Students can succeed, especially with access to inclusive learning environments. Removing barriers to success is best done through a safe, supportive environment where all classmates can thrive.
How do asynchronous teaching and learning tools play a role in providing student equity? Here, we take a look at three key ways.
1) Creating Space for All Students to Be Heard and to Excel
Classroom environments can be daunting. Consider female students in Computer Science courses. According to Girls Who Code, the number of female computer scientists dropped from 37% to 24% of the total in the past 25 years. In those circumstances, an equal learning environment is essential and, “it’s up to educators to engage female students and bring them into class discussions.” To the extent we do so, we help expand the fields currently “dominated” by one gender into shared areas of knowledge and innovation. Asynchronous learning provides an equal learning environment where participants are not under any social pressure to act in one way or the other.
Of course, some anxiety in the online classroom is normal for most everyone, regardless of gender or background. The goal is to ensure it does not overwhelm learners.
One study, Bridging the Gap in Online Learning, assessed degrees of anxiety in digitized education settings by generation. The results underscore the importance of acclimation to online settings—for educators! Three-fourths of faculty members expressed anxiety when teaching online, while most of the students felt comfortable in the same settings. It is increasingly vital, as Anat Itay-Sarig, Head of Partnerships & User Well-being at Ment.io puts the point, to embrace today’s reality:
“Either I harness technology to help with the teaching, or I have to fight constantly against laptops, mobiles, and everything else that has been introduced to the education world.”
While young people (namely Generation Z students, born between 1997 and 2012) can feel anxious in online discussion, they do enjoy browsing the internet as they learn online. This suggests that bringing online resources into the discussion could optimize their learning experiences. Their main concern is that they could be unclear, or be misunderstood by others. And this suggests that young students benefit from having time to collect and edit their thoughts. That is, today’s generation of learners can benefit from asynchronous online learning because it gives them the space to express themselves exactly the way they wish to.
2) Ensuring Student Voices Have Equal Volume in Online Discussions
In traditional classrooms, professors can miss “the back of the room.” Artificial intelligence in an asynchronous environment allows education to transcend uneven engagement and participation. It can automatically keep track of, and offer feedback for, all students as they dynamically interact with their instructors and their peers.
Digitally enabled learning helps put classmates on equal footing—first, by expanding the time and space available for absorbing new materials. It’s conducive to thoughtfully constructed responses. It fosters well-informed discussions. It offers a continuous opportunity for students who have traditionally been sidelined from class discussion to rise and flourish. To note just a few examples:
- With asynchronous learning, students dealing with conversational language barriers have time to share, edit, and respond at their best pace.
- Students in different time zones are able to generate work products as teams.
- Students with dependents or work obligations can select optimal hours for study and participation.
Online discussions, especially when the dynamic is asynchronous, empower students to learn collaboratively and enjoy each other’s talents and styles. This is how diversity in the asynchronous classroom makes the whole class better. The more diverse the team, the more likely it is to flourish—for the same reason a diverse index of public companies rises, and a diverse ecosystem is healthy and productive.
3) Assessing Student Performance in Fairer Ways as Machine Learning Advances
The ongoing adoption of asynchronous learning has only intensified during the years of the coronavirus public health crisis. While the frustration in making forced adjustments is palpable in education, we cannot delete the pandemic. Yet we can look for whatever positive features it has advanced in education.
Consider the rapid improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). Software engineers who are steadily making progress in AI, and turning their focus to eradicating bias, have made some of the most important inroads in fields such as finance, law, and learning.
Advancements in AI are creating opportunities not only for inclusivity, but also for new and better methods to eliminate bias.
Add digital tools to grading, and the goal of equity finds still more support. Submitting the grading function into an objective system is one method of removing unconscious bias. Artificial intelligence is capable of grading participation with a degree of objectivity that eludes individual educators, who might tend to assess students based on the volume of their voices, rather than the depth and breadth of their posted contributions.
The Takeaway: Gen Z Students Take Education Seriously. We Feel the Same About Them.
People of Generation Z are the most likely to regard education as a core part of their identity, according to the “Bridging the Gap in Online Learning” study. At the same time, the pandemic has seriously impacted this generation, says a survey by MTV Entertainment Group and researchers at the University of Chicago.
Young learners are challenged in new and daunting ways. Online learning allows them to prioritize their health and safety, and take the necessary time to support loved ones with health setbacks. Asynchronous learning relieves today’s students of one major concern—by easing education into their increasingly stress-filled lives without necessitating travel or physical presence.
At Ment.io, the goal of equity is etched into the fabric of our organization. As we harness technology to teach, to inspire, and support an increasingly inclusive society, let’s make sure students have the opportunity to learn in environments where all may feel safe and welcome.