The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has announced plans for a new online platform for community learning, HBCUv.

UNCF partnered with Deloitte Digital on the new platform, which is part of a strategic initiative to reimagine online education in partnership with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“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, UNCF. “HBCUv not only aims to close that gap, but also lead the way in online instruction and degree-granting.”

In a press release, UNCF and Deloitte Digital said they will partner to design and build the shared online platform where “students, educators, and staff are enabled to learn, develop, and build community together from anywhere.” UNCF and Deloitte Digital added that HBCUv will “provide best-in-class remote education, community engagement, and career pathways to students seeking an HBCU education.”

During the pandemic, UNCF trained over 2,500 faculty to develop courseware for online classes, but the organization said it quickly realized the limits of current learning management systems (LMS). UNCF said that current LMS do “a good job at bringing education online, they do it in a way that is too cumbersome for instructors and students unfamiliar with online learning.”

UNCF said they also found during the pandemic that HBCU instructors were frustrated with the inability to easily track student progress and assess when they needed additional coaching. Finally, UNCF found that the tools provided no way to replicate the culture and community for which HBCUs are famous, leaving the online learning experience feeling hollow.

“What we learned from the pandemic was that better training isn’t enough,” said Dr. Shawna Acker-Ball, senior director at UNCF’s Teaching and Learning Center. “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 detailed what it described as the “defining characteristics” of HBCUv, which 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.”

“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,” said Julian Thompson, director of strategy for UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building. “HBCUv will do this by embedding the culture, community, and commitment to Black excellence embodied by HBCUs into a unique online experience that will form the foundation of the future of Black education.”

UNCF has partnered with nine 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, students enrolled at the pilot institutions will have the ability to cross-register for and take credit-bearing courses online via the HBCUv platform. UNCF has plans to expand HBCUv to include more HBCU students and institutions.

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