An action research case study: digital equity and educational inclusion during an emergent COVID-19 divide

Joyce Pittman (School of Education, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Lori Severino (School of Education, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Mary Jean DeCarlo-Tecce (School of Education, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Cameron Kiosoglous (Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 22 January 2021

Issue publication date: 4 June 2021




This paper aims to share responses from current literature, a small case study about perceptions and practices of the school of education faculty toward multicultural and educational issues concerning the rapid rise in online environments during coronavirus (COVID-19) experiences and just-in-time strategies for addressing digital equity and educational inclusion in K-16 online educational settings.


This is a conceptual paper that emerged from an action research case study. The study included four faculty in an urban school of education. The faculty participants were asked to provide examples of educational inclusion strategies used during transitioning their courses and advising to online environments in a Research I university. Faculty included one educational leadership, one sports management, one special education and one teacher education professor. Central issues explored practices related to language, technology access, curriculum design and technological competencies and assessment. A driving question was: How do institutions, schools or educators provide learning opportunities to support digital equity and inclusive education practice to maintain and strengthen relationships and core practices of multicultural education during a time of physical distancing during COVID-19? And what are the experiences, barriers, successes?


Research-based transformative knowledge, real situations and practical resources for considering inclusive education curriculum concepts were found that are connecting educators, teachers, learners and communities during this time of crisis.

Research limitations/implications

Methodological limitations that influenced the research design include conducting research in a totally virtual environment, small sample size, lack of diversity in curriculum content and one research site. The data collection was limited to written responses from the faculty participants. This action research study took place in a time frame limited by COVID-19 conditions during a four-month period.

Practical implications

In theory and practice, this new online movement suggests learners, teachers, educators and leaders are gaining experience and knowledge about resources and strategies for using new technologies, assessments and flexible curriculum as powerful tools for building language, curriculum and social-cultural communication bonds across generations and including special needs populations. Such new and emerging strategies could be used to bridge gaps in a time of distancing to support inclusive and equitable learning environments in education to minimize the effects of an emergent COVID-19 digital divide. Social learning culture as constructed, performed and captured in patterns of cooperation among faculties shows the world becoming more open and less restricted by borders. In conclusion, an emerging new conceptual framework is presented in Figure 2 to support action planning to bridge the digital equity access and learning gaps created by COVID-19.

Social implications

It is in times of strife and difficulty that problems and issues become exacerbated. While some educators easily adapted and took on the challenges of online learning, others needed time for learning and mourning (literally and figuratively). The issues of equity and access have become even more apparent as this paper takes inventory of intersections between multicultural education, special education, sports education and K-16 education overall. This is an excellent time to reflect on how education can address the cultural, economic and social barriers that impact student learning globally for all learners.


The brief collective case study reports educational experiences during a time of crisis that stimulates creative and innovative approaches to creating inclusive and equitable online learning environments to address diverse learning needs. The various and often contrasting educator responses from faculty facing digital and educational challenges present ideas that might be applicable in the global learning environment beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.



Pittman, J., Severino, L., DeCarlo-Tecce, M.J. and Kiosoglous, C. (2021), "An action research case study: digital equity and educational inclusion during an emergent COVID-19 divide", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 68-84.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


Background of the problem

Predating coronavirus (COVID-19), students were already graduating being more globally connected than ever before to other cultures through social media or virtual worlds. Furthermore, studies show that many future jobs in the USA tied to international trade and education will require some level of English proficiency, which can be problematic when considering over 80% of online content is in the English language. The classroom is no different and this calls for exploring international cooperation in global educational development to improve the quality of teacher education, inclusive education (ICE) and intercultural competency especially during this era of COVID-19. Research shows there is a need to expand access and effective use of technologies in global learning opportunity communities for newcomer immigrants and diverse learners and people affected by COVID-19. Such a rapid change in the learning environment is having an undeniable effect on teacher education policy and practices that so often determine the conditions for inclusivity in education.

