Office Hours Recap and Video: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks

In this Office Hours conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion in open textbooks, guest speakers and participants identified several aspects of OER that deserve attention and improvement. Read the recap below, or watch the video recording.

Office Hours, hosted by The Open Textbook Network and the Rebus Community, is a monthly event in which we create a space to discuss common topics in open textbook production. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Textbooks was this month’s topic.

We were joined by Maha Bali (American University in Cairo), Susan Doner (Camosun College), and Alan Harnum (OCAD University) to discuss how we can leverage the values of open education to create a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and vibrant publishing culture. Unfortunately, one of our original guests, Tara Robertson (CAPER-BC), couldn’t join us for this event.

We’d like to especially thank Maha for attending despite the large time difference. We are aware that scheduling our Office Hours events based around the time zones of a largely North American audience creates challenges for those outside this part of the world, and we are working to find ways to make the event more accommodating for all who might want to participate in future.

As a start, we always aim to provide a recap of the event within a few days (once the video has been captioned). So if you missed the event (for timezone-related reasons or not!), you can watch a video recap or scroll down to read the complete summary!

Karen Lauritsen and Hugh McGuire began the session with quick introductions to the Open Textbook Network and Rebus Community. Karen said that this event was an opportunity to ensure that diverse voices are equally valued and explore what barriers exist in open textbook publishing that currently inhibit these voices. Next each guest speaker gave an overview of the topic from their perspective.

Maha Bali is an associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She talked about inclusion from a postcolonial perspective and reminded participants that there was nothing inherent about Openness that means it will include everyone – inclusion is still something that needs to be intentionally worked towards. Maha asked us to reconsider a common analogy used for diversity and inclusion – “giving someone a seat at the [pre-designed] table” – and instead to give people opportunities to design the table with you, decide what goes on the table, what the rules of the table are, and the height of the table. This approach can be considered at many levels in our community, from community participation, to systems, organizations and technologies. Each of these should be approached with an acknowledgement and understanding of different backgrounds and contexts, and with considered thought given to who is “building the table.” With regard to OER creation, Maha said that while we need to empower people to be able to share work, we must also be aware of other barriers that may be involved with openly licensed content. (Footnote:Read what Maha has said about Creative Commons licenses elsewhere.) She also noted that there are all kinds of barriers to participation in open movements. For instance, she said, the Open Source movement requires one to have certain technical knowledge and be comfortable participating in a male-dominated environment. Other requirements can be more practical. As an example, the oft-touted Domain of One’s own requires a credit card to make payments, something Maha noted not every student may have.

Alan Harnum is a senior inclusive developer at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design and Research Centre. He brings a technical perspective and mentioned that IDRC is looking at ways to improve authoring tools to support alternate ways of creation, such as voice recordings and transcription. Alan said that they are experimenting with other aspects of the production line to ensure that materials have the widest possible reach, including accessibility, alternatives to images, touch, and sonified infographics. They are also looking at ways to create components that can be easily internationalized. Alan is also interested in looking at the remixing of content and ways to blur lines between authors and readers that is carried over from traditional publishing. On the question of the valorizing of content and remixing, Alan quoted Michael Caulfield’s blog post, saying, “What if the OER community saw the creation of materials as a commodity, but the reuse as an art?” He also cautioned against the replication of traditional power structures in publishing, a message echoed by others in the call.

Susan Doner is an Instructional Designer at the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Camosun College. She considers proprietary educational materials as laying claims to knowledge, and often being created by a homogenous group of people with a monoculture–they are a risk to diversity, she says. Susan thinks that educational materials should have input from a diverse variety of individuals and stakeholders, including student voices, if they want to stand the chance to be relevant to all students. For her, the default setting when working on any project should be open. Susan also said that openness creates opportunities to widen the circle of input, to build, share, and expand resources beyond what they could be in a closed system. She pointed to the BC Accessibility Toolkit as an example of a growing resource. It began as a small set of resources put together by her and Tara Robertson, and grew into the toolkit, which was later translated into French and adapted into a workshop activity. Overall, Susan sees OER as a collaborative vehicle for inclusion.

Once guests shared their insights, the floor was opened for questions and comments.

Esperanza Zenon pointed to the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity as a resource folks might collaborate with to make OER more inclusive and equitable. Other participants identified significant problem areas that need more attention:

  • Funding and Grants – Authoring OER is largely contingent on funding and grant money. How can we help granting agencies get better at recruiting diverse voices and funding a variety of authors?
  • Enrollment – How do we ensure that OERs are developed for courses that don’t qualify as “high enrollment”? How do we encourage authors both financially and in sentiment to create materials for all courses?
  • Position – We must acknowledge the extra challenges and risk faced by non-tenured, underrepresented, and/or part-time faculty when creating OERs. How can we involve and incentivise those in more secure positions to participate in OER creation and advocate for their colleagues in more precarious circumstances?
  • Content – OER creation teams should be diverse and inclusive from the point of conception. How can we ensure that diverse perspectives are taken into account when designing content, and that traditionally marginalised voices can be heard?
  • Remixing – How can we ensure the “source code” of an OER material is made available for easy remixing? What can content creators do to enable things like localisation and translation down the line? Remixing is a clear departure from traditional publishing models, and we should recognise and promote the new opportunities it creates.
  • Technology – Access to and fluency with all kinds of technologies varies widely for students and instructors, across communities, institutions, and geographies. How do we address and overcome these barriers to creation, use, and remixing of OER?
  • Existing Systems – The creation of new models of publishing offers a chance to reject the power structures of traditional publishing and embed our values in everything we do. How do we ensure that these new systems embrace diversity as the default, rather than having to try to retrofit it later?
  • Quality – The assumed quality of a resource can often be tied to institutional prestige and who contributes to a text. We need to put aside our preconceptions of supposed “high-” and “low-”quality resources when interacting with OER, particularly when integrating student voices and traditionally marginalised perspectives. How do we signal the reliability of an OER? If it is through peer review, how is this carried out?
  • Time – We must be aware of the amount of time that each stage of the publishing process takes, and whether faculty, staff, and students can devote this time. We should be conscious of their other responsibilities both at work and home, and how this can affect their workload. How can we avoid overburdening people, while also not privileging the voices of those with lesser time commitments?

As is evident from this list, these issues are broad, and cannot necessarily be easily resolved. However, recognizing that they exist is a first step. At the Rebus Community, we are committed to working with our partners, contributors, and other community members to find ways to make the OER community more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We plan to reflect on our own practices in the coming weeks to ensure that we continue to be supportive and inclusive of anyone who would like to be involved in OT creation, and will share our reflections with you.

Thanks once again to our wonderful guests, and to everyone who attended and shared their thoughts. If you would like to have further conversations on these or related areas, please let us know on the Rebus Community forum!

Resources:

A transcript of this recording is also available.

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