One of the basic premises of open education is access. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes:
“…that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building” (Open Educational Resources, UNESCO)
Access in this context refers to the ability for students, instructors, and others to obtain access to education. Releasing textbooks and other educational resources with open-copyright licenses is a big step toward removing barriers, as it makes these materials free of cost and free to use, distribute, and change. But there is more that goes into accessing a resource than it just being free and online. For a textbook to be truly accessible, people of all abilities need to be able to access the content. This means designing a textbook that accommodates people with diverse needs and ensuring the content can be accessed by all, regardless of ability. It also means creating materials that include diverse viewpoints and voices.
Tips for Accessibility
Here are some tips that can help making the textbook more accessible:
- Use clear, straightforward language. Make the content understandable.
- Provide multiple formats whenever possible. This will allow different users to access the resource in different ways.
- Use a clear organizational structure to guide readers through the resource.
- Provide proper information and resources to make the content readable and understandable for users (ie. Glossary, Abbreviation list).
- Use personas to ‘test’ out draft resources for different users.
- Develop an accessibility statement to show ways that the resource has been made more accessible and way for users to contact you with suggestions to improve accessibility.
- When requesting peer reviewers, make sure to highlight the importance of accessibility, diversity, and inclusion.
Universal Design is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes) that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances). Universal Design emerged from the slightly earlier concept of being barrier-free, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive technology and assistive technology. It also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.
Survey your syllabus and course design with the Inclusive by Design survey
Diversity and Inclusion
Dr. Benjamin Cheung has been working on adapting Principles of Social Psychology by Dr. Charles Stangor in order to replace the images with ones that show more diversity. This reflects the current diversity of the average classroom. His current revisions are focused on replacing gender pronouns to be neutral.
In the context of writing an open textbook, diversity means including a wide range of perspectives in your textbook. This can help ensure that more readers identify with and relate to the material. Some benefits are:
- Engaging more students because they recognize themselves or their life experiences in the material
- Appealing to instructors in a variety of educational settings
- Creating a more interesting reading and learning experience
Diversity in open education can be achieved by including a variety of sociological perspectives in your open content. Doing this ensures that your students can identify with and relate to your course material. Critical here is ensuring that other cultures are presented accurately in your materials, and not according to stereotypes or perceptions based on the standards of your own culture. Diversity in your open educational resource may include:
- Including a variety of pronouns and gender expressions to describe people in your text
- Using images, examples, and case studies that depict Indigenous, Black and other people of colour without perpetuating stereotypes
- Using images, examples, and case studies that depict people with disabilities, and bodies of all sizes, without perpetuating stereotypes
- Using images, examples, and case studies that depict 2SLGBTQIA+ people without perpetuating stereotypes
- Including Indigenous territories and place names in addition to, or in lieu of, colonial place names
Whether intentional or not, can creep into the content and presentation of a textbook, and it is something all authors should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must write a book that fits every culture and perspective, only that you are respectful.
If you aren’t certain about how or where to add examples relevant to other cultures, that doesn’t mean your resource will never include these perspectives. Thanks to your OER’s open license, once your resource has been published, instructors from other countries, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds might choose to remix your work for their course’s needs. The changes they make might include:
- Translating the book into a different language
- Adjusting the content to meet the local cultural, regional, and geographical interests
- Revising the material for a different learning environment
Another option for making your work more inclusive from the beginning is to consider inviting instructors and professionals in your field to contribute to your OER; however, you should be aware of the ways in which your project’s design may deter or welcome people of other ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds (Rebus Community, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in OER“) For example, you may have set up regular meetings for those collaborating on your project at a time that is not feasible for a scholar living in a different time zone. Keep this and other considerations in mind if you would like people from other countries to collaborate on your project.
Advancing Equity Through Open Pedagogy
Open pedagogy can be a powerful tool for letting students take control over how they engage with and relate to their course content. In some ways, engaging students in the creation of OER can be seen as the ultimate way of allowing them to see themselves reflected in their work.
However, there can be some concerns with this approach as well. For example, your student body might be composed of a majority of one race, sex, or class, making the total “picture” of the course content created by your students less inclusive overall (Maha Bali, “Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities“). Here are some considerations to keep in mind when having students create course content, especially if your course is covering a topic related to sex, race, or cultural studies:
- Ask students for their input on the inclusivity of your resources
- Think about how your OER could be more diverse (pictures, examples, etc)
- Watch out for harmful depictions of diverse populations from your students and have a plan in place to address issues if they arise
Fostering an environment of inclusion where your students can engage with different cultural norms is an important aspect of the college experience, whether you are teaching Physics or Criminal Justice. Although it might be daunting to jump into creating an inclusive educational resource, keep in mind that OER can be improved upon and continually revisited by yourself and others.
Start by finding or creating an OER that works for you and avoiding pitfalls like ethnocentric and exclusionary language. You can always revisit your chosen OER or work with others to improve upon it by adding more diverse examples later on.
- Adapted from Centering Diversity and Inclusion in The OER Starter Kit by Abbey Elder licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
- Adapted from OER and Alternative Textbook Handbook by Ariana Santiago licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
- Adapted from the Self-Publishing Guide by BCcampus licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
- Adapted from the The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (So Far) by Apurva Ashok and Zoe Wake Hyde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
To judge other cultures (such as cultural practices, behaviours, beliefs, and people).