The National Alliance of Inclusive Education defines ICE as attitudes and methods that ensure all learners can access mainstream education. This means that everyone works to make sure all learners feel welcome and valued and that they get the right support to help them develop their talents and achieve their goals. The premise is that when education is truly inclusive it can actually benefit all learners, not only disabled learners. An expanded more flexible and global definition of inclusive education is often described as pursuits of learning that involves connecting with others from other geographic areas, either learning knowledge (historical, cultural and social) or even learning a new language. Inclusive education in practice often uses different strategies and tools to complement learning, accumulating experiences from different cultural perspectives, which is often embodied in international or global education experiences. In recent years this emergent trend has been combined with new technologies as a good opportunity to implement new ways of blending cultural enrichment and culturally responsive curriculum or pedagogy in primary school, compulsory and higher education through virtual or distance learning. Tsedal Neeley (2012) reports:

More and more multinational companies are mandating English as the common corporate language – Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Fast Retailing, Nokia, Renault, Samsung, SAP, Technicolor and Microsoft in Beijing, to name a few – in an attempt to facilitate communication and performance across geographically diverse functions and business endeavors[…] to survive and thrive in a global economy, companies must overcome language barriers – and English will almost always be the common ground, at least for now. The fastest-spreading language in human history, English is spoken at a useful level by some 1.75 billion people worldwide – that’s one in every four of us. There are close to 385 million native speakers in countries such as the USA and Australia, about a billion fluent speakers in formerly colonized nations such as India and Nigeria and millions of people around the world who’ve studied it as a second language. An estimated 565 million people use it on the internet. Available:

Although we are in the emerging 21st century, many educators, leaders and policymakers are not aware of a wealth of web-based resources designed by global learning experts, teachers and educators, who are well-positioned to engage participants in the world learning community-building activities, including film viewing and the sharing of personal stories through audio, video and written experiences. There are multilingual/cultural resources that can be used to create and innovate global inclusive learning communities, which could be cultivated for use collaboratively for implementing distance learning in one’s home country in culturally appropriate ways.

For example, researchers have suggested that students are able to use the technological features on mobile devices to get word suggestions as they type texts, which serves to build their vocabulary and spelling skills. The feedback that second language learners receive from these environments is just as critical and vital in the development of student literacy as traditional in-class methods of teaching reading and writing, particularly as students are able to immediately use feedback from these devices in their daily writing and speech. Some researchers have suggested that texting and the use of mobile devices represents a new kind of literacy, which needs to be integrated and taught in the classroom equally alongside traditional literacy skills. Quite naturally, such integration would require a thorough analysis of how new literacies and technologies support current curricular objectives and for student learning (Neuman et al., 2019). Furthermore, we must study how to prepare the community of stakeholders including teacher educators, teachers and learners to use these technologies to advance learning opportunities and achievement for all.

The COVID-19 divide emergence

According to Pew Research (2020), over the first quarter of 2020, at least over 4 million human beings have been infected and more than 280,000 have died from COVID-19. Apart from the tragic loss of family members and loved ones and widespread ill-health, the pandemic has resulted in major disruptions to national economies and the global economic order. The lockdowns and suspension of many economic activities have led, in turn, to massive unemployment and further hunger and deprivation of basic needs to marginalized citizens and communities. However, other dimensions of social systems have also been significantly affected.

In particular, for many countries, the impact on education has been enormous. UNESCO has estimated that nearly 1.4 million students or 80% of the world’s learners at pre-primary, primary, lower- secondary and upper-secondary and tertiary levels of education are now being kept out of educational institutions by country-wide closures. Educators at all levels and families are facing the challenges posed by this crisis. In response, educational agencies, schools and universities have implemented alternate modes of education during school closures (e.g. distance or remote learning, use of IT tools) or in some cases, transitioning into a “post-pandemic” scenario (Swee-hinToh, 2020).

Teachers global and multicultural competencies

During COVID-19 like other problematic conditions in education is determining not only what will be learned but who will learn. We believe that successful transition in creating culturally responsive and equitable virtual learning environments is largely dependent on teacher and teacher educators’ skills and mindsets for working together collaboratively to reassess the development of new layers of culturally responsive knowledge and skills. In Globalization, Global Mindsets and Teacher Education, Lin Goodwin (2019) make a clear case for such cooperation in teacher education curriculum and in professional development especially during the current transition from traditional to virtual learning:

An examination of almost 4,000 articles on teacher education published by reputable US journals between 2005 and 2015, revealed almost no mention of immigrants, immigration or immigrant education and minimal attention to broad issues of diversity (Goodwin, 2016). This despite the massive global movement of peoples across the world in the past decade and “the new collective majority of minority children” in US public schools (Maxwell, 2014, p. 3), where one in four children under age 18 is an immigrant or a child of immigrants (Sugarman, 2017).

