Remove Barriers, Create Access, Be Inclusive: Responding to the “New” Traditional Student

In recently speaking with a peer, I shared how I have carried a strong interest in online teaching and my aspirations to teach fully online for the past several years. The response was, “Why are you so interested in online?”

I considered that my colleague may have thought I was interested due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and teleworking. However, my interest has been in existence for well over a decade. It began in 2007 during my first academic position at Colorado State University – Pueblo, where I developed the first online course using Blackboard for the social work program, as well as hybrid courses. It then extended to developing hybrid courses within the mental health counseling program at Colorado Christian University (Colorado Springs campus).

All the while, I was attending the doctoral program at Regent University in Counselor Education and Supervision. What was my dissertation? The Affective Process of Multicultural Competency Development: An Exploratory Study.

The Affective Process Dr
. Veronica Hardy
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It has been approximately 12 years since I delivered my doctoral dissertation defense. What was the purpose of my research study? As I look at our current climate, I see many job postings for diversity and inclusion related positions influenced by racially oppressive acts that could no longer be ignored. We have also seen the transition of several universities to temporarily online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both areas are relevant to my dissertation from 12 years ago.

When I designed my dissertation, it was two-fold. One intention was to gain information so the online classroom could be just as strong as the traditional, face to face classroom. I wanted to learn what elements would help to create such a space in a virtual environment to enhance student learning. As a result, the study participants were doctoral students in an online learning environment. The second intention, I wanted to measure change in how people think when it comes to diversity … not just going through the behaviors and saying the words that “seem” correct, but have the thoughts and emotions transformed? Have the internal processes experienced a transformation? I wanted to explore the course content that may have enabled my study participants to experience transformation.

I wanted to learn what elements would help to create such a space in a virtual environment to enhance student learning.

Fast forward to my current academic institution of employment. When I first began, I collaborated with the technology department to co-present during multiple trainings including use of the Starboard, engaging students with interactive video conferencing, best practices in distance education teaching methods, online course development. I have also enjoyed opportunities to mentor colleagues across campus, co-developing a program proposal to support military personnel in receiving consistent education even during periods of training and deployment, and so much more. Furthermore, I was excited to implement the findings from my dissertation when I was assigned the diversity course, and when I was responsible for creating it in an online format.

“Why are you so interested in online?”

Back to the original question, “Why are you so interested in online?” For all the reasons above and the following:

It is a way to confront certain aspects of higher education inequities, to enhance access to higher education by those experiencing geographical barriers, work related commitments, family obligations, and more. There is a new “traditional” student who is an adult learner carrying numerous life responsibilities, and understandably not able to carve out time for a commute and physical presence in the classroom. Multiple avenues of access to education can contribute to a broader choice in career opportunities and impact several aspects of a person’s life trajectory.

For example, I have a considerable heart for military personnel as my loved ones have either served or are currently serving. Imagine – work/daily role – security concerns – periods of deployment – personal mental health - mental health of family and all things associated with family – and then maintaining focus for higher education – maintaining a certain grade point average – being in a classroom by a certain time and during a certain week - and so much more. An additional example, there are multiple forms of discrimination and barriers that take place due to able-bodied privilege that block many from engaging in traditional higher education processes.

Higher education needs to be made accessible to the new “traditional” student population and all forms of abilities.

Higher education needs to be made accessible to the new “traditional” student population and all forms of abilities. These are reasons why distance learning opportunities are important to me. Overall, we must continue to explore ways to make higher education accessible to various population groups and confront the traditional barriers and ways of thinking that may hinder accessibility. Let us keep moving forward in our investment of time and effort toward creating diverse methods of inclusive education delivery on campus, online (synchronous and asynchronous), and cutting-edge ideas that are just waiting to be recognized and implemented.

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