UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and Deloitte Digital announced a new online platform for community learning: HBCUv. The platform is part of an initiative to reimagine online education at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Together, they will design and build a shared online platform where students, educators, and staff can learn, develop, and build community from anywhere. HBCUv will provide best-in-class remote education, community engagement, and career pathways to students seeking an HBCU education.
“For too long there has been a major innovation and investment gap between this nation’s HBCUs and other higher education institutions,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive officer of UNCF. “HBCUv not only aims to close that gap, but also lead the way in online instruction and degree granting.”
In response to the pandemic, UNCF trained over 2,500 faculty to develop courseware for online classes, but quickly realized the limits of current learning management systems.
“What we learned from the pandemic was that better training isn’t enough,” Dr. Shawna Acker-Ball, senior director at UNCF’s Teaching and Learning Center, said. “We need better tools and technology to deliver on the rich instruction and the strong culture of America’s HBCUs and extend this transformative experience for students online.”
UNCF cited that the current systems are cumbersome for instructors and students unfamiliar with online learning. The systems also frustrated HBCU instructors with the lack of student progress tracking. The instructors could not assess when students needed additional coaching. And, the systems do not replicate the culture and community for which HBCUs are known, leaving the online learning experience feeling hollow.
“This isn’t just about getting more classes online, it’s about providing a safe space for Black joy and expression, giving students an opportunity to find their ‘tribe’ of people, and inspiring students of all ages by showing them Black leaders who are part of the same HBCU legacy,” Julian Thompson, director of strategy at UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building, said.
He said that HBCUv will do this by embedding culture, community and commitment to Black excellence into the platform.
UNCF has partnered with nine initial HBCUs—Benedict College, Claflin University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Jarvis Christian College, Johnson C. Smith University, Lane College, Shaw University and Talladega College—to develop and pilot the HBCUv platform.
Beginning in 2023, more than 8,000 students enrolled at those partner institutions will have the ability to cross-register for and take credit-bearing courses online via the HBCUv.
As the platform matures, UNCF plans to expand HBCUv to include more HBCU students and institutions.
The initiative was made possible by more than $10 million in funding from the Karsh Family Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, Citi Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.
Still, UNCF stresses that there is a need for additional funding and partnership from leading companies, foundations and other funders.
“This is just the beginning,” Edward Smith-Lewis, vice president for strategic partnerships and institutional programs at UNCF, said. “Solving for the historic inequities that HBCUs and their students and staff face will take a sustained and concerted effort from a diverse coalition of nonprofit and for-profit partners.”
UNCF selected Deloitte Digital’s Ethos to design and develop the platform.
While the platform is in development, Deloitte leveraged a proprietary approach to product design called “equity-centered design.”
“The intention behind our approach to design really matters when it comes to projects like this,” Nathan Young, head of strategy of Ethos at Deloitte Digital, said.
You added that they opened up their design process and worked alongside dozens of HBCU students, instructors and administrators to ensure HBCUv is truly a solution designed by HBCUs for HBCUs.
Dr. Valora Richardson, UNCF’s director of digital solutions and innovation, added that the inclusion of HBCU students, faculty, staff and administrators as co-designers of the platform will be an attribute of its success as they know what they need.
Deloitte Digital’s Ethos formed a team that is 90% racially and ethnically diverse, 61% Black, and 28% HBCU alumni to deliver against the unique needs of the project.
“Our diversity has always been our strength,” Betty Fleurimond, national leader of Deloitte’s Higher Education practice, said.
Kwasi Mitchell, chief purpose officer at Deloitte Consulting LLP, added that they are investing in the future of Black excellence with this project, and that the HBCUv team’s work is inspiring, impactful, and resounds with their firm’s purpose.
The HBCUv will have defining characteristics to ensure the experience is authentic and impactful. These include:
- Promoting Black Excellence: HBCUv will be home to the best Black courses taught by the best Black minds in America and serve as a beacon to young Black talent globally.
- Creating Black Futures: HBCUv will provide tools and technology that help Black students discover and design their path to a brighter future, including career planning and degree program matching.
- Connecting Black Talent: HBCUv will connect students and faculty from multiple HBCUs on one online social platform to encourage networking, collaboration, and tighter community bonds.
- Putting Flexibility First: HBCUv will support both synchronous and asynchronous learning environments so students can choose the learning style that best fits their lifestyle.
- Driving Results with Data: HBCUv will leverage machine learning and big data to fuel predictive analytics on student performance and provide real-time feedback to instructors on lectures, assignments, and assessments.
- Activating Collective Genius: HBCUv will be a shared resource open to all HBCUs and enable institutions to share knowledge, resources, and best practices in a cost-effective, tech-forward manner.