment: effective human interaction.

This project will make use of a program known as the “Humanizing Academy.” The current four-week program, now offered to faculty of California Community Colleges, will be enhanced and extended to six weeks and open to all California State University and University of California faculty by the end of 2020.

Topics focus on developing empathy, presence, awareness, and human connections. Faculty will use tools and technologies to communicate, create community, and engage in learning and they’ll be encouraged to support each other in online settings.

“Although there is no substitute for high-quality science content and well-established pedagogies, we need new tools for course deliverables and facilitating interactions during online courses. The ‘Academy’ will provide the faculty development and training to use these tools,” according to lead project scientist Jeffrey White, HSU Professor of Biological Sciences. He and the Center for Teaching & Learning’s Kim Vincent-Layton are among the researchers who will study the impacts of the program.

The goal is to improve instructor-student and peer-to-peer interactions, strengthen students’ sense of belonging and engagement, and increase learning outcomes in gateway online and hybrid STEM courses, particularly for underrepresented students.

“We know students can struggle in online courses, especially underrepresented students in STEM majors. Given this, we are focusing on evidence-based practices around building community and ‘social presence’—the ability for participants to be socially and emotionally real in the online environment,” says Vincent-Layton.

This project is part of a broader national effort to close the racial gap in the number of STEM degrees and STEM professions. According to one study, underrepresented students earned 14.7 percent of all STEM undergraduate degrees in the United States in 2010.

Online STEM courses have the potential to address some of these disparities, says White. “We aim to increase access and success in STEM courses for all of the state’s diverse students. Online courses are providing many of our students the options they need to make progress toward their degrees.”

About the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research
The Office of Planning and Research serves the governor and his cabinet for long-range planning and research and constitutes the comprehensive state planning agency. Through the office’s Education Learning Lab, competitive grantmaking is funded for intersegmental faculty teams to incorporate principles of learning science and adaptive learning technology into their curriculum and pedagogy, with the express purpose of increasing learning outcomes and closing equity and achievement gaps in STEM and other disciplines. Initial calls for proposals will focus on lower-division online and hybrid courses in STEM. Beginning in 2020, other disciplines may compete for funds and funds may be used to support professional development and a curated resource library.

Note: This story was originally published on May 7, 2019.