This lack of attention to migration and immigration is repeated internationally where “a drastic increase in the number of immigrants and the nature of migration in the last 20 or 30 years caught many nations by surprise and left teachers poorly prepared for the changed composition of their classes” (Paine et al., 2016, p. 743). The latest TALIS results (Teaching and Learning International Study) indicate the same lack of preparedness for diversity expressed by teachers across 48 countries (OECD, 2019) (Goodwin, 2019, p. 4).

Purpose and significance

The importance of this discussion is grounded in the definition of multicultural education set forth by the National Association of Multicultural Education (NAME) primarily because it embodies a wide, diverse and global conceptualization and multi-dimension view of equality and justice in education:

Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity and human dignity as acknowledged in various documents such as the US Declaration of Independence, constitutions of South Africa and the USA and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. It affirms our need to prepare students for their responsibilities in an interdependent world. It recognizes the role schools can play in developing the attitudes and values necessary for a democratic society. It values cultural differences and affirms the pluralism that students, their communities and teachers reflect. It challenges all forms of discrimination in schools and society through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice.


The definition and our conception of digital equity and inclusive education, culturally responsive teaching, new technologies and virtual world learning communities intersectionality carry the potential to help or hinder connecting individuals to new experiences and knowledge-building opportunities. The connectedness that deepens the existing work of researchers, teachers, educators, school leaders, policymakers or institutions and organizations must be reconsidered especially during this present time of COVID-19.

New online environments have an equal chance of expanding barriers or increasing strategies for more inclusive and equitable learning opportunities. Online learning and web-based technologies often impede building bonds between new immigrant learning communities or newcomers to this new virtual education world. However, new world learning communities can be designed to expand strategies for globalizing learning opportunities for all people by increasing connectedness within our home, policy, business and educational communities but this will take much work and a systematic process for bringing about such immediate change.

The speed at which face-to-face schooling moved to online learning had an impact on the quality and accessibility of the content for all students, particularly those from lower-income areas, those with disabilities and English language learners. In 2014, the department of education released a guideline document, Preparing for Infections Disease: Department of Education Recommendations to Ensure the Continuity of Teaching and Learning for Schools (K-12) During Extended Student Absence of School Dismissal. This document outlined recommendations for schools to prepare in advance to ensure the health and safety of the students but also to execute distance learning. It appears the shut-down from COVID-19 caught most off-guard and sent all educational institutions scrambling to provide students with the necessary technology, teachers with training on teaching in a virtual environment and accessibility for students with disabilities ensued.

Digital divide, equity and inclusion conceptual framework

First, we must address the emergent COVID-19 digital divide in education as viewed worldwide by the United Nations. “These inequalities are a real threat to learning continuity at a time of unprecedented educational disruption,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education:

With most of the world’s students now at home due to COVID-19, the pandemic is revealing startling divides in digitally-based distance learning, data from the UN education and cultural agency, UNESCO and partners have revealed. They found that half of all students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally – do not have access to a computer. Additionally, more than 40% have no internet access at home. The figures were compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, using data from the UN agency’s Institute for Statistics and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Available:

In the literature, digital equity and inclusion, which are inherent components of the digital divide and multicultural education is defined as:

A condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning and access to essential services (Pittman et al., 2008).

Furthermore, research shows that before digital equity can evolve, basic access to information technology must flow to or be diffused into educational systems and communities within poorer societies. Hohlfeld et al. (2008) offer a tiered theoretical framework to help researchers think critically about the digital divide as it relates to equity. Developed from a rich research base, this framework outlines three levels of a digital divide in schools: the school infrastructure level (hardware, software and internet access); the classroom level (use of technology by students and teachers); and the individual level (students using technology to empower themselves).

Resta and Laferrière (2008) offer another way of thinking about the dimensions of digital literacy that need to be in place for moving toward digital equity. They distinguish the following five dimensions:– Access to hardware, software and connectivity to the internet.– Access to meaningful, high-quality, culturally relevant content in local languages.– Access to creating, sharing and exchanging digital content.– Access to educators who know how to use digital tools and resources (p. 2). The sudden shift to learning online due to COVID-19 exposed the fact that the gaps that Hohleld et al. (2008) and Resta and Laferrière (2008) identified more than a decade ago are still present.


