UNCF Building a shared online education platform for HBCUs, with a focus on culture and community
the United Negro College fonds (UNCF) announced plans to create a new online learning platform for historically black colleges and universities, dubbed HBCUv. The association partners with a consulting firm Deloitte Digital about the project, which “will provide top-notch distance education, community engagement and career paths for students seeking an HBCU education,” according to a news announcement.
For many HBCUs, the COVID-19 pandemic and the pivot to remote learning have exposed the limitations of current learning management systems, UNCF said. The technology was “too heavy for instructors and students unfamiliar with online learning” and “provided no way to replicate the culture and community for which HBCUs are famous, leaving the learning experience online feel hollow,” the organization found. Additionally, “HBCU instructors were frustrated with the inability to easily track student progress and assess when they needed additional coaching.”
“What we have learned from the pandemic is that better training is not enough,” said Dr. Shawna Acker-Ball, senior director of the UNCF Center for Teaching and Learning. “We need better tools and technologies to deliver rich education and the strong culture of America’s HBCUs and extend this transformative experience for students online.”
In an effort to reinvent online education and better serve Black learners, key features of HBCUv will include:
- Encourage young black talent around the world by offering high-quality courses taught by the best black minds in America;
- Provide career planning, curriculum matching, and other tools to help Black students discover and design their career paths;
- Connecting students and faculty from multiple HBCUs on a social platform for networking, collaboration, and closer community bonds;
- Support synchronous and asynchronous learning environments to meet individual student needs;
- Use machine learning and big data to provide predictive analytics on student performance and provide real-time feedback to instructors; and
- Serve as an open resource for all HBCUs to share knowledge, resources and best practices.
“It’s not just about having more online classes, it’s about providing a safe space for Black joy and expression, giving students the opportunity to find their ‘tribe’ of people and to inspire students of all ages by showing them black leaders who are part of the same HBCU heritage,” said Julian Thompson, director of strategy for the Institute for Capacity Building at UNCF. HBCUv will achieve this by integrating the culture, community, and commitment to Black excellence embodied by HBCUs into a unique online experience that will form the foundation of the future of Black education.”
The development of HBCUv will be guided by feedback from HBCU students, faculty, and staff. UNCF works with Deloitte Digital Ethosa consulting service focused on equity, sustainability and social welfare goals, which has already engaged HBCU stakeholders in thousands of hours of early discovery and research to ensure equity is central to the design of the platform.
“The intent behind our approach to design really matters when it comes to projects like this,” said Nathan Young, Principal at Deloitte Consulting and Chief Strategy Officer, Ethos at Deloitte Digital. “We opened up our design process and worked alongside dozens of HBCU students, instructors and administrators to ensure that HBCUv is truly a solution designed by HBCUs for HBCUs.”
“The inclusion of HBCU students, faculty, staff and administrators as co-designers of the platform will be an attribute of its success,” said Dr. Valora Richardson, Director of Digital Solutions and innovation at UNCF. “They know what they need, and we have heard them.”
The HBCUv platform will initially be driven by nine HBCUs: Benoit College, Claflin University, Atlanta Clark University, Dillard University, Jarvis Christian College, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, Shaw University and Talladega College. Beginning in 2023, students at these institutions will be able to enroll and take online courses for credit through HBCUv; UNCF plans to expand HBCUv to more institutions as the platform matures.