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ESCALA projects aim to improve student engagement in online learning environment

During the past five years, 76 Yakima Valley College faculty and staff have completed projects through ESCALA, a professional learning initiative focused on improving learning experiences for students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

Following an in-depth workshop focused on understanding the needs and strengths of students, especially those from Hispanic cultures, each faculty or staff member works on an inquiry project implementing a meaningful change in their classes and studying the impact on the student experience and their success.

Mathematics Instructor Matt Lewis said YVC’s commitment to ESCALA has been essential to the college’s growth.

“ESCALA provides self-reflection tools for uncovering equity gaps in our service to students, and instills a systematic and ongoing process by which change is made and studied,” he said. “It has also equipped us with a common vocabulary to work together in order to directly address service gaps and issues of equity at our college in a broader sense.”

With COVID forcing most classes to be taught virtually during the 2020-21 academic year, projects largely focused on what it means to be a culturally responsive teacher in a strictly online environment. Among the 20 ESCALA projects completed were “’Zoom’-ing toward relatedness and trust in an online course” and “Using the Metacognitive Approach of the Reading Apprenticeship Program to Build Trust and Competency.”

“Faculty are finding creative ways to engage with students online and to measure the effects of that engagement on the students’ experiences in their classes,” Lewis said. “Their public presentations have been particularly valuable this year, when so many of us are trying to figure out how we can best serve students under the current circumstances.”