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Equality and diversity and open education

ECU's Scotland Programme Manager, David Bass has written a new blog looking at equality and diversity, and open education.

ECU’s Scotland Programme Manager, David Bass, has been writing for Opening Educational Practices in Scotland (OEPS) on the opportunities for equality and diversity in open education:

I recently had the pleasure of attending the OEPS conference and participating in an insightful conversation on inclusive and democratic learning. Pete Cannell (full disclosure – we’ve worked with Pete and OEPS on our own open resource) talked about the centrality of open approaches to the future of widening access, and Maha Bali invited us to question who benefited from open arrangements, and whether access to open resources equalled increased participation.

What struck me were the similarities with our conversations at ECU on equality in colleges and Higher Education Institutions. I think applying this same framework or critique of open access to our work on equality (an ‘open lens’ if you will) leads to valuable insights and learning. It’s also likely that open resources themselves could be important tools in mainstreaming and effectively involving more people in equality initiatives and activities.

The current model of education, as with equality and diversity, is centralised. For instance, colleges and Higher Education Institutions just published 2017 mainstreaming reports (required reports on how equality is embedded in the functions on an institution and published every 4 years under the Scottish specific duties of the Equality Act). In the reports, a lot of the activity focused on raising awareness and engagement in equality and diversity took the form of large scale training for staff and students.

And so the questions that OEPS were asking themselves about their attempts to encourage and increase participation seemed valuable in an equality context as well. How accessible and democratic is our work on equality? We may be reaching a wider pool of people, but are we changing minds, removing barriers and truly increasing participation in this work?

Let’s take unconscious bias training as an example. I feel like as a sector we’ve talked a lot about unconscious bias, and we know it’s one of the more well-documented social psychology findings (For instance, have a look at the UC San Francisco review of unconscious bias). However, training on unconscious bias can be frustratingly ineffective, and we are still learning how to engage people, how to change behaviour, and how to teach each other what initiatives have been effective in different contexts and why. Open resources then, as far as they can enable local ownership and development, could be a possible tool for getting more people involved in ways relevant to their local context, and perhaps, for actually changing people’s behaviours in relation to unconscious bias. Interestingly, these seem like the same factors that lead to more effective training outcomes (read Harvard Business Review’s recent take on making unconscious bias training more effective).

This logic could be applied just as well to intersectionality or equality impact assessments, or to supporting more engagement in equality areas that have historically been on the periphery of institutional activity (have a look at Strathclyde University’s online course on understanding violence against women).

The promise of open education then, is more about an approach, and an attitude towards learning than it is about technology. Open resources could be a way of developing shared ownership and engaging the different communities in our universities and colleges about what equality and diversity means for them, and about how we make all forms of education truly open and inclusive.

David’s guest post is published as one of many celebrating Open Education linked to the OEPS final event, The Promise of Open Education.

Join the conversation with the hashtag #BeOpen or view the conference proceedings