The Anti-Racism & Learning Technology Community of Practice: Guidance for Content Developers -Part 2 of 4

It’s time to start thinking about anti-racist content for technology-enhanced learning

Samantha Ahern, Faculty Learning Technology Lead (The Bartlett), UCL
Alistair Cooper, Educational Technologist, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge
Sheetal Kavia, eProjects Manager, Centre of Technology in Education, St George’s, University of London
Coco Nijhoff, Senior Teaching Fellow (Library Services), Imperial College London
Jim Turner, Senior Learning Technologist (Teaching and Learning Academy), Liverpool John Moores, University

Introduction

We are writing from one of three subgroups within the recently formed Anti-racism & Learning Technology Community of Practice (AR&LTCoP). This sub-group aims to explore practical ways to examine and interrogate digital content in the curriculum through the lens of geographic, racial, and other forms of bias. This post aims to begin exploring what we in the learning technology community can do to address racism in our own field.

The important task of working toward decolonising the curriculum will need to encompass digital learning content and the work of content creators as educators. We expect this to be the first of several posts from our sub-group, with topics to follow such as the application of frameworks to create anti-racist content and the development of a toolkit.

Broadly, we aim to join up with initiatives and policy in our profession, including the ALT Ethical Framework and our own institutional strategies. To this end, we recognise the need to engage in a dialogue with others in the community in the interest of advocacy through collaboration, leading to future recommendations.

Our motivation

We are deeply concerned about the impact of structural racism in our learning communities. A 2020 report by the UCLA Law Promise Institute for Human Rights explores racism in the context of human rights within the realm of new information technologies. As Hayley Ramsay-Jones states, the biases of tech creators are embedded at every level of the tech design process, from conception to production and distribution. The awarding gap between white and BAME students is another widely acknowledged outcome of structural racism.

As Gary Loke from Advance HE discusses on WonkHE, even the use of the term ‘BAME’ poses the risk of homogenising different groups’ experiences. A key lesson from Loke is the clear link between identity and a sense of belonging as it relates to student success.

Within our own professions (which include educational technology, librarianship, and leadership in Higher Education contexts), there is an acknowledged white majority. Our own points of view, the embedded structures in which we exist, and the relative position of this majority can be present in every level of the development of digital learning content. We need to be aware of how this presence has the potential to influence the content we produce. These effects may not be immediately apparent to many of us, particularly to white practitioners.

An awareness of the potential detrimental influences of structural racism can be useful at each level of developing digital learning content. We aim to identify practical strategies to refine our development methods, as well as in the content itself.

Digital learning content and structural racism

Relevant aspects of our work we wish to highlight include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Content: Is there a geographic, ethnic, racial, personal point of view presented? Who can we engage with to gain input to ensure content addresses anti-racism?
  • Tools and platforms: Who made this tool? What is their standpoint on the role of structural racism as it relates to their products? Who is the intended audience(s) for this tool?
  • Context: In our institutions, how can we ensure there is representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations? Is the underrepresentation of BAME staff, including in higher level roles, a consideration, and how can we address this as it relates to the production of content for digital learning?
  • Distribution: How can we address the key aspects of access to digital infrastructure in our sectors?
  • Evaluation: How can we influence the design of evaluation of projects to consider the impact on all students? How can we make this evaluation a priority?
  • Research findings: If asked to identify research findings to support any developing projects, can we find research that raises the voice of BAME students? How can we put ourselves forward to further this research?

Examples to consider

  1. The representation of race across our content generally, in terms of the selection of images. How are these choices made? How can we as content developers influence diversity of representation?
  2. The selection of skin tones used in clinical medicine teaching, notably for Dermatology. Student doctors should have a wide range of examples to be prepared to diagnose conditions on black and brown skin, without which there are worse health outcomes in those communities.
  3. Examples of the built environment within History of Architecture courses. Resources such as the Race and Space curriculum have been developed to help foster a greater understanding of race in teaching this subject, include examples from non-Western heritage sources.
  4. The application of Universal Design for Learning for activities and content design as a way to address the perspectives of under-represented groups. Can such a framework be used to address online learning experiences through the design of media (text, video, diagrams), specifically in terms of anti-racism?

Questions and next steps

We are keen to consider how to develop anti-racist digital learning content broadly and in collaboration with others across our institutions. We recognise the need to engage in dialogue to work toward strategic thinking in this area, starting with understanding of the implications of our choices.

How might we embed this awareness into our content creation activities in a consistent way? As we work toward a wider conversation within our community, we would like to introduce elements of existing frameworks to use toward the development of anti-racist content. We will discuss examples of these frameworks, and potential methods for application, in the next post from our subgroup.

References

Charles, E. (2019) Decolonising the Curriculum. Insights 32 Available at: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/28953/1/28953.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Peters, M. A. (2015) Why is my curriculum white? Educational Philosophy and Theory 47 Available at:  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2015.1037227 [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Phiri, A. and Mopotsa, D. (2020) On decolonising teaching practices, not just the syllabus. Available at: https://theconversation.com/on-decolonising-teaching-practices-not-just-the-syllabus-137280 [Accessed 17 March 2021].

The Promise Institute for Human Rights. (2020) Human rights, racial equality & new information technologies: Mapping the structural threats. Available at: https://law.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/PDFs/Publications/Promise_Institute/Human%20Rights,%20Racial%20Equality,%20&%20New%20IT%20Report%203.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Singh, N. (2020) Decolonising dermatology: Why Black and brown skin need better treatment. The Guardian Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/aug/13/decolonising-dermatology-why-black-and-brown-skin-need-better-treatment [Accessed 4 March 2021].

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