| |

Open Pedagogy and the Inclusion of Marginalized Students  

You can listen to this blog! Audio version of Open Pedagogy and the Inclusion of Marginalized Students


In 1976, for my high school capstone project, my teacher supported my chosen topic: the dispute over Indigenous rights and the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline through the Yukon and Northwest Territories. I heard Dr. Thomas Berger speak at the University of British Columbia where I attended Commission hearings. In addition to holding hearings in cities, Dr. Berger also visited 35 Northern communities. This was the first such commission where Indigenous people could attend hearings in their communities and give oral testimony in their languages (Waddell, 2018).

As a 16-year-old (white) student, I had a learning opportunity that made me consider different perspectives; my (white) teacher encouraged me. In my school and in 1976, we were practicing what I now understand as proto-Open Pedagogy. While there was no Internet sharing by which others could adapt my assignment, my project was student-led, teacher-supported and tapped into current events.

Now as a teacher myself, I am excited when students are willing to tap into current events for their discussions and projects. I support students to find and share, with classmates, resources from their own student-led processes. Postsecondary faculty often encourage student-led projects such as the creation of study guides to share, or co-created exam questions. However, Open Pedagogy is an evolving, inclusive approach that goes beyond classroom sharing. Faculty and students collaborate to use, modify, or create Open Educational Resources (OER), artefacts which are free, revisable, and shared publicly.

Being Inclusive is our Goal

Is Open Pedagogy by its nature inclusive? I think so. As a KPU Open Education Research Fellow, my multi-institution research project will provide insight on if and how open pedagogical practises can be inclusive and caring. I hope to confirm that Open Pedagogy is inclusive for all, especially marginalized and underrepresented students.

As educators, we already know it is our professional responsibility to be inclusive. We can continuously improve teaching practices and revise our curricula to ensure they include the experiences of a diverse population of learners. (Allan, 2020; Justice Institute of BC, n.d; KPU Pride, n.d.; KPU Taskforce on Anti-racism, n.d.; Wymer, 2019).  

To learn to be inclusive, we must listen to, and get to know, students as whole people. A student in my research project shares, “I believe that care […]is when the professors don’t treat us as robots, as if we don’t have feelings” (Maultsaid, 2022).

We must listen to the experiences of marginalized students (Black, Indigenous and students of Colour; disabled and LGBT2+ students). These students are often the most isolated, degraded and bullied. They can be physically and emotionally excluded from the full postsecondary experience. This is concerning to me.

Students at KPU and other Canadian institutions clearly tell us:

Discussing ‘hot topics’ as a minority can be potentially personal and/or painful. I’ve had some discussions in class that were just so ignorant of actual experiences” —a student/research participant (Maultsaid, 2022). 

“They never said ‘You’re Brown you’re good in math,’ but I felt it […] Especially during […] exam time [when] they wanted to study with me […] now we walk by like we don’t even know each other”—a South Asian student (Poolokasingham, 2014).

“I’m in […] a biomedical health program and […]Aboriginal health is huge in Canada and we never address[…]those issues […]”—an Indigenous student(Clark, 2014).

A lot of professors are very accepting, but I do feel like sometimes they feel like you’re trying to get away with something. And I also think that, that the act of asking them is a bit degrading […]because it should be your right ”—a disabled student (Mullins, 2013).

Sometimes postsecondary students have to convey hard truths to us through confidential research:

  • Students with learning disabilities or mental health issues admit that they are reluctant to disclose those invisible disabilities to teachers (Griful-Freixenet, 2017). I have heard the same from KPU students; they are concerned about the stigma. Maybe you, as faculty, have heard this, too.
  • In a Canada-wide university study, LGBT2+ students report rates of physical assault and unwanted sexual touching at nearly double that of cisgender heterosexual students (Woodford, 2019).
  • Although 24% of KPU students identify as something other than cisgender or heterosexual, less than 50% of those LGBT2+ students (and as low as 39% for non-binary students) feel like part of the KPU community (KPU Office of Planning and Accountability, 2019; 2020). 

Above are the experiences of excluded students. Their voices, ideas, talents and work are not always represented or valued in our curricula and classrooms. These students are thereby prevented from thriving. This is concerning to me.

