The Global School Forum Presents: Open Education, Global Learning and Social Justice with Dr. Glenda Cox

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Please join us for a stimulating conversation with Dr. Glenda Cox, UNESCO Chair for Open Education

Growing inequity continues to manifest within and between higher education institutions of the Global North and Global South, highlighting the plight of the disadvantaged versus the advantaged in the system (Holscher & Bozalek, 2020). In addition to the challenge of high university fees impeding access, there are challenges related to the cost and appropriateness of textbooks in higher education (Cox et al., 2019) – all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the widening inequality that has manifested as a result (Hargreaves, 2021).

Internationally, research has highlighted the importance of providing access to textbooks and online educational resources in order to maximize returns on remote learning necessitated by the pandemic, particularly in the context of unequal access to learning materials and curricula (Mishra et al., 2020; Reimers & Schleicher 2020).

The work shared in this presentation emerges from research conducted within the Digital Open Textbooks for Development (DOT4D) project, an open textbook research, implementation and advocacy initiative which investigates the current ecosystem of open textbook publishing and provides implementation support in open textbook publishing activity at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The project operates with an underlying social justice agenda.

This presentation is framed by the work of political philosopher Nancy Fraser (2005), who aims to illuminate the injustices of gender inequality, racism, colonialism and neoliberalism. In order to do so, she proposes a multi-level theory of justice, in which she describes three dimensions of social injustice: 1) economic maldistribution; 2) cultural misrecognition; and 3) political misframing. These “species” of injustice are objects that need to be dismantled (Fraser, 2005, p.92). Fraser provides a set of tools and principles that can be used to examine the current injustices in higher education.

The central norm of Fraser’s theory is “parity of participation”. This is a principle of “equal moral worth”, in that justice requires social arrangements in which all are able to participate as equal peers in social life (Fraser, 2009, p.16). Overcoming injustice therefore means dismantling the institutional obstacles that prevent people from participating on a par with others. This parity of participation can be both an outcome “where all relevant actors participate” and a process “in fair and open processes of deliberation” (Fraser, 2005, p.87).

The work of Catherine Bovill (2020) is used in conjunction with Fraser (2005) in order to examine the manner in which open textbooks enable collaboration and co-authoring with peers and students. Bovill proposed a framework that can be used to describe the range of activities and roles that colleagues and students take on, namely: participatory design, student engagement, co-creation (in the capacity of co-researcher, co-designer, co-designer and/or representative) and partnership.. 

The presentation demonstrates how academics at UCT are embarking on open textbook initiatives in response to a largely mutual set of social injustices they witness in their classrooms related to affordable access, curriculum transformation and multilingualism. With a focus on student co-creation and inclusion, it presents models that address social (in)justice in the classroom and explores ways in which institutions can address sustainability in order to support open textbook development activity.

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Dawn Farmer
DEPARTMENT(S): The Global School