Rice University (a member of the Global MOOC Alliance) announced today that 13 companies have been selected to participate in its educational technology initiative’s new equity in courseware training program. The training will help the participating companies learn about and develop educational technology platforms that provide better outcomes for all students, especially those from historically marginalized and underserved communities.

The program, which began this month and runs through spring 2022, will provide participating companies with an understanding of how courseware can be designed with an equity-first approach. Participants will also work to implement equity-minded improvements, features and models into their existing educational technology platforms.

Technology, when brought into the learning environment, has the potential to address inequities or exacerbate them. Implicit bias can make its way into learning experiences through administrative procedures, teaching instruction and even the online homework and exam software students use. A 2018 study conducted by Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research found that in online discussion forums, instructors were 94% more likely to respond to comments made by white male students. Often software used by students for learning is developed by and tested on groups of people that are not representative of the diverse populations of students the platforms are meant to serve, which can introduce bias into the technology itself.

“As an organization, we recognize that there are flaws in our education system, including within educational technology, that can be especially harmful to already marginalized student populations,” said Daniel Williamson, managing director of OpenStax. “We also know that if we are truly going to make progress towards creating a more inclusive and equitable learning environment, we have to work in tandem with a diverse group of stakeholders. The companies that are participating in this equity in courseware program believe firmly that education and technology should benefit all learners equally.”

Lrnr, Classavo, ecoText, Book It Zambia, XanEdu Publishing, Gradarius, Visible Body, The Expert TA, Squarecap, Lumen Learning, Lyryx Learning, Hawkes Learning and CogBooks will all participate in the program. The OpenStax team will participate alongside these companies to foster further learning among the organization. Between them, OpenStax and the participating companies share a common goal: working toward creating platforms with equity in mind to better serve all students.

Throughout the program, participants will complete a self-paced course from the Association of College and University Educators to better understand instructor and student experiences with diversity, inclusion and equity. Participants will also complete course material created and curated by OpenStax with the assistance of external experts. The group will plan, strategize, create and implement their improvements and new features into their products.

Hawkes Learning, a longtime platform in the educational technology industry, and ecoText, a startup, are both looking forward to participating in the program.

“As a company, everything we do revolves around supporting students and helping them succeed academically. Our goal in taking this course is to learn how to make our content more inclusive so that students can better relate to and benefit from our materials. Already I’ve gained more than I was expecting from the course, including how we can highlight specific software settings and features during faculty trainings to promote a more equitable learning environment for students.”

Jennifer O’Brien,
business development manager at Hawkes Learning.

“All of us in the educational space must be working to shape a more equitable academic future. It is exciting to be participating in the equity in courseware program in collaboration with OpenStax. We are dedicated to continuing our pursuit of building a company that enables all students to have an equal opportunity of reaching their version of success.”

Nelson Thomas,
chief marketing officer of ecoText

About OpenStax
OpenStax is committed to improving access to quality learning materials. As an ed-tech initiative that is part of Rice University and supported by philanthropic foundations, OpenStax provides free college and Advanced Placement textbooks that are developed and peer-reviewed by educators, as well as low-cost, personalized courseware that helps students learn. For more information, visit OpenStax.org.

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