Culturally Responsive Teaching Online

Florida International University is designated as a minority serving institution, meaning that a majority of the student body derive from groups that are usually minorities in other institutions. Taking a stroll through FIU you soon realize the diversity of languages, culture, and perspectives is what makes this institution so special. Non-traditional students have the ability to not feel “unique” and can focus on the greater matter at hand, which is to attain an education. Although we serve a diverse student body, are we still teaching in a culturally responsive way? How does culturally responsive teaching occur in an online modality? This article will highlight a few basic principles that could enhance discussions, community, and learning within online classes.

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. –Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire addresses a critical concern on the purpose of education, it should be to create individual thinkers who can create innovative solutions to our complex problems. When we see education only as a means to socialization and indoctrination we do a great disservice to the liberating aspects that education can provide. Instructors have to start changing how they view their students. Learners are not empty vessels ready to be filled with knowledge, rather they are complex beings with past experiences and thoughts that cannot be ignored. In order to teach to a diverse group of students an instructor does not need to simplify content, instead the goal should be to make the learning complex and malleable, because this is how our brain actually works. Education should not be creating students who depend solely on teachers for learning, rather learners should feel empowered to learn on their own. Some characteristics of an individual learner:

  • Relies on the teacher to carry some of the cognitive load temporarily
  • Utilizes strategies and processes for tackling a new task
  • Regularly attempts new tasks without scaffolds
  • Has cognitive strategies for getting unstuck
  • Has learned how to retrieve information from long term memory

Neurosciences will continue to highlight the tangible nature of learning, but the model of one size-fits-all is not conducive to real education. We learn both inside and outside of the classroom; given the removal of face to face interaction within online education, how can an instructor bring the outside world into the classroom? Highlighted below are some suggestions that could enhance culturally responsive learning between teacher and student.

Awareness: The instructor should recognize cultural norms of individualism as well as collectivism. Online instructors should acknowledge the socio-political context around race and language.

Learning Partnerships: Reimagine the student-teacher relationship as a partnership, and attempt to balance giving students both care and push. Cultivate a positive mindset amongst your students along with a sense of self efficacy.

Information Processing: Stimulate higher order thinking, instructional designers can help you match higher order objectives with the assignments and assessments that you as the instructor are planning on giving. Scaffolding becomes a component that can assist in the creation of independent learners in your online class.

Community of Learners: Just because the instructor does not view the students face-to-face, does not mean a community of learning cannot be established. In fact, allowing students to have a voice by incorporating collaborative assignments, or allowing the students to help create the semester syllabus are great examples of building a community. A quality learning environment is one where the professor and the students both feel empowered to create their learning path. Building rituals and routines within the online course can also solidify the creation of a learning community.

Creating a culturally responsive online classroom does not mean catering to any one particular group, rather it involves being more purposeful with how and what you utilize to measure learning within the course. Instructional designers can assist in the creation of quality assessments as well as how to nurture a learning community.


Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. Culturally responsive teaching and the brain (1st ed.).


Luis Alvarado was a FIU Online instructional designer (2015-2018). His expertise includes the areas of emerging technology, learning theories, 21st Century instructional design models, user experience, and the incorporation of diverse modes of media into online courses. Luis applies sound instructional strategies developed through experience gained in higher education and government. He effectively structures course content, provides expert technical support, and advises faculty on the latest learning and interactive multimedia technology.


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