This summer, universities around the world planned for an unprecedented back-to-school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In most universities, centres of teaching and learning are responsible for supporting faculty members’ teaching for more effective student learning and a high quality of education.

Our collaborative research group, based at Université Laval, Concordia University, Florida State University, University of Southern California and San Francisco State University, sought to better understand how universities planned to make sure all students would have access to online learning and be able to participate as courses moved online. Our team met remotely with staff from 19 centres in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Lebanon.

We analyzed publicly shared resources from 78 centres in 23 countries about about how instructors could transform online learning during COVID-19. We also compiled publicly available resources from these centres about ways to address educational equity in relationship to online learning.

We identified emerging best practices that many universities are recommending for improving students’ equitable access online during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We also heard from staff at centres of teaching and learning that universities have a distance to go in understanding how to address racism online.

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Educational equity
We used the Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development’s definition of educational equity to guide our questions. We also relied on a working definition of equity in higher education:

All students are able to achieve equal learning outcomes as they are supported by institutions, faculty and other systems to engage in the learning process.

All students are able to receive the financial, social and academic support and guidance they need to succeed in the institutional programs, thus enabling lifelong success as well.

All students are given access to appropriate and effective learning opportunities, and instructional resources, activities, interactions and evaluative assessment — which are differentiated according to their unique sets of characteristics and needs.

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