Participants and sampling

A sample of four diverse faculty members made up the participants who volunteered for this exploratory qualitative case study to support this conceptual, practitioner targeted paper. There was one in educational leadership, one sports management, one teacher education and one special education. The participants included three women and one man faculty member ages 40–70 years. The racial/ethnic backgrounds included one black professor and three white professors. All professors have experience teaching in an international education setting. All faculty were used as colleagues in a School of Education in the Northeastern USA and were experienced in online teaching between 1 and 10 years. Two of the four participants were teaching classes both online and face to face. Two were teaching online only. The school of education at this research I university includes a population of 43 full-time faculty and 1,065 students. In the winter-spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 seem to emerge without notice there were 24,190 total students enrolled university-wide. The university transitioned to completely online on March 20, 2020.


Non-probability sampling method: Convenience sampling:

Although it is a non-probability sampling method, it is the most applicable and widely used method in clinical research. In this method, the investigators enroll subjects according to their availability and accessibility. Therefore, this method is quick, inexpensive and convenient. It is called convenient sampling as the researcher selects the sample elements according to their convenient accessibility and proximity (Elfil and Negida, 2017).

Convenience sampling was used to invite the participants who:

  • volunteered to participate in the study to share experiences, perceptions and practices toward multicultural and educational issues concerning the rapid rise in online environments during Covid-19 experiences and just-in-time strategies for addressing digital equity and educational inclusion in K-16 online educational settings;

  • were familiar with the online courses within their respective departments in the school of education and

  • and have had prior experience participating in online teaching, discussions, group projects, small-and large groups and presentations via video.


A questionnaire with one two-part question was shared with the participants via email and faculty were asked to answer the question and provide exemplars to support their narrative (see attached). The question was, How do institutions, educators provide learning opportunities to support digital equity and inclusive education practice to maintain and strengthen relationships and core practices of multicultural education during a time of physical distancing during COVID-19? And What are the experiences, barriers, successes?


Data collection

Data collection methods included:

  • Documentation of practices and

  • Online discussion via video and email exchange.

The instrument along with an email was sent to the faculty who emailed the principal researcher expressing interest in participating in the small case study for the purpose of writing a paper for publication to share practices with a greater community. Each volunteer participant sent examples of practices they were using to transition FTF instruction to online instruction due to COVID-19 restrictions on FTF contact. Such policies were determined at university, local, state and federal levels.


Constant comparative analysis was used to analyze all data via coding procedures of (“open,” “axial” and “selective” strategies) to help understand perceptions and practices of School of Education faculty toward multicultural and educational issues concerning the rapid rise in online environments during Covid-19 experiences and just-in-time strategies for addressing digital equity and educational inclusion in K-16 online educational settings.

Findings and results

The data were collected to inform ways that educators in higher education and k-12 schools are ensuring educational equity and inclusivity to diminish the emergence of a new digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following rich thick descriptions unveil the most significant categories and themes that emerged from the coding process and written descriptions by each faculty member describing their perceptions, practices and experiences during COVID-19 transitioning.

Case-in-point 1: online teaching and COVID-19 transition

Teaching online as part of our job description in our school of education as the university already had an online presence. However, adjustments and modifications needed to be made during the Covid-19 shutdown. In addition to our university students taking their own online course, now they may also be teaching online and learning how to do that efficiently and effectively. For many of our population of online students, also have their own families, including children to care for during this crisis. Not only are they expected to take an online course but also to navigate new learning/teaching and work in the same environment in which they care for their family members. Stress and anxiety were increased and students needed supports to manage and care for themselves.

We supported our students in a variety of ways. Communication became a very important factor. Communication through emails, announcements, videos and phone calls occurred even before the start of the term. It was important to identify what stresses they were experiencing and how we could help alleviate those when possible. Providing students with a way to discuss their concerns was helpful. According to a recent survey by EdWeekResearch Center (2020) 86% of K-12 teachers are communicating with students and families through email. In total, 69% are posting messages online and 58% are using online communications and conferencing.

Flexibility in due dates was also critical. One professor decided to stress content mastery of overdue dates. Students were asked to communicate with the professor when they needed extra time for an assignment. Students have been very honest and open about all that is going on in their lives and it allowed for dialogue between professor and student. The dialogue provided an opportunity to support the student and focus on all the student was accomplishing in this hectic time. Students have appreciated the dialogue and as of now, do not seem to be taking advantage and submitting multiple assignments after the due date. Most students need a few days to catch up and the work is of higher quality.