The whole responsibility for inclusion does not rest with teachers. Although I am powerful, I can move away from being THE TEACHER, gathering students into a circle of belonging. Instead, I can be responsive to students. To me, being responsive means checking my biases, and (trying very hard to) accept the dynamic, imperfect, uncomfortable, ambiguous, reciprocal situation that is teaching-and-learning. The students also have to be responsive to each other and to me so that we can learn together.

If faculty and students encourage each other to be inclusive, then we are all responsible for and belong to the learning community. As our colleague Seanna Takacs, of Accessibility Services, says, They (students) and you (teachers) are trapped in a structure where you have to choose ingrouping or outgrouping, insider or outsider. Choose neither. Belong to each other as learners” (Takacs, 2020).


Open Pedagogy is our Goal

Open Pedagogy, as a collaborative process, can help with a sense of belonging. Creating OER in a student-led practice of Open Pedagogy enables students to be a valued part of the learning community. Research by our colleague Melissa Ashman (KPU Open Research Fellow, 2020) shows that students are thinking of each other and the social good. One research participant/student stated in response to the question What do you like about Open Pedagogy?The potential for creating a more inclusive learning environment for future students” (Ashman, 2021).

Open Pedagogy is intentionally inclusive: teachers supporting the self-determination and agency of a diverse population of students to curate and create OER (sourced from the world, grounded in their own context, and representing their real experiences.) Those open, adaptable, free, collaborative creations are then shared using open digital technologies and platforms where the OER can be revised by others to make the material relevant to their context. 

Open Pedagogy uses OER as a jumping-off point for remaking our courses so that they become not just repositories for content, but platforms for learning, collaboration, and engagement with the world outside the classroom (DeRosa, 2017).

Open Pedagogy Includes Underrepresented Students

Faculty can adopt practices to be supportive and inclusive of the diverse population of students. Faculty can gently (and unobtrusively) help students engage with each other and the world in the creation of OER:

  • Underrepresented students can manage the OER process and content. They get to own it; they get to share it.  
  • Underrepresented students can portray themselves in OER. They will not represent themselves as the stereotypical “spokesperson” or as victims of exclusion and prejudice. They can and will represent themselves as central characters going about their business in their own social context.
  • Students can make content decisions based on their student status. For their OER, they might want to create simplistic examples or scenarios, removed from current social issues or their own lives.  (I am white; I am not going to pressure Black, Indigenous or students of Colour to use their personal experiences as material, unless it is safe.)
  • With encouragement, students can practice mutual aid, collaboration, and reciprocity.
  • Students can have growing confidence: OER that students source and create will be relevant and “user friendly”. Students know how to write for their peers and be inclusive of them.  
  • Student creators can source materials from far and wide—experiences, examples, history, images, words, media, interpretations of knowledge, other OER —beyond the classroom or the subject in question.
  • Student creators don’t have to be subject to perfectionistic, imposed “ivory tower” standards for OER. OER is experimental, dynamic, responsive and imperfect. The OER will be out in the world, usable and revisable by others for their own contexts.

Open Pedagogy is Empowering

We want to create curricula for educational and social goals, not commercial or organizational goals. We  may find the process of Open Pedagogy challenging. I do. But, it’s important to remember that faculty are already using open textbooks and/ or encouraging students to participate in Open Pedagogy. You might have heard of faculty facilitating engaged, excited students to 1) write entries for Wikipedia; 2) to create and post explainer videos; or to 3) to crowdsource open reading materials for their course (Mays, n.d.).

One significant intent of Open Pedagogy is to encourage student agency. We can celebrate students as contributors to evolving repositories of OER and to evolving public knowledge. We can learn from and with students. Open Pedagogy is empowering for students as postsecondary learners and as whole people.


Allan, B., Perreault, A., Chenoweth, J., Biin, D., Hobenshield, S., Ormiston, T., Hardman, SA., Lacerte, L., Wright, L., Wilson, J. (2020, June 11). Pulling Together: A Guide for Teachers and Instructors: A guide for Indigenization of postsecondary institutions. A professional learning series. BCCampus.ca. License: CC BY-NC 4.0. https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationinstructors/ 

Ashman, M. (2021). Faculty & Student Perceptions of Open Pedagogy: a BC Case Study.[unpublished data]. KPU, Surrey, BC.

