Diversity and Inclusion

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Explain how your cultural and class-based perspectives can affect your course content, for better or worse.
  • Provide two examples of activities to encourage inclusivity in your course.

Adaptability and affordability are two major aspects of what makes an open educational resource attractive to students, but there is another facet that should be considered when you are developing or adapting an OER for your course: perspective. In particular, you should ask yourself how the perspectives being represented in your OER might affect the of your course environment.

Bold text reading "Whose voice is missing? And how do we include those voices?"
Tara Robertson’s 2017 OpenCon talk, “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Open Research and Education” asks whose voices are included in our work and whose are missing.

As Quill West argues in her blog post on diversity and inclusion in open education:

“As important as access is to students and to institutions, it is a starting place for leveraging other benefits of OER, and I hope that our conversations about [open education] go beyond access, because saving money on materials doesn’t address bigger issues in student persistence and completion.”[1]

In this chapter, we will discuss some of the opportunities and drawbacks of using OER to promote inclusivity in your courses.[2]

Diversity and Inclusion

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”[3] Diversity is often perceived as an organizational goal or ethical preference: for OER, including diverse perspectives is vital.

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.[4]

Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism — “a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own” — can creep into the content and presentation of your course materials, and it is something all authors should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must create course content that accurately portrays and includes all cultures and perspectives; however, you should be respectful toward other people and be aware of your biases as they arise.

One way you can accomplish this is by explicitly acknowledging the perspectives that are included in your content and those which are not. How has your social and cultural background reflected on the work you’ve created? What authors are being cited and acknowledged in your work, and why? Acknowledging that your perspective is limited while including other perspectives in your work can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Some benefits of including diverse perspectives in your course content include:

  • Engaging more students because they recognize themselves or their life experiences in your course content
  • Sharing content that appeals to instructors in a variety of educational settings
  • Creating a more interesting reading and learning experience for your students and learners around the world

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.[5] 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 Inclusivity through Open Pedagogy

As we covered in our section about teaching with OER, 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.[6] 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. 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 trans-exclusionary language. You can always revisit your chosen OER or work with others to improve upon it by adding more diverse examples later on.

Don’t “Other” Your Students

When attempting to make your course materials more inclusive for your students, the first thing you should watch out for is the possibility of “othering” your students. Merriam-Webster defines othering as “treating or considering (a person or a group of people) as alien to oneself or one’s group (as because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics).”[7]  Some best practices for avoiding othering include:

  • Never assume your audience’s gender identity, ability, or sexual orientation.
  • Avoid calling the most commonly seen traits in your context “normal.”
  • Make materials accessible for all students at all times.

Additional Reading


I (Abbey Elder, the author of this work) am a cis white woman from the United States. I have not experienced the types of bias that affect those from marginalized backgrounds related to race, cultural background, and sexual orientation. I have tried to keep this chapter simple and to link out to external resources whenever applicable; however, there may be cases where my writing betrays my lack of experience with these topics.

If there is any part of this book you find to be one-sided or dismissive of any aspect of your identity, please contact me at aelder@iastate.edu. I welcome any comments or feedback that might improve my work and help inform my own understanding of this topic. Thank you.

  1. West, Quill. "Overview of EDI and Open Education." CCCOER blog, June 28, 2018. https://www.cccoer.org/2018/06/28/on-equity-diversity-inclusion-and-open-education/
  2. Attribution: "Diversity & Inclusion" was adapted from Including all students by SUNY OER Services, licensed CC BY 4.0.
  3. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. "Diversity." Accessed June 1, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diversity
  4. Adding examples from other cultures is a good practice; however, if you don't know much about the type of people you are "including" in your resource, your inclusion might feel like alienation for students who belong to that group.
  5. Rebus Community. "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in OER." YouTube video, 55:00. September 29, 2017. https://youtu.be/rUiyiAT0uMQ
  6. Bali, Maha. "Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities." Hybrid Pedagogy. September 9, 2014. http://hybridpedagogy.org/critical-pedagogy-intentions-realities/
  7. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. "Other." Accessed May 12, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/other

This chapter is adapted from Diversity and Inclusion in The OER Starter Kit by Abbey Elder.


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OER and Alternative Textbook Handbook by Ariana Santiago is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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