Content advertised as “open access” and “freely accessible” may give the impression that open educational resources (OER) are universally accessible, but many users still face inequitable barriers to access. Additionally, access doesn’t equal inclusion. Textbooks often express sexist and racist content and exclude marginalised voices. We need to consider how to contribute to a transformation and expand open access to resources to truly address diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dr Sarah Lambert (2018) provides a framework for this transition. Lambert (2018) identifies and expands on three principles of social justice that may be applied to OER: redistributive justice, recognitive justice, and representational justices. Lambert notes that providing free textbooks to learners of colour is redistributive justice in action. It reduces the costs and increases the chances of success for learners who “by circumstance have less” (Lambert, 2018, p.227)—i.e., they are marginalised in education, workplaces and more broadly in society.
In her article, Lambert (2018) asks how “open” the textbook is for marginalised learners if First Nations students and learners of colour are invisible inside the textbook and perhaps invisible in the whole curriculum. She notes that making edits to include images and cases featuring more diverse communities, businesses, and people will be an act of recognitive justice. Lambert (2018) goes on to ask additional questions, including what the implications are if the textbook features people of colour, but does not value their perspectives, knowledge or histories and what happens if the textbook takes a white colonial view of black lives? What implications follow if black stories are told solely by white voices? Lambert (2018) argues that the development or selection of a new version of a textbook, or perhaps a new resource altogether, written by people of colour where they are free to represent their own views, histories, and knowledges would be an act of representational justice, giving voice to those who are often not heard. The table below summarises these three principles in the context of open education.
|Social Justice Principle||Open Education Example|
|Redistributive Justice||Free educational resources, textbooks, or courses to
learners who by circumstance of socio-cultural
position cannot afford them, particularly learners who
could be excluded from education or be more likely
to fail due to lack of access to learning materials.
|Recognitive Justice||Socio-cultural diversity in the open curriculum.
Inclusion of images, case studies, and knowledge of
women, first nations people, and whomever is
marginalised in any particular national, regional, or
learning context. Recognition of diverse views and
experiences as legitimate within open assignments
|Representational Justice||Self-determination of marginalised people and
groups to speak for themselves and not have their
stories told by others. Co-construction of OER texts
and resources about learners of colour by learners of
colour, about women’s experiences by women, about
LGBTIQA+ experiences by LGBTIQA+ identifying people.
Facilitation to ensure quiet and minority views have
equal air-time in open online discussions.
Table 1: Social Justice and Open Education. Source: Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education by Sarah Lambert, licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.
We deeply value the diverse users of our books and seek to include and impact each staff and student user in a positive and considerate manner. During our development processes, the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) undertakes substantial efforts to properly represent genders, races, cultures, geographies, ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, socio-economic status, and diverse viewpoints in our books. We seek to avoid any offence, and ensure that every reader can see themselves in our books. We hold primarily to the notion, expressed by Jasmine Roberts (Ohio State), that we should not leave it to underrepresented groups to spearhead these conversations and efforts.
To that end, we have created general guidelines for development and improvement, adapted from OpenStax’s Improving Representation and Diversity in OER Materials [PDF]. Our adaption was developed and peer-review by input from staff, students and researchers across Australia. This is an ongoing and continually evolving effort. We will seek input and monitor changes in terminology, sensitivity, policies, and descriptions in our materials. We will also welcome and engage with individuals and groups who share our commitment and/or have specific guidance, feedback, or suggestions. We would value input on our approach, on particular items or additions we can consider or add to increase diverse representation, and so on. If you have any feedback please email Nikki.Andersen@usq.edu.au.
The framework and practical resources for enhancing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility are found in the following pages. However to get a better idea of the relationship between open education and social justice, please feel free to browse through the resources below, and familiarise yourself with key definitions.
The following resources will introduce you to issues relating to social justice and open education.
- Open Textbooks and Social Justice: a National Scoping Study: This study investigated the potential for open textbooks to assist with improving the experience and outcomes of under-represented higher education students in the Australian context.
- Open at the Margins: Critical Perspectives in Open Education: This book represents a starting point towards curating and centring marginal voices and non-dominant epistemic stances in open education. It includes the work of 43 diverse authors whose perspectives challenge the dominant hegemony.
Copyright note: This section has been adapted in part from:
- Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education by Sarah Lambert, licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.
- Improving Representation and Diversity in OER Materials [PDF] by OpenStax, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.