Purposeful Participatory Action Research: Developing Responsive DEI Program
Empire State College
The use of educational technologies to bridge learning divides is an important topic in 21st century higher education. As an innovation to address this need, since 2017, Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers has coordinated SUNY Empire State College - International Education Virtual Residencies (VRs), virtual, international exchanges that connect undergraduate, graduate, and international education courses via a three-week collaborative, cross-disciplinary online module. In 2017, SUNY Empire State College (SUNY Empire) adopted the innovative program using the LMS platform, Moodle, to host 3 week international exchanges called Virtual Residencies (VRs), in order to create spaces for students to explore complex issues. The goals of VRs are to address the need for transformative learning experiences in order to prepare students to meet the complex environmental, social, and cultural challenges they are facing in their communities. Dr. Rhianna C. Rogers, an anthropologist and associate professor of interdisciplinary studies, is the creator and coordinator of the VR program, a virtual, international exchange that connects undergraduate, graduate, and international education courses via a three-week collaborative, cross-disciplinary online module. To date, there have been 9 Virtual Residencies averaging 40-120 enrolled students and covering a variety of themes:
Year of Indigenous Peoples (2017 Fall & Spring 2018) – funded by a 2017-2018 Office of the President DEI Grant
Digital Studies (Spring 2019) – funded by a 2018-2019 SUNY Empire Provost PILLARs Grant
Global Studies (Fall 2019) – funded by a 2018-2019 SUNY Empire Provost PILLARs Grant
Building Community in Times of Social Unrest (Spring 2020) – funded by a 2020 Rockefeller Institute of Government Grant
Sustainability through Learning (Fall 2020) – supported by the 2020-2021 Center for Mentoring Teaching and Learning Fellowship
Anti-Racism (Spring 2021) – supported by the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Racialized Faculty Caucus, and the Presidential Diversity Taskforce
Year of World Religions, Faith, and Spirituality (Spring 2021) – supported by the Presidential Diversity Taskforce
Leadership in Times of Crisis (Spring 2021) – funded by a US Embassy (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) Grant
Since their creation, VRs have existed as a partnership between the college’s Center for International Education and Rogers’ Buffalo Project. The success of this program serves as an example for effective interdisciplinary instruction and as best practices for educators across the world who strive for inclusive education around sustainability.
The systematic development of deep learning (or the critical way to engage learners in applied learning skills and activities) is one such way to teach learners about the importance of sustainable practices. In VRs, educational content is continuously evolving in order to reach different populations, including those challenged by their socio-economic status and access to technology. Inevitably, these new educational delivery methods are changing the way students learn and want to be taught. Educators are challenged now, more than ever, to find innovative ways to bridge the digital divide between educators and diverse student populations. This is especially apparent when institutions take part in international student collaborations where student experience can be remarkably different across various cultural groups. The intentional use of multiple technologies in the VR format (e.g., Zoom, WhatsApp, Moodle, Google platforms, etc.) allows for multiple entry points for students who may not have the same access.6Inmany ways, VRs serve as a clear example of inclusive, sustainable education practices; one that can and should be used more broadly. It is worth noting that when shifting from the physical to the virtual classroom, often the barometer of its effectiveness is based upon the level of classroom engagement and whether or not the students gained a positive learning experience. For example, in the 2019 Global Studies VR, 68 of the 74 enrolled students (91.8%) completed 90% or more of the VR activities, whether required by their participating instructor or not. Results indicate that online success does not depend on the mode of delivery, but more on preparation, design and facilitation of the educational content.
Formal and Informal Student evaluations for each VR experience has consistently scored in the 4.2 - 4.5 out of 5 on Linkert scale.
A Few example student comments:
"This was a great interdisciplinary learning experience. I learned a lot, and the information I gained will fit in with all of my courses, not just the one that led me to this VR." (Fall 2020)
"This is the perfect course to do during this difficult time in our country. It is nice to think on ways to be part of the solution. It has been a difficult 4 years and I am hopeful for Change." (2020)
"One the Virtual Residency and the content of the base course. The Anthropological aspect the Dr. Rhianna Roger's fosters throughout her course is by far an asset for all who emulate this concept. Thank you again Dr. Rogers