Can OER be more Inclusive and Equitable?

By Prathima Appaji

Open Education and open educational resources (OER) have come a long way. From a small movement in the early 2000s to a decade post Cape Town Open Education Declaration in 2018, OER continues to make great strides towards a more equitable education system. For example, the use of OpenStax Books has saved students $155 million in textbooks costs to date. Also the Department of Education’s #GoOpen Campaign, which has 20 states and 114 districts supporting schools’ transition to OER courses.  

While OER have made learning available to a larger section of the population, there are potential pitfalls that we have to be aware of along the way. It is essential to note that, broader availability of educational materials does not automatically translate to equity, diversity, and inclusion. The simplest example has to do with access to technology and the Internet: OER impacts cultures with more – or less – Internet differently.

An important requirement for ensuring OER impacts populations that would benefit the most from it is suitable technology and feasible platforms. In the developed society, most students have access to internet, laptops, and bandwidth. Unfortunately, the scenario is not the same in the developing world.

In India, although accessibility to Internet is fast growing, accessibility and use of personal laptops still has yet to match smartphones. While middle-class and wealthier students have access to computers and laptops, a huge number of students in the country do not have access to either.

Furthermore, many private institutions are providing wifi and Internet to their students and faculty,  but the speed and bandwidth of this Internet remains inadequate to download high quality learning material and engage in interactive learning. Learning management systems, such as Blackboard, are not used and teaching largely continues with traditional textbooks with low or almost no technology involved.

Another issue to be aware of is that present OER models are primarily written by English academics from the developed world. This interaction often relies on old colonialist tropes about what is high quality and how information should be expressed. There is a need to acknowledge that transfer of knowledge should be a two-way process. Investment should be made to encourage the production of OER by scholars from developing nations and these materials should have an equal space in global open education.

The production of OER from academic in developed countries will also solve the problem of relevancy, language, and social context of the OER material. In a country like India, where there are 22 recognised languages with different cultures, it becomes important that learning materials are something that the students can relate to, in a language they understand, with examples they can follow.

Much needs to be taken into account to ensure that open education and OER remains impactful not only in the US, but also in countries around the world. It has to be carefully structured to guarantee that multiple ways of learning is encouraged and knowledge is passed not only from the developed to the developing but also the other way around. Collaborations should be made develop socially relevant and culturally sensitive OER. By doing so, we are mindful of the equity, diversity and inclusion, making way for a more equitable open education and OER.

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