Innovative Tools to Equitize Online Counseling Services and Instruction

The California Community Colleges (CVC) – Online Education Initiative (OEI) provides support services to address equity and achievement gaps in the online learning environment experienced by students from marginalized communities.  Aligned with Chancellor Oakley’s Vision for Success to fully close equity gaps within the CCC system, these ongoing efforts include applying an equity lens to surface institutional and systemic barriers, implementing an Equity Framework to address disparate impact and increase our students’ sense of belonging, and providing colleges with innovative tools, technology, and professional development in the areas of instruction and student services.     

The CVC-OEI and the Online Counseling Network (OCN) have designed innovative tools to support high quality Online Counseling Services. Instruction and student services play a pivotal role in student success and providing students with the ability to access online services in real time, truly defines meeting our students where they are. In 2016, Cranium Café powered by ConexED was selected as the meeting and collaboration platform for the Online Counselor’s Network Project. The ConexED platform was designed with student services in mind and ConexED is 100% committed to accessibility, FERPA, HIPAA and Security. The platform allows for various forms of communication (email, chat, video conferencing) all in one tool. The CVC-OEI and the OCN not only introduced this innovative tool to the counseling field but they also made sure, training and resources were provided to those using the online counseling platform. Experienced counselors are invited to participate in professional development courses, where they will learn strategies and techniques for fostering successful online counseling sessions.

Student Equity in Online Counseling

Our students are tomorrow’s leaders and workforce.  As educators, equity must be at the center of our daily practice as we assist students with meeting their educational, personal, and professional goals. Many of our students enroll in online courses and/or use online support services in the matriculation process. Counselors are key to this process.  In classrooms and counseling sessions, they identify students’ strengths, skills, and knowledge, and provide guidance towards selecting appropriate educational and career paths. However, to address disparities, close achievement gaps, and meet the needs of each student, it is important for counselors to provide welcoming and supportive environments that are based upon equity principles and culturally responsive teaching and learning practices.  Participating in flex-day breakout sessions, conferences, and campus-wide cultural events are great starts, but equity requires ongoing professional development, and a supportive community that provides networking opportunities and resources. There must also be a personal willingness and commitment to know our students and the communities they come from, to be more deeply engaged in the work to transform our classrooms, the delivery of student services, and our online colleges.

How Do You Do Equity?  

In The Next Equity Challenge, Dr. Estala Bensimon refers to higher education faculty members as ‘first-generation equity practitioners’ who must recognize and concede that their practices are failing to create success for too many students.  They need to see that their implicit biases about race and ethnicity often prevent them from viewing students who are not like themselves as college material (Bensimon, 2016). Having an awareness around institutional and systemic barriers to online learning is key to eliminating achievement gaps. This includes challenges such as implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotype threat. USC Center for Urban Education (CUE) offers equity-minded indicators and other valuable resources. Equity-minded counselors help students to build on their strengths.  They create welcoming environments that develop a sense of identity with and belonging to our institutions, and educational experiences to match their goals. Because equity is not about fairness, rather it it is about creating inclusive supportive learning environments that help our students find their voice and fulfill their potential.

Get Involved

The OEI will be offering professional development opportunities through on-campus workshops, online courses, webinars, and training modules, including a four-week course, Equity & CRTL for Online Counselors, this course will be offered through @ONE, late fall 2018. Along with opportunities for general counselors and mental health clinicians. A six-week Online College Counseling course, a two-week Online Mental Health for non-clinician course and a three-week Online Mental Health for licensed clinicians course.

Posted in Articles, counseling, Equity.

Arnita Porter is the Online Student Equity Coordinator for Online Student Experience with the CVC-OEI.

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