As a school of education faculty, partnerships with local K-12 schools are paramount. Pre-service and in-service teachers in field placements are needed to continue their coursework. Professors had to be creative in adapting assignments and experiences that would still allow skills and competencies to be developed in this new online environment. It was in this role, that professors who were already familiar with the online environment were becoming coaches for our K-12 partners.

Implications for K-12 education


After the first six-plus weeks of closed schools, it appears that teachers globally are becoming more comfortable with the technology, but given the demand and stress of everyone being home together, students may not be “logging” in or completing their work at the same level as being in the classroom (UNESCO Global Education COVID-19 Coalition, 2020). In addition, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (2020), due to the varying conditions in many homes, new success strategies will need to be shared with these new “parent-teachers,” to ensure home environments become more conducive to effectively supporting the practice of homeschooling. The CRHE make the following recommendations for K-12 education:

With schools across the country closed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a period of widespread emergency homeschooling. At this time, the importance of providing children with an excellent education must be balanced with both children’s mental health needs during this crisis and with parents’ ability to supervise instruction:

  • Your child’s school should serve as a resource. Your child’s school may be closed, but your child’s teacher is still responsible for their education. You should not have to create or purchase a curriculum for your child; your child’s teacher and school should be there to assist you during this period. If your child’s school has not provided you with resources and guidance, reach out to your child’s teacher;

  • Research findings regarding online schooling are profoundly negative. Children are not designed to learn from a computer, absent interaction from a teacher or a parent. This is particularly true for younger children. It may help to sit with your child while they complete online material. If you feel the expectations for online learning are too high, take your concerns to your child’s teacher;

  • Foster your child’s love of learning. Take care to ensure that your child’s instruction is engaging to them; listen to your child and ask for their input. Involving your child in planning their education will give them buy-in. Children engage in learning in many different ways. For example, your child may enjoy building a village out of cardboard or using a tablet to create a stop-motion video featuring their toys. Encourage creative play and

  • Homeschooling does not have to look like formal schooling. Your children probably do not need to do school work for the same number of hours they attended school. Children who are homeschooled typically finish materials more quickly because they can receive one-on-one attention and do not have to wait on other children. When it comes to your child’s instruction, quality is more important than quantity.

This is an important time to capture worldwide educational strategies and guidelines that work and identify ways to improve systems or procedures that did not work during an extended shutdown. This will likely not be the last we see of this pandemic or the next. It is time to prepare for the future.

Issue of equity and inclusion for learners with special needs

Equity and access have become much more apparent issues with the Covid-19 pandemic. States are trying to provide guidance and policies on remote learning that would address these issues. Information and lessons need to be provided in multiple ways to be accessed by families: packets delivered to the home or a central location for pick up; alternate ways to deliver instruction (online, public television); providing access to Wi-Fi, as well as supplying laptops to families. Issues continue to arise even when students have access to a computer/laptop and internet connection. In families with multiple children, who gets to access the computer and at what time? Teachers are struggling with trying to get students to check in to their Google Classroom or another platform.

Districts have had to make decisions on whether to introduce new material or enhance what students learned while school buildings were still open. Chances are the achievement gap will be more noticeable when classes meet face to face again. The Matthew Effect (Stanovich, 1986), where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, will be evident in classrooms and districts. What typically is know as the “summer slide” for children that do not have the means or access to attend summer programming, has expanded from two or three months to as many as six months. The immediate response needed to consider how to adapt to online learning; however, districts are beginning to examine ways to cope with the widening disparity in learning of new content.

In this time of crisis, teachers, administrators and publishers came together to support student learning. Experts in certain areas began to offer free webinars, some of which were how to use Zoom or Google Classroom to deliver lessons. Not to mention, Zoom was offered to all teachers and students free of charge for six months. Book publishers offered free online access to books. Publishers of the curriculum offered content in an online format. Universities saw the need and began offering materials to support K-12 learning in the form of online games, YouTube videos, webinars and one on one virtual coaching. Social media groups began popping up to support teachers during the COVID-19 crisis. When the pandemic hit, someone started a Facebook group called teaching during COVID-19 which as of the beginning of May 2020 has 140,000 members. This is a place for teachers to share resources, success stories, frustrations and to be a part of something bigger.

