Equity &
Online Education

Equity & Online Education

While supporting equity for students is essential to teaching in all forms of education, teaching online presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for equity-minded instructors.

What do we mean by “equity” and “equity-minded?” At UCSC Online Education, we define equity as an aspiration to fairness, inclusion, and justice that takes into account differences in students’ experiences and access to resources that must be addressed in order to support all students in their educational journeys.

Equity-minded, then, refers to an approach to instruction that centers support for students who are historically underrepresented at the university. It requires curiosity and self-reflection about your own room for growth and new ways to support student success. According to USC’s Center for Urban Education:

“Equity-minded practitioners are aware of the racial and ethnic inequities ingrained in our society and intentionally work to address them.”

Tips for Fostering the Success of Minoritized Students in an Online Course

While online courses may open up opportunities to students otherwise unable to pursue higher education, data suggests that retention and GPA disparities for underrepresented students persist—or are even exacerbated—in online as compared to in-person courses (Baker et al. 2018; Hart et al. 2018; Johnson and Cuellar Mejia 2014; Mead et al. 2020; Palacios and Wood 2015; Xu and Jaggers 2014). For this reason, it is paramount that instructors take conscious and research-informed action to support the success of historically marginalized students enrolled in their online course(s).

Based on current research in higher education, we’ve identified high-impact practices for fostering the success of minoritized students in an online course, presented in the infographic below.

Equity in Online Education.pdf

3 Principles of an Equity-Minded Syllabus

Lessons from Emergency Remote Instruction during COVID-19

While online education is distinct from the emergency remote instruction that instructors offer during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the lessons learned about fostering equity during this time are applicable to online courses in general.

  • This infographic presents recommendations for fostering equity in emergency remote instruction based on empirical research conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • For empirical data on the learning experiences of UCSC students during the pandemic, see IRAPS’ StayConnected2UCSC surveys conducted during 2020.

From USC’s Center for Urban Education Syllabus Review Tool:

  • Demystifying: Provide first-time college students with information they need to successfully complete the course in clear, plain language with limited to no academic jargon.

    • Explicit statements in syllabi that invite students to resolve academic struggles by speaking with faculty after class hours, encourage learners to seek support for trouble with coursework and are more effective than verbal offers of assistance from instructors (Perrine et al., 1995).

  • Welcoming: In their tone and content, communicate care, support, respect, and inclusion as class norms.

    • Being warm and welcoming by including diversity- focused statements that invite students to interact with faculty is an effective way to foster student success (Slattery et al., 2005).

  • Validating: In their tone and content, communicate a belief in students’ ability to be successful.

    • When students know assistance is available to address their academic struggles, their concerns and anxiety about their difficulties are alleviated (Slattery et al., 2005).

    • Incorporating course materials authored by scholars with minoritized identities helps students develop a sense of belonging in your course, your discipline, and the academy.


Here are some excellent resources on equity and inclusion in a remote instruction context:

  • Syllabus Review Guide. University of Southern California, Center for Urban Education. This interactive online tool takes you through modules that ask you to critically evaluate your syllabus from a student- and equity-centered perspective.

  • Pacansky-Brock, M., Smedshammer, M., & Vincent-Layton, K. (2020). Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education. Current Issues in Education, 21(2 (Sp Iss). Retrieved from https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/1905. This paper offers six strategies for humanizing online instruction at the college level, including examples from real courses. The authors draw on the frameworks of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), social presence, validation theory, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in developing their recommended strategies.

  • 10 Strategies for Creating Inclusive & Equitable Online Learning Environments. Stanford University. 2020. This guide offers practical advice for developing an equitable and inclusive online/remote course, including sections on setting communication expectations and ensuring equitable class participation.

  • Five Principles for Enacting Equity by Design. Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd, and Keith Witham. Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2016. This short guide, while not specific to online instruction, provides five principles for equitable course and curriculum design that are adaptable to the remote or online context.

Learn More About:

Two key principles of developing and teaching an equity-minded online class

Fundamentals of antiracist pedagogy and guidance for becoming an antiracist online educator

Ensure your online class is designed to support all students’ learning