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Window with an Open sign hanging in it

How Open Education Provides Opportunity to Historically Marginalized Communities

By: Tim Constant

Tim is an Instructional Coach for Secondary Education at Clarenceville School District in Livonia, Michigan and currently a doctoral student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He is a former school administrator and was a classroom teacher for 11 years before becoming an administrator. To learn more about Tim, please go to his LinkedIn profile.

Tim’s registration to the Open Education conference was provided by the University of Michigan – Dearborn’s Open Education Campus Committee through a pilot of their education grants program.


What is open education and how does it address traditionally marginalized populations of students? These were my questions as a first-time attendee to the OpenEd Conference. In my career as a secondary classroom teacher and school administrator, I never heard the term Open Education until this conference. Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education is often focused on licensed curriculum and educational resources, both electronic and in print, therefore Open Education is often not a focus of discussion at the local school district level but is increasingly at the Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) through the curriculum area consultants. This has created an educational environment of the “haves” and “have nots” where school districts from more affluent communities tend to have more educational resources than those that are less affluent. This has also led to a substantial gap in educational opportunities between private/parochial schools, public schools and public charter school academies. My intention for attending the conference was to learn about the specifics of Open Education and how a focus on open education can address these gaps. 

The first session I attended was “Reimaging Open Education Leadership to Center our Historically Marginalized Communities and Underserved Students.” The session was presented by a panel of representatives from the Regional Leaders of Open Education which focuses on building a network of leaders from across North America who works to create strategic plans for Open Education that especially supports underserved students. The session began by identifying three categories of underserved students: BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), students with diverse abilities/disabilities, and students with food and housing insecurities.  This was of great interest and importance to me as a doctoral student researching teacher confidence and competence in historical trauma-informed instructional practices association with Native American students. The panel explained how it is important to understand who has agency within our organizations and who is empowered to make change?  The answer to this question would involve students. It is critical that the voice of students is involved in making change because they are the future leaders. So how do we incorporate the voice of students into making necessary changes and especially getting the ideas and opinions of underrepresented and underestimated communities? The panel made the following recommendations”

  1. Co-create and collaborate
  2. Maximize the benefits of technology without it being a deterrent or distraction
  3. Identify specific strategies to empower students
  4. Do not cast too wide of a net. Narrow the focus on student voices who are truly not heard and identify their preferred method of communication.
  5. Identify various ways to involve students in the planning process 

These recommendations are about creating an inclusive space for students in an effort to implement meaningful change. The approach is about leveraging the knowledge and assets of the student community by placing students in leadership roles and in an environment where their voice can be heard. This mindset steps away from a deficit perspective and creates educational sustainability through student inclusiveness. 

A related session focused on cultural responsiveness called “Beyond ‘Open’: Intersections with Accessibility, Cultural Responsiveness and Broader Educational Goals” facilitated by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). ISKME is a non-profit organization with a mission to help educational institutions make knowledge openly accessible to students, educators, and the public.  An important point made at the beginning of this session was that openness does not inherently mean equity and justice. This relates to the second point made by the Regional Leaders of Open Education regarding maximizing the benefits of technology. Students cannot maximize the benefits of technology for learning purposes if there is a technology divide which is a significant issue at all levels of education (early childhood, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary). For example, the district I currently work for is a one-to-one technology district while many other districts are not, which puts those districts and their students at a disadvantage for learning. 

It was explained during this session that there is not a one-size-fits-all model or framework for culturally responsive teaching because each educational institution is unique and different.  Therefore it takes time to build a team of facilitators to analyze the learners they have and develop an education environment for all. They explained the importance of identifying resources that are adaptable and localized as well as approaching educational programming with humility and empathy. However, there were some key components of Open Education that were identified in the session facilitated by the Regional Leaders of Open Education that were neither identified nor explained in this session. According to what was discussed in the prior session, for an educational environment to be adaptable, localized, and focused on humility and empathy, students must be empowered to be members of the planning process.  This was not identified in this session which focused more on building a team of facilitators to reflect on the learners rather than the learners informing the facilitators as to what is needed to be more culturally responsible in their teaching. One of the tips for creating culturally responsive education that was shared with participants was to “center the impact.” This means that culturally responsive teaching values all students.  In my opinion, for this to occur requires student voice in the planning and implementation process for Open Education to be fully inclusive of all students. 

After attending additional sessions throughout the conference week, I felt that I had accomplished my original goal of getting a better understanding of Open Education and how it is important for providing educational opportunities for traditionally marginalized communities of students.  The conference made me think of various ways I could incorporate this new knowledge into my dissertation research and how I could be a better instructional coach for the teachers I support.

Featured Image by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

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