Mitigating Increasing Inequity as We Move Online

Mitigating Increasing Inequity as We Move Online

By Dr. Scott Leutenegger
Professor of Computer Science
RSECS Inclusive Excellence Director

Fellow DU faculty,

Our move online could potentially reinforce inequity among our students. Students coming from more financially challenged backgrounds are especially vulnerable to these changes.  I know many of you are concerned about how the Covid-19 situation is affecting your students and their ability to learn. As you prepare for spring quarter, we have a suggestion that empowers you to help mitigate some student challenges:

Administer a Two-Question Canvas Based Stress Test

We suggest you administer a two-question Canvas based stress test as the first required assignment in the first week of your class. While DU is reaching out centrally with mass mailings and offers of help, students are often more likely to make connections and establish trust with a professor, hence the suggestion to add this stress test to your canvas assignments in the first week.

This suggestion comes from “Now that students are remote, are you ready to help them succeed?” from

Sample Stress Test
Here is an example of a two-question stress test you could add to canvas, require it, and have them do it the first week.

  1. Rate your stress level 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest):   1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  2. Select all that apply that are impacting your stress:
    • Classes in general
    • The online format for this class
    • Unreliable internet
    • Insufficient computer here at home
    • Ill family member
    • Recent death of family member or close friend
    • Unhealthy living environment here at home
    • Concerns about my finances
    • General angst about the economy
    • General angst about Covid-19 
    • Being far from home
    • No access to my local social network/support system

Providing Targeted Support to Students

  • Technology Issues: This stress test could reveal technology issues such as computer access at home and sufficient internet access. If students have internet issues, they should email to request help.  Also: IT@DU has a Laptop Loaner program for students.
  • Food & Housing Insecurity: The test could also reveal food/housing insecurity, problems with student/life balance now that they are home, and abuse issues (since they may not be in the dorms now). While we, as faculty, are not equipped to handle these issues, but student outreach & support is.  Please refer any students you identify as particularly challenged to Student Outreach & Support (SOS).
  • The DU food pantry: This supplemental food source is available to anyone with a DU ID who is experiencing need. It is located at Centennial Towers, Tuesdays 2-6pm. To prioritize health and safety of staff and clients, we’re using an online request form and staggered pickup times in the loading zone at 1770 South Williams Street. If you have high need, we encourage you to contact Hunger Free Colorado’s Food Resource Hotline, or check out their COVID-19 page. Faculty, staff, and students who have questions as to how they can help can contact Chad King at
  • Social Stressors: Also, I have heard that some students are embarrassed to have other students see where they live.  This fear can be mitigated in two ways: a) assure all that it is fine not to use video, citing bandwidth issues as a reason, and b) use a virtual background.  (In zoom, select preferences >VirtualBackground, there are several built-in choices, or they can customize by adding images with the “+” button. 
  • Supplementary Technology Issues: In addition to Canvas and Zoom, are you using any other technologies?  For example, slack, twitch, google drive, YouTube, teams. If so, some of your students are likely to be more digitally literate than others, often aligned with access and privilege, so perhaps you can create a tutorial on how to set up and use these tools and share them with your students.  You can also look one up on or YouTube. Consider offering office hours via Zoom to show students how to use these applications. Also, there exists a “gamer culture” among many of our male students (and yes, I realize this is not black and white, plenty of women are gamers too, but it is more prevalent in males) that can be off-putting to women.  Trying to keep jargon and acronyms to a minimum would likely be more inclusive.

Remember that the Office of Teaching and Learning is offering robust support to all faculty. This includes issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in online learning environments. Reach out to OTL and the Director for Inclusive Teaching Practices should you require one-on-one help!

In community,

Scott (on behalf of the RSECS IE Committee)