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Check Against Inclusion and Diversity Standards

Assessing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Open Textbooks

Open textbook users represent a wide array of populations, including:

  • socio-economic classes
  • geographies
  • types of higher education institution
  • ages
  • socio-political affiliations
  • cultural and ethnic background
  • educational background and exposure.

Whether or not these users represent formally protected classes, it’s your responsibility to consider and include them in your content. To ensure your textbook meets inclusion and diversity standards, you should:

  • do your best to ensure proper representation of genders, races, cultures, geographies, ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses and diverse viewpoints
  • seek to avoid causing offence, and ensure every student can see themselves in your content
  • monitor changes in terminology
  • get input from colleagues, students or community members from diverse backgrounds, advocacy groups and committees or departments at your university devoted to diversity and inclusion.

OpenStax has identified the following areas and elements where diversity, equity and inclusivity are most relevant and visible within open textbooks:

  1. Illustrations and Graphics
  • Include diverse subjects and people.
  • Consider background (literally), context, depicted actions of the subjects, expressions of authority, connotations, and so on.
  1. Example names
  • Include diverse names representing various national origins, ethnicities, genders, etc.
  • Avoid stereotypes associated with certain names or names that present in a certain way.
  1. Key figures in the field
  • Seek diversity in key/historical figures mentioned.
  • Avoid isolating diverse contributors to specific sections – i.e. ‘multicultural impacts on psychology’.
  • Where key/historical figures are not diverse, include current, more diverse researchers/figures for balance.
  1. Application, examples and exercises/problems
  • Write and use examples that include diverse people, organisations, geographies and situations.
  • Create real-world practice problems and applications that pertain to situations and contexts inclusive of all populations.
  • Avoid negative stereotypes or sensitive subjects in problems and applications, unless the subject matter demands it.
  • Ensure exercises/problems don’t require a specific knowledge or context that may be absent from certain individuals, or that may produce a negative connotation.
  1. Appropriate terminology
  • Ensure that all references to people, groups, populations, categories, conditions and disabilities use the appropriate verbiage and don’t contain any derogatory, colloquial, inappropriate or otherwise incorrect language.
  • Usage of outmoded terminology in historical situations (e.g. court cases, laws, articles) should be clearly defined in quotations or annotated with contextual information.
  • Do your best to use current terminology, but note style guides may be in conflict if terms are controversial or not widely adopted. See Write with Diversity and Inclusion in Mind for a list of style guides containing inclusive and bias-free language guidelines.
  • Avoid idioms or colloquialisms, particularly if they could lead to misconceptions among those who natively speak other languages or who may not have the educational or cultural context to understand them.
  1. Keywords/indexed items
  • Ensure diverse topics and terms are represented in keywords/index.
  1. Balanced issues and discussions
  • Consider and include issues and situations that pertain to diverse populations. When discussing problems, conditions or issues, be sure to include those that affect an array of populations and groups.
  • Be aware of stigmatising victims or those having a specific condition, occupation, experience or background.
  • Be aware that certain controversial topics, when necessary to include, should be described in a balanced manner.
  1. References
  • Try to ensure diversity in your references if you can. This may be easier in some disciplines than others.
  • When including less formal, in-text mentions of specific researchers or studies, these should be as diverse as possible.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Rubrics

The following example rubric for assessing diversity, equity and inclusion in open textbooks is based on Open Stax’s Improving Representation and Diversity in OER Materials framework:

Component/ Item Development Description and Requirement Review/Editing Process
Illustrations and photos

Ensure they reflect diversity, and consider the intersectionality and context of the depiction (e.g. is anything perpetuating a stereotype, are all populations equally ‘active’ in your images, does the context or setting of the image indicate anything negative, etc.).

Note: Because it’s impossible to represent every population in every image, consider diversity on a section/chapter level.

  1. Consider the quantity of images and illustrations, and the individuals and populations represented in them.
  2. Consider the role, depiction, connotation and purpose of the people represented and the image itself.
Example names

Ensure names used in examples, exercises, and scenarios represent various countries of origin, ethnicities, genders and races.

Ensure names with particular ethnic or origin associations are portrayed properly.

Avoid negative comparisons or stereotypes associated with particular national origins or ethnicities.

  1. Consider the diversity and representation overall on a quantitative and qualitative basis.
  2. Consider – and seek other opinions – whether names indicative of a particular race, ethnicity or national origin are associated with negative concepts. 
Historical, pioneering or current researchers/studies in the field

Ensure you recognise key contributors from all backgrounds, and real-world examples are also diverse.

When historical figures in a field lack diversity, balance their inclusion with more current and diverse contributors.

  1. Consider the included figures in the field, and suggest additional contributors or groups.
  2. Identify and suggest current researchers – demonstrating diversity – related to historical work.
References/bibliography and credits to diverse researchers/authors

Determine if referenced papers or data have been sourced from diverse authors, researchers and organisations.

Note that a lack of diversity in this area may persist due to a general lack of diversity in higher education.

Also, diversity may not be perceptible by study authors.

  1. Review, and potentially have students review, problems and exercises, considering their context and inclusivity. 
  2. Review terminology, contexts and situations presented in problems/applications to ensure they’re comprehensible by all populations.
Applications, examples and problem scenarios that relate to diverse audiences

Ensure diverse contexts are included and that all examples are comprehensible by everyone. Avoid stereotypes.

Similar to images, consider diversity on a chapter/whole book basis.

  1. Review, and potentially have students review, problems and exercises, considering their context and inclusivity. 
  2. Review terminology, contexts and situations presented in problems/applications to ensure they’re comprehensible by all populations.
Appropriate terminology

Ensure all references to people, groups, populations, categories, conditions and disabilities use the appropriate terminology and don’t contain any derogatory, colloquial, inappropriate or otherwise incorrect language.

For historical uses, consider adding context such as ‘a widely used term at the time’. Ensure quotations or paraphrases using outdated terms are attributed, contextualised and limited.

  1. Identify any outmoded or incorrect terminology and suggest the correct replacement or reframing.
  2. For historical references, insert context, attribution and/or quotations.
  3. Since terminology changes on a regular basis, and acceptability is not universal, do your best to identify and use the best terminology at the time.
Keyword, indexed item, glossary and metadata representation Index/keywords can signal priorities and show how important a particular topic/issue is. Consider the relevance and connection of these elements in relation to inclusivity.
  1. Analyse index/keyword lists and identify core terms that aren’t represented or highlighted.
  2. Consider alternative phrasings and terminology.
Presence and balanced perspectives on issues, events or concepts that are relevant to underrepresented groups

Represent issues relevant to diverse populations, and ensure you don’t avoid or underestimate the impacts on diverse populations.

Examples include social problems, health issues, political issues, business practices, economic conditions and so on.

  1. For each topic/concept, consider the perspective of all populations in relation to controversies, arguments, alternate points and so on.
  2. Suggest additions to expose a varied point of view and widen the context for students.
Diversity of viewpoints on multifaceted, sensitive or controversial topics

Most discipline experts will defer to the academic viewpoint of any key concept, but they should consider alternative points of view.

If a topic is inherently divisive or sensitive, indicate to editors that it should be specifically reviewed for balance/potential offence.

Same as above.

Some additional example diversity, equity and inclusion rubrics:


Adapted from ‘OpenStax Improving Representation and Diversity in OER Materials’ by Rice University, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.