America’s IDEA 2004 for students with disabilities

Providing services to students with disabilities in a virtual environment caused concern for many school districts. Continuing to offer a free appropriate public education to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment raises a new set of issues. Content delivered in a virtual environment needs to be made accessible. Delivering content is not as easy as posting a video of a lesson. For students that are deaf or hard of hearing, a script needs to be provided. For students with vision issues, written content should take into consideration font size and color contrast at a minimum. Screen readers are used for students with vision issues and it is helpful if documents follow the recommendations of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Services such as occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) or one-on-one aid for students with disabilities are not happening in most places. Parents and caregivers in the home are now attempting to provide those services in which they have not been trained. One parent shared, her daughter who typically receives OT and PT received one phone call from each provider in the six weeks of shelter in place order. Her daughter has not received any of these services that would have been delivered multiple times per week in the school setting.

The experiences k-12 students have in their online school today will have an impact on higher education online learning outcomes (Burdette et al., 2013). As schools are required to provide FAPE in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities, students will be receiving accommodations and modifications through the online curriculum during this pandemic as is required through Individuals with the USA Disabilities Act (IDEA) 2004. These students may enter colleges and universities that have online classes.

Equal and integrated access to higher education is provided to students with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Universities that had an online component prior to COVID-19, were likely better prepared to quickly adapt to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Online content needs to be accessible to all. Students with visual impairments need to be able to access the content and curriculum, as well as students that are deaf or hard of hearing.

Equity and inclusion strategies in higher education during COVID-19

To address the needs and concerns of post-secondary students who were to attend a face to face class that was quickly moved to online, faculty used a virtual needs assessments to open the term. The data were collected and student needs were identified in a number of areas. Based on the responses, virtual designs for traditional face-to-face activities and lectures were redesigned, guest speakers were invited to present to the class and instructional strategies were adjusted to meet some of the student needs/concerns.

Case-in-point 2: evaluation and assessment

In this case, in response to the open-ended qualitative questionnaire, a professor shared her experience with making the transition from traditional to online approach in a teacher education program. While the school of education in this report offers the majority of its courses in fully online formats, the school does have a boutique on-campus undergraduate population. Like other universities, face to face classes ended in March of 2020 and moved online to synchronous, remote teaching. Prior to the start of remote learning classes, one teacher education professor distributed a survey to the 14 students enrolled in a junior-level pedagogy course. Knowing that students would be facing unprecedented changes in their lives due to the disruption of COVID-19, the professor knew that it would be important to understand the unique challenges students were facing and the assets the students were drawing upon as they engaged in their academic work. This way the remote teaching coursework could be adapted to remove barriers, provide support and best meet student needs.

The survey (Table 1) was designed to gather data on the students’ background knowledge regarding course content, their expectations for the class and the environment in which students would be engaging in their remote classes. Environments were defined broadly and included technology access, COVID-19 living arrangements and social-emotional health.

Based on student responses to the Learning Environment Questionnaire, the professor made a number of adjustments to planned instruction. All students indicated they a computer to work on and a reliable internet connection, though those connections proved to be less than stable at times for both the professor and the students. As not every student indicated that she/he would be able to make a video recording, the final project was changed from a video to a PowerPoint on VoiceThread. Several students indicated they would be working in locations with more than five people present, so students were not required to turn their cameras on during class. Students had the option to earn participation points through verbal contributions or chat contributions, as they may be in settings where others may be able to be heard during synchronous sessions (Figure 1).

The professor arranged for a guest speaker from the university counseling center who spent 30 min of class time explaining to the student the different ways that students could access mental health supports. The undergraduate advisor joined a class session and answered a number of questions about enrolling in summer courses, a requirement in the university’s quarter system. The professor also connected with a colleague in the Department of Nutrition who shared tips about healthy eating and exercising. The Director Of Recreation was invited to explain how students could use the Virtual Rec Center and participate in esports while the campus remained closed. This high touch approach helped students stay connected to the university and addressed the non-academic needs.

Virtual needs assessment used to open the term has proven to provide valuable information on student needs in a number of areas to inform invitations to guest speakers and to planning instruction to enhance the online learning experiences and connecting teachers and learners in real-time.

