Posted on behalf of Judith Pete

The Hewlett Foundation, through GO-GN network funded the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) project, to identify how open research communities such as GO-GN can be more diverse, equitable and inclusive. The GO-GN leadership has the responsibility of creating an inclusive community and champion, promote and apply diversity, equality and inclusivity principles, while fulfilling the network’s aims of raising the profile of open education research, supporting PhD candidates in the field, engaging with alumni, as well as developing openness as a process of research.

In September last year, I was invited by the GO-GN team to lead this project, and soon after that I got an opportunity to attend the eLearning Africa 2018, which is the continent’s largest conference on technology enabled learning and training. I really appreciated the choice of Kigali as the location for the conference which was quite symbolic. The country has put education and technology skills at the heart of its national strategy; focusing on youth entrepreneurship, which has given Rwanda an international image and speedy economic growth; a lesson that other countries in the continent could learn from.

The purpose of attending the conference was to advocate for GO-GN and to invite more PhD students and researchers on Open Education Resources (OER) from Global South to join the network. This is envisaged to drive the networks agenda of operating as an open community by applying the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.

During my three days stay in Kigali, I contacted a number of Professors and PhD supervisors and students from different countries in Africa thus from universities in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Somalia and Burundi, among others. A good number of people contacted responded positively by applying to join the network through the GO-GN website.

The biggest challenge was the fact that most of their researches and works were not OER. I also noted that students’ supervisors were more interested in funding hence kept asking whether GO-GN could fund their PhD studies and researchers on a personal basis.

This is an indication that the knowledge of OER in Africa is still low irrespective of the efforts made by several practitioners and researchers from the region. This then calls for sustainable lobbying and advocacy in the region for people to clearly understand what OER is and the benefits that come through its integration in Teaching and Learning.

Where we are at or work done so far…

I have successfully done eight interviews, some from GO-GN members in the Global South and other OER practitioners. The GO-GN members were interviewed because they understand the network’s agenda and benefits therein. From such an understanding, their views and suggestions could directly influence and inform decisions about the three principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The practitioners were involved mainly to share their experiences and expertise about operating in the open, as well us sharing their understanding (based on experiences) on DEI. I selected practitioners with tangible OER activities on the ground.

With regards to the understanding of the concepts on diversity, equity and inclusion, different and interesting debates, insights and challenges were gathered from different respondents, as follows:

Diversity:

The concept of “diversity” is understood differently by many respondents. Three referred to it as “the realization of a difference within a given setting”, two respondents understood it as involving the inclusion of different people, irrespective of their countries, race, cultures, backgrounds, institutions etc. Another respondent had a different view, she said “diversity gives one a better view of things from different perspectives”.

Inclusion:

Inclusion is seen by most respondents as a good thing, but only when we realize that not all views are equally represented, and efforts are then made to raise the voices of the unheard. That it has to do with different identities feeling and or being valued, leveraged and welcomed within a given setting. It can be problematic since certain things belong to “other people”.

Equity:

To be equitable, a majority lamented that there should be no discrimination, and equal opportunities, hence adequate access to participate in community issues/ decisions. It is viewed as an approach that ensures that everybody has access to the same available opportunities; recognizes that people often start from different places since we accept that advantages and barriers exists everywhere.

Some noted that diversity and inclusion are both outcomes of actions, whereas equity is not. It refers to the process an organization engages in to ensure that people with marginalized identities have the opportunity to grow, contribute, and develop holistically. The final analysis of these interviews will inform and provide the basis for a two-day workshop and a strategic plan for future GO-GN DEI activities and programs, which I further explain next.

What is coming next on DEI?

The next stage of this project will be the organisation and delivery of a two-days’ workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, in late March, where invited OER experts from Africa will share their experiences and views regarding DEI. The findings from the interviews and additional data gathered during the workshop days will form the foundations of a strategic plan and guidelines that will underpin the future GO-GN endeavours in DEI. This workshop will be conducted by myself (the project leader) and Carina Bossu, who is supporting the DEI project on behalf of the Open University.

In early April, I’ll be traveling to the UK to conduct the last stages of this project. I, with the support of GO-GN colleagues, will run a workshop at the Open University in Milton Keynes to staff and researchers. I will also attend the OER’19 and GO-GN Seminar in Galway, Ireland, where my colleagues and I will then conduct two workshops on DEI issues; the first one will be delivered during GO-GN’s seminar and will involve PhD researchers, while the second one will take part during the main conference.

Rob Farrow

Written by Rob Farrow

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