Bias in learning materials: reflection on Manufacturing Pasts in Follow the Sun conference

Two weeks ago, Simon Gunn, Tania Rowlett and I presented the Manufacturing Pasts history OER project in an online learning innovations conference, Follow the Sun 2012. The conference took place in a webinar environment, and was attended online by delegates from all over the world. Tania and i presented together, though we were physically on opposite sides of campus from each other. Simon, knowing he would not be available during the scheduled time slot, prerecorded his presentation on the scholarly case for the Manufacturing Pasts project, including some samples of newly-digitized artifacts, which I’ve posted on YouTube here. We also created an e-poster for the project.

This was the first conference presentation of this project, and I was pleased that it was done in an innovative setting. We received several interested comments, particularly from a delegate from Australia and one from South Africa. The Australian delegate mentioned that he had worked on an oeR project with some similar aims, digitizing artifacts pertinent to native Australian culture. When Tania described the unexpected twists and turns of seeking permission for material created in a corporate setting, our delegate friend described an unexpected requirement in his project to request permission from the local leader who interestingly was usually (maybe always?) female. The South African delegate raised the issue of educators bringing their own views into historical presentations. I wholeheartedly agreed with him that this is a danger. I’m creating some learning materials now, and I admit I’m struggling. I have some long interviews which we will make available in their pure, long form (one is over 4 hours long). But I also want to cut them down and marry them to digitized photographs to create a short video. I think I am editing to simply create a resource that is engaging and easier to digest than a 4-hour interview. But maybe I am unconsciously bringing in my own judgements and views in the way I edit and mash up.

We are now aiming to have several good OERs ready for students to use and evaluate in early May. Perhaps one thing to evaluate is whether any particular bias is introduced into the material, in the process of turning it into easily-digestible chunks of learning.

Terese Bird, CMALT

Learning Technologist & SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

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