The May, 2020 issue of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME) is a special collection on “Open Education and Social Justice.” It is a theoretical look at issues of inclusion, diversity and “participatory parity” in the cavalcade of Open Education, and particularly Open Educational Resources (OER).
It is an open secret of sorts that OER, while an important and well-meaning effort, still falls short when it comes to impact. Some could argue academia could to more to enact change. Others realize the limitations of the field to take part in actual change, or at least attribute them to the relative youth of the academic work.
The real and digital web of social and educational threads Open Education and Social Justice inhabit
Introducing the issue, researchers Sarah Lambert —who originally pitched the idea for the collection in 2018— and Laura Czerniewicz marvel at the complexity and wealth of the conjoined topics, even if the collection itself isn’t particularly biting.
They note how the first serious look at the intersection between open education and issues of social justice is traced to blogging spaces and social media, which bears a number of implications about language, the knowledge making process, and power and economic relationships involved.
On the part of Open Education, the authors note an evolution that is leading to what they deem mainstream adoption. It has grown in mass and audience, it has branched into subfields, and —perhaps most notably— it has been championed by several companies, leading to the recurring concerns of “openwashing” in EdTech products.
On the Social Justice flank, there appears to be a contemporary but slowing pace of evolution, with the foundational works established between the 1970s and the 2000s. Authors include economists John Rawls and Amartya Sen; as well as Nancy Fraser, distinguished for introducing problems related with culture, race and gender. Fraser would be the reference point throughout the collection.
Fraser’s resulting “trivalent” framework —economic, cultural, and political— for social justice is applied throughout the collection. The authors indicate that special efforts were made to make the publication as inclusive as possible. The 11 lead authors, many of which were mentored into the peer-reviewed publication process, came from South Africa, Egypt, Turkey, Ireland, or in the periphery of knowledge centers in industrialized countries (Darwin, Pullman, Carolina, Boise, Channel Islands).
Highlights of the Special Collection
- To the surprise of a nescient few, OER are not properly distributed. While generally considered the best alternative to overpriced textbooks, other dimensions of access still make them a burden among low-income students. Still, it’s at least a marginal reason of hope that curriculum designers in the developing world (South Africa in this case) are taking into account financial considerations.
- Do open textbooks reduce reported stress on students from racial and ethnic minorities? Unclear. The inferential research on a Southern California district, is hopefully the a starting point in the study of financial barriers to stress, and indirectly to academic performance. There is cause for methodological caution, as using open and free substitutes for costly textbooks, thus reducing stress, is not an intervention on the structural ways the education system induces needless stress. This finding is further supported by another item in the collection that evaluates “sense of belonging” in the context of income-diverse campuses.
- Into yet another show of evidence in favor of “support over curriculum” or even material resources, Turkish researchers trace 30 years of curriculum design and the apparent gender inequalities that have been present throughout. An extra-short —and not very good— summary of the review would be to conclude that there is little point in making OER and curriculum free and accessible to all, if its very content reiterates the same biases and exclusionary narratives as traditional ones.
- So can online education be “decolonized”? Obviously it is a matter of how rather than if, as Cambridge doctoral student Taskeen Adam defends. As it is obvious —and this is arguably the underlying theme of the Collection— that academia plays a limited role in accomplishing it, subdued perhaps most of all to material and economic injustice.
About the Collection
The Journal of Interactive Media In Education (JIME) Special Collection on Open Education and Social Justice was first released in May, 2020. The journal is produced by the Open University in the UK. It is an online and Open Access journal, published on a “continual basis.” JIME is published by Ubiquity Press, open access publisher of peer-reviewed academic journals, books and data.