Online/remote coaching

Due to this time of transition to virtual communication, classroom education is not the only disruption in our schools and IHEs that must be addressed during COVID-19, the sports and physical activities are an intricate part of the financial and social-emotional learning of our K-16 students. Given this concern, the NCAA approved a measure across all sports that allows for more virtual instruction from coaches. In following with the decision of the NCAA’s announcement that Division I coaches in all sports will be allowed more virtual connection with their teams for an extended period, schools and universities are doing the same. We can learn much from the virtual coaching approaches that can be applied to all virtual learning education situations. A sports management professor shared how he responded within his IHE to continue providing coaching to various sports activities. See Case-in-Point 3.

Case-in-point 3: innovative ways of coaching remotely with athletes from a diverse background

Sports and coaching are impacted by COVID-19 pandemic (Patricios, 2020). Sports typically involve close contact and is mostly a face to face adventure; However, in these unprecedented times, coaches need to provide services in a unique way. Technology is providing a basis for maintaining a social connection with friends, family, social networks and the wider community (Marston et al., 2020). The following are examples of programs that are connecting athletes and coaches from diverse backgrounds in an attempt to overcome the challenges of the current lockdown that we are facing around the world:

  • Philadelphia Community Rowing is challenged with limited resources and has focused on regular communications between athletes and coaches and by using a collaborative social media app that parents, athletes and coaches are able to update each other on their status;

  • The USA Para Olympic team have focused on taking small and progressive steps by conducting a daily online questionnaire that athletes and coaches are able to share any changes in their training including sleep, hydration, heart rate and other performance-related data;

  • Disable Sports of America has shared over 220 online programs and resources with their membership as a way to keep people engaged with the sport as we all navigate these complex times; and

  • Special Olympics is a global movement focusing on the “less is more” mindset and the low-tech approach has seemed to have the highest return for their community engagement. Some of the special Olympic programs in developing parts of the world are crucial in distributing food parcels to families who have lost their source of income.

These are just a few ways that sports can be a vehicle for support communities during the COVID-19 pandemic to overcome the barrier of access and inclusivity using new online environments (Güzel et al., 2020).

Experiences, barrier and successes

The collective experiences of the four professors and the students and teachers they support provide insight into K-16 experiences during this pandemic. Barriers were encountered and addressed. Divergent thinking was needed to provide solutions quickly that would support faculty and students. Every barrier may not have been completely addressed, but the adjustments and accommodations were made quickly. What has been apparent in working with various faculty and K-12 teachers is teachers are invested in making adjustments to meet the needs of their students.



The practices described in this study emerged from original action research, which was supported by the literature, personal experiences and observations of four faculty in a school of education. Given the varied experience of these four faculty and their roles within a school of education, multiple themes emerged due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One major consideration when moving to an online environment is the mental health of the students and faculty. Communication among teachers and students was deliberate and often. The opportunity to provide all parties a voice- learner and teacher- proved important to transform how teachers delivered instruction in record time. Another theme addressed in this study is technology. Technology is a necessity for online learning. The accessibility of the technology, the ability to use the technology and the availability of technology were readily available by some, but certainly not all. This was one of the more visible issues surrounding equity and access.

Practical implications

An inclusive and technology-based approach is necessary to close the COVID-19 divide that continues to separate equitable learning opportunities from diverse populations. As a result of COVID-19, some global learners, educators or groups who once had access to traditional education are now disproportionately excluded in conversations about the access and equity in teacher education, new virtual learning communities and policy-making arenas.

Forward-looking new strategies shared in this paper could support meaningful direction toward creating more international education linkage, inclusive virtual learning communities and high qualified teachers prepared to teach new diverse student audiences globally. Five suggested strategies are represented in Figure 2 include:

  1. Creating new curricula in global education with an emphasis on new migrant populations;

  2. Developing educational leaders and teachers with specialization in language pedagogy, policy and area studies;

  3. Using new technologies and broadband to expand exemplary global training and professional development networks with schools and communities serving diverse and new immigrant populations;

  4. Collaborating with teacher education, language and literacy faculty to explore ways to advance teachers intercultural competency and language proficiency to innovate, create and sustain globalized inclusive learning environments; and

  5. Using creative needs assessments and evaluations to redesign learning environments and curriculum and social-emotional support systems to address the mental health needs of learners in online learning education resulting from COVID-19 disruption of traditional educational approaches.

The educators who participated in the study were experienced in teaching and advising in online settings. Yet, they anticipated a new level of complexity of the online learning process during COVID-19. The educators shared that they continue striving to understand this new digital divide and how to bridge a potential discourse between students, staff, teachers and administrators. Such discussions and practices can be effective in addressing common issues, sparking dialogue and inspiring action to solve education and socio-economic problems worldwide during a time of distancing. All strategies and tools shared in this paper can be transitioned and adapted for different learning environments based on carefully assessing the needs of educators, learners and leaders.