Clark, D. A., Kleiman, S., Spanierman, L. B., Isaac, P., & Poolokasingham, G. (2014). “Do you live in a tee pee?” Aboriginal students’ experiences with racial microaggressions in Canada. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7, 112–125. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036573

DeRosa, R & Robison S. (2017). From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open. In: Jhangiani, R S and Biswas-Diener, R. (eds.) Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. Pp. 115–124. London: Ubiquity Press. License: CC-BY 4.0. https://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/chapters/e/10.5334/bbc.i/ 

Griful-Freixenet, J., Struyven, K., Verstichele, M., & Andries, C. (2017). Higher education students with disabilities speaking out: Perceived barriers and opportunities of the universal design for learning framework. Disability & Society, 32(10), 1627-1649. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1365695

Justice Institute of British Columbia (n.d.) Supporting Students with Diverse Learning Needs. [self-directed workshop]. License: CC BY-NC 4.0. https://sswd.jibc.ca/

KPU Office of Planning and Accountability (2019). Student Diversity [Infograph]. KPU, Surrey, BC. https://www.kpu.ca/opa/students-tell-us

KPU Office of Planning and Accountability (2020). Student Diversity [Infograph]. KPU, Surrey, BC. https://www.kpu.ca/opa/students-tell-us

KPU Taskforce on Anti-racism. (n.d.) Anti-racism: A cross-institutional initiative at Kwantlen Polytechnic University [website]. KPU, Surrey, BC. https://wordpress.kpu.ca/antiracism/

KPU Pride (n.d). How to be a Good Ally. Pride @ KPU. KPU, Surrey, BC. https://www.kpu.ca/pride/allyship

KPU Pride (n.d.) KPU students and float at the Vancouver Pride parade. Pride Advocacy Initiatives. Romy Kozak [photo]. https://www.kpu.ca/pride

Maultsaid, D. (2022). Open Pedagogy and Care: a multi-jurisdictional study of four BC institutions. [unpublished data]. KPU, Surrey, BC.

Mays, E. (n.d.) A Guide to Making Open Textbooks with Students. License: CC-BY 4.0.https://press.rebus.community/makingopentextbookswithstudents/.

Mullins, L. & Michèle Preyde, M. (2013). The lived experience of students with an invisible disability at a Canadian university. Disability & Society, 28:2, 147-160. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2012.752127

Poolokasingham, G., Spanierman, L. B., Kleiman, S., & Houshmand, S. (2014). “Fresh off the Boat?” Racial Microaggressions That Target South Asian Canadian Students. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(3), 194–210. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280321475_Fresh_Off_the_Boat_Racial_Microaggressions_That_Target_South_Asian_Canadian_Students

Takacs, S. (2020, July 14). Belonging. Universal Design for Learning. KPU Teaching & Learning Commons. [blog post]. KPU, Surrey, BC. https://wordpress.kpu.ca/tlcommons/belonging/

Waddell, I. (2018, Oct. 19). What does real consultation look like? The Berger Inquiry. The Narwhalhttps://thenarwhal.ca/what-does-real-consultation-look-like-the-berger-inquiry/

Woodford, M. R., Coulombe, S., Marshall, Z., Schwabe, N, Krzesni, D. & the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (2019). Querying Canadian Higher Education: A snapshot of LGBT+ students’ experiences and mental health.


Wymer, K. & Fulford, C. (2019). Students as Co-Producers of Queer Pedagogy. Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education. Vol. 2 No. 1 (2019): Spring issue. License: CC BY-NC 4.0  https://doi.org/10.36021/jethe.v2i1.29  

Deirdre Maultsaid
School of Business Instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University | + posts

Deirdre Maultsaid (she/her) has a Bachelors of Communications, a Masters of Education and a Certificate as a Diversity and Inclusion Influencer with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to being a creative writer with many publications in literary journals and anthologies, she teaches Applied Communications in the Melville School of Business, KPU. She was the 2021 KPU Open Research Fellow conducting research on whether Open Pedagogy creates inclusion and care. Her co-written Open Educational Resource of cases portraying underrepresented people is available for classroom use.  https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/social-issue-cases/  A second edition with more student written cases is forthcoming.

Similar Posts