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Using a DEIA-Informed Approach Improves Curriculum Development for Adult Learners

Dr. Christine Miller and Dr. Daphne Greenberg

 

Researchers put a lot of effort into ensuring that the content of a curriculum aligns with theory and previous scholarship. However, content issues should not be the only consideration. Diversity, inclusion, equity, and access (DEIA) issues need to also be addressed. The best intended curriculum will be unsuccessful if it fails to address the heterogeneity of adult learners, instructors, and settings. The goal of the W-AE (Writing in Adult Education) project is to develop and try out a technology-based writing curriculum for adult education students. W-AE team members are committed to applying a DEIA-informed approach to project activities.

Whereas the essence of the curriculum is argumentative writing skills, we need to consider that adult education students are diverse in terms of their cognitive skills, educational history, age, gender, native language status, digital literacy, disability status, and other characteristics. Our survey, the Digital Writing Assessment, (DWA) asked adult learners about these characteristics, writing practices and attitudes, and measured writing and digital literacy skills. Learning what adult education students knew about computers, keyboarding, and writing on a computer, helped us understand what we needed to include in our curriculum. For example, we learned that many adults of all ages, including the younger students, need to develop their keyboarding skills. We also learned that older adults placed a high utility value on improving their word processing, grammar, and spelling skills (Martinez et al., 2024). The information collected from the DWA survey helped us add digital literacy lessons and resources to make the curriculum inclusive and equitable. Some of our students have bragged about how they can now use computers without having to ask for help from relatives. 

The DWA and instructor input taught us that we needed to support equity and access by providing some classes with laptops and portable WIFI. When we observed that some students did not have access to computers outside of class, we let them check out laptops so they could practice typing and writing at home. We also used a word processing application that is open access, so students can use it outside of class. In post-class surveys, students have commented enthusiastically about how they are using this new resource in their daily lives. 

Appreciating the diversity of adult education instructors and settings is also important so we can ensure that the curriculum can be easily adopted by adult education instructors. Similar to learners, instructors are also very diverse in terms of their educational history, age, gender, teaching experience, professional development, digital literacy skills, and other characteristics. In addition to teaching instructors how to teach argumentative writing, we have added digital literacy training along with open-access online resources for teachers to access. 

Applying a DEIA-informed approach to our activities has enriched our research project. As we state on our website: This project recognizes that the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) are necessary if we are to achieve better educational outcomes for all. We are people-centered and work with our community stakeholders (students, research participants, adult educators, and adult education programs) in ways that enhance DEIA and support one another. We embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in service to our mission of educational research. Our vision is to be people-centered so that all people feel like they belong as we work together. Our objectives are to collect, synthesize, and share data to support sustainable improvements in adult education that will improve educational equality.

References

Martinez., J. Greenberg, D., Puranik, C., Braasch, J., Traga Phillippakos, Z., MacArthur, C., & Miller, C. (2024). Utility value of improving writing skills for adult basic education students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Early View Online Version. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.1349