Social implications

It is in times of strife and difficulty that problems and issues become exacerbated. While some educators easily adapted and took on the challenges of online learning, others needed time for learning and mourning (literally and figuratively). The issues of equity and access have become even more apparent as we take inventory of intersections between multicultural education, special education, sports education and K-16 education overall. This is an excellent time to reflect on how education can address the cultural, economic and social barriers that impact student learning globally for all learners.


Class participation datasheet

Figure 1.

Class participation datasheet

Conceptual framework for globalizing inclusive and equitable learning environments

Figure 2.

Conceptual framework for globalizing inclusive and equitable learning environments

Needs assessment survey

Type of question Survey question Sample student responses
Background knowledge Who was the most “together” teacher you have ever had? Why did she/he seem so “together?” The most “together” teacher I ever had, I would have to say both my Junior and Senior English Teachers. They both did things differently but in every class, they were prepared. They would take a few minutes before class giving the agenda of the day. Since the beginning of the school year, they both set classroom expectations and expectations for us. From giving us respect and being honest with us from the beginning, I believe what set the tone for us to have mutual respect for them
What is your biggest career fear? My biggest career failure is letting my students down. I think I would want to see my students do big things and be able to accomplish their goals. If they do not, that would be my biggest career failure
What has been your best teaching moment so far? During my coop, one of my most successful lessons was teaching my students about the slope and bringing in real-world examples that helped them understand the content
Course expectations How can I help you be successful this term? Being extra clear on due dates and not giving busy work because this quarter will be hard for me at home/other things to worry about with this scary world right now
Learning environment Think about where you will be staying for this term. How many other people are staying at this location with you? 5 or more
Do you have … (Check all that apply) A dedicated space at your location where you can do schoolwork?
A dedicated computer at which to work?
Reliable internet access?
The ability to get the books you need for this term?
The ability to make audio recordings?
The ability to make video recordings?
Would you be interested in me sharing information about university resources on any of these topics? (Check all that apply?) Mental health support
Staying active
Healthy eating ideas
Planning for the summer term


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World Council on Curriculum and Instruction -WCCI (UNESCO-NGO) Newsletter, Winter 2020 Content cited by Toh Swee-Hin (S.H.Toh) President, WCCI. Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta. Laureate, UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (2000).

Corresponding author

Joyce Pittman is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

About the authors

Dr Joyce Pittman – is a Drexel University Professor Emeritus of educational leadership, curriculum and instructional design and a consultant to educational reform efforts in the USA and worldwide. She directs global education reform and research efforts and technology standards to guide teacher education programs in preparing globally competent educators to incorporate ubiquitous technologies in online environments.

Dr Lori Severino – is a faculty member in the special education program. She teaches courses in reading, high incidence disabilities, and student teaching. Her area of expertise is in reading disabilities. Prior to teaching at Drexel, she was a special education teacher in public education for 26 years in which she taught first through twelfth grades. Most of her teaching career was working with students with dyslexia. She is committed to preparing all teachers to be able to teach all students to read. She is a member of the instructional strategies committee of the Philadelphia Read by 4th campaign.

Dr Mary Jean DeCarlo-Tecce – is an Associate Clinical Professor of Literacy Studies at Drexel University. Dr DeCarlo designs and teaches courses in the Teacher Education Program and the Special Education program. She earned her EdD in Reading, Writing and Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania. During her nearly 30 years in education, Dr DeCarlo has been a classroom teacher, a curriculum leader and a college professor. At Drexel she has focuses her research on reading comprehension, teacher education, challenges regarding reading and writing instruction for delayed readers and writers and the development of information and digital literacy skills for learners K-12.

Dr Cameron Kiosoglous – has coached on the US Rowing national team since 2002 and is a four-time US Olympic coach at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. Cam started coaching in Canberra, Australia in 1991 and moved to the US in 2000. Cam received a PhD in Human Development from Virginia Tech researching the development pathways of coaching success and did his undergraduate studies in Economics and Asian studies at the Australian National University and graduate work in education at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia and Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. He has presented at a number of national and international conferences and published in journals in the area of sports coaching development and performance improvement.

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