Diversity and Inclusion in Educational Content: What Publishers Must Know Now
May 18 2023
School children

Addressing diversity and inclusion in traditional academic content and open educational resources (OERs) is critical these days. Students must engage with materials fully and will only do so if they see themselves in them and find them accessible. School districts and parents demand it because it’s the right thing to do. It helps prepare learners for the realities they must deal with every day or could face in the future.

Even the best efforts of content creators and academic publishers may fall flat when it comes to diversity. They may not include all the perspectives of the students in a classroom or meet everyone’s learning needs.

This article explains how to create educational content that reflects the diverse perspectives and learning styles of everyone in a classroom.

Diversity and Inclusion in Educational Content

A dictionary definition of diversity is the inclusion of different types of people, such as those of a range of races, cultures, or religious backgrounds, in a group or organization.  

Diversity is typically thought of as an organizational or ethical goal. In the classroom and materials used in them, diversity and representation are critical, and the definition of these concepts is broader. It also includes meeting different learning styles (through reading, listening, gaming, watching, and more), media preferences (video, diagram, the printed word, audio, and more), and learning abilities (advanced students versus those with challenges.)

The traditional forms of diversity can be addressed in OERs and other educational materials by including a variety of sociological perspectives in the content. Doing this ensures that learners can identify with and relate to course material. What’s critical is that all cultures and groups are presented authentically and not based on stereotypes or the perceptions of content creators and publishers.

Presenting groups realistically can be challenging. Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism or the tendency for people to view other groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own culture or background often creeps into the content. It’s something all authors, editors, and publishers should be aware of.

It may be impossible to create course content that includes and accurately represents all cultures and perspectives. However, you must make it a point to be respectful toward other people and be aware of biases as they come up.

One way to do this is by being completely transparent. Openly acknowledge and document the perspectives that are included in your materials and those which are not. Content creators can explain the social and cultural backgrounds reflected in their work and the rationale for excluding others. Don’t just cite authors and experts in your content. Also, present their backgrounds and your reasoning for including their ideas in your material. Acknowledging the perspectives contained in your materials and explaining why others are not included could help build trust in students and educators at a time when including an infinite number of viewpoints is a goal that may be unattainable.

In short, including diverse perspectives in your course materials can help:

  • Engage more students because they see themselves and their life experiences in your resources
  • Get instructors and school administrators who care about diversity to adopt your content
  • Provide a richer and deeper learning experience for students who feel themselves in your materials.

Another thing to consider: If you aren’t sure about how or where to add examples relevant to other cultures or if you unintentionally leave something out, it doesn’t mean your resource will never include those perspectives. It’s relatively easy to incorporate feedback from teachers in OERs and content that’s delivered digitally.

Instructors from other countries, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds could recommend that you:

  • Translate resources into different languages and dialects
  • Update the material to address local cultural, regional, and geographical realities
  • Adjust the content for different learning environments, for instance, long-distance education.

An additional way to make your academic material more inclusive is to invite diverse instructors and subject matter experts to contribute to or review it. However, you want to avoid taking a non-inclusive approach to working with diverse collaborators. Be conscious of how your project plan and development process may deter or welcome people of other ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds. For example, you never want to set up regular meetings for collaborators that aren’t convenient in all time zones or facilitated by an app not available to everyone.

Keep inclusivity in mind if you want people from other places to collaborate on your project.

Addressing a Diverse Array of Learning Needs and Styles

Including different types of people and perspectives in your content isn’t good enough. To be truly diverse, educational resources must address a range of learning styles and preferences.

For instance, it should include different pathways for those who want — and need — more information to understand a concept and those who can comprehend things quickly and don’t want to waste time working through too much material.

Also, assessments should make it easy for those who pass them to move ahead and those who do not to re-explore the concepts they didn’t fully understand quickly and easily.

On top of this, content creators must make it easy for people to explore more material on a subject that interests them, perhaps by linking to appropriate OERs

In addition, students today aren’t readers like those in previous generations. Many are more likely to absorb information through video, games, experiences, diagrams, and more.

In short, being genuinely diverse and inclusive in educational content is a form of three-dimensional chess. It involves adequate representation in one dimension, addressing different learning needs in another, and meeting media and content consumption preferences in a third.

Include Students in Your Content Development Process to Ensure Adequate Representation

Let students have some say over your content development process. Engaging students in creating materials is the ultimate way to make certain they see themselves in it. Ensure your student panel comprises people of different races, sexes, classes, ethnic backgrounds, learning styles, regions, and other factors that could impact your resources.

Once you put together a panel, ask students:

  • Their ideas on how to expand the inclusivity of your resources
  • How to make the content more diverse, including adding pictures, examples, videos, and more
  • To point out harmful depictions of different populations.

Ensure you have a plan in place to address issues if they arise. Your student panel will feel used if you ask them for advice and don’t take it, act on it, and report back on how you make changes.

Prepare ALL Students for College and Work Life

Many students these days may not go to diverse schools or have meaningful contact with people who are different from them. However, they must be prepared to deal with a wide range of people who are not like them once they get to college and into the work world.

This is a challenging aspect of diversity for educational content creators to address. It’s teaching a reality that students aren’t experiencing in their lives but will in the future. It’s why publishers must include hypotheticals so that students who have not experienced them can comprehend them. Videos, examples, demonstrations, and other novel treatments can help bring these concepts to life in a way that makes them more real than words on a page.

Never “Other” Students

When making your course materials more inclusive, you must watch out for the possibility of “othering” people. The dictionary definition of othering is treating or considering a person or a group of people as alien to oneself or one’s group because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics or abilities.

Some best practices for avoiding othering include:

  • Never assume your audience’s gender identity, ability, or sexual orientation.
  • Avoid calling the most common traits normal.
  • Make materials accessible for all students at all times.
  • Don’t make one style or type of learning seem better or preferable to another.

If you have a student or teacher review panel to check your content, ask them to look for areas where you may unintentionally “other” other people.

Get the Support You Deserve to Encourage Diversity

Creating, developing, and distributing truly diverse content is, as already referenced, like playing three-dimensional chess. Getting all aspects right can be impossible for a single firm to do. That’s why many turn to the experts at a company like EdGate. They can offer you a fresh perspective on how to make your content more diverse and inclusive and accessible to different learners.

In addition, our ExACT platform makes it fast and easy to align these more complex materials to a wide array of educational standards across the United States and the world almost instantly. Contact the experts at EdGate to find out how we can help. We’ve supported countless people at many education companies make their content more inclusive and get it approved for use in many school districts.

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