Teacher training in culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) has been an important component of educational reform over the past 30 years. However, ensuring that educators are teaching their students to develop and/or maintain cultural competence and critical consciousness while achieving academic success is challenging when many educators themselves unknowingly do not possess these capabilities. While CRP is a popular buzzword, a group of researchers at Kennesaw State University recently set out to determine whether or not instructors who claim to integrate CRP into their curriculum are actually demonstrating CRP in practice.

The researchers investigated a set of online undergraduate and graduate reading courses at a university’s college of education. The choice to study CRP’s place in online education was inspired by the fact that many instructors fail to value this platform as legitimate. The researchers point out that many educators struggle to utilize effective teaching strategies online, meaning they risk misaligning instruction and course activities with course objectives.

Course material was coded for CRP course alignment across six courses, two from each of three different departments. Two rounds of coding ensued, each looking at positive examples of CRP being presented effectively and negative examples where courses failed to exhibit CRP effectively. The first round looked at CRP themes across courses, assignments, assessments, and rubrics broadly, while the second round dove deeper into course content to pin down the number of instances where different themes appeared throughout a course. Each course was reviewed by two different researchers who made their own assessments without knowledge to what the first researcher determined. Results were then compared and combined.

The researchers found that only one course investigated exhibited true CRP curriculum alignment, and in general, CRP was rarely incorporated in a deep and consistent fashion. Despite the fact that five out of the six courses included objectives that directly connected to culturally relevant teaching, no courses encouraged students to develop a critical consciousness to challenge the status quo, one of the main pillars of CRP. Researchers also found a lack of emphasis on democratic classrooms, identity, and cultural competence.

The disconnect found between objectives promoting CRP and activities, assessments, and rubrics keeps students from being able to master knowledge. This not only means that the online courses featured in this study are failing to deliver content in culturally responsive ways, but that, more generally, their course design is problematic. These gaps demonstrate a need for closer monitoring of online courses for equitable learning opportunities so that the integrity of a university's online offerings can be assured.

Adams, M., Rodriguez, A., & Zimmer, K. (2018). Studying cultural relevance in online courses: A thematic inquiry. Online Learning, 22(4), 361-381.

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