How to Nurture Virtually: The Challenge of Replicating the HBCU Experience Online

How to Nurture Virtually: The Challenge of Replicating the HBCU Experience Online

Shinzira Shomade (Bowie State University, USA) and Charles Adams (Bowie State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7537-6.ch009
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The students of color face a variety of obstacles in higher education, and the recent pandemic exacerbated many of the existing issues: lacking access to valuable resources, affordable course materials, and technological challenges. The inception of the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented disruption to higher education that has resulted in an amassing paradigm shift for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These institutions that have traditionally offered a curriculum in a face-to-face format with a small percentage of courses online. This chapter explores the challenges of replicating the HBCU experience online.
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The pandemic of 2020 triggered by the COVID-19 virus had a profound impact on everyday life in the United States. We witnessed the complete lockdown of the society whereby citizens were essentially restricted to their homes and the workplace shifted to a virtual domain. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) abruptly transitioned from face-to-face instruction and moved swiftly to online instruction. This sudden pivot impacted a large percentage of colleges and universities globally. As a result of the pandemic, approximately 70% of the total student population worldwide was impacted (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). A vast majority of faculty and students entered uncharted territory with little to no guidance. Universities that made significant capital investments and provided resources into building their online infrastructure structure fared better than those universities that made minimum investments and did not have the proper infrastructure to facilitate the online environment (Venable, 2020).

There is a real and significant difference between teaching online and offering online courses. Faculty at those universities who made significant investments in distance learning were able to effectively transition to online instruction, as opposed to those faculty members who worked at institutions that made little to no real investment in distance learning. Teaching online reflects an intentional pedagogy that frames the creation of courses with clear objectives in place. Course objectives are in line with course requirements and a clear through-line is present in the courses. Placed at the center of the course is student engagement with ample student support. Juxtapose this approach to one that simply offers courses online where there is no student engagement and no clear vision for achieving course objectives. Unprepared institutions were left to offer courses online with little in the way infrastructure support or established pedagogy. HBCUs have lagged behind their peer institutions in offering online courses. According to a 2014 report by Digital Learning, of the 106 total public and private HBCUs in the United States, only 33 offer online degree programs. The first factor cited in the report on the reluctance to adopt an online course was the lack of access to computers for the population that HBCUs predominately serve (Palmer and Thomas, 2020). Thus, the pandemic possibly exposed infra-structural issues at HBCUs regarding readiness for online instruction.

This unprecedented shift to a full-distance learning platform amplified and exacerbated inequality in higher education and this was especially true for a majority of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). A nationwide survey conducted by Global Strategy Group (2020) investigated the impact of the pandemic on undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges/universities. Key findings from the survey found that 84% of African-Americans and 80% of Latinx students worried about being able to stay on track and graduate. Students were generally supportive of their institutions’ response to the pandemic but Black students were notably less positive when it came to these transitions. Black students (39%) reported that their college or university provided virtual office hours or ways to connect with academic advisors. The challenges of transitioning to an online platform as a result of COVID-19 must be examined and understood in the context of the HBCU experience. We will outline and discuss the issues relevant to the transition as well as report on research surrounding how African-American students at one HBCU in northeastern United states perceived the transition.

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