From open access to educational equity

From open access to educational equity

MIT Open Learning

An HBCU + MERLOT + MIT OCW Collaboration

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve witnessed how open access to knowledge has empowered so many people to transform their lives and build new opportunities in their communities.

Hundreds of millions of people — from enrolled students to lifelong learners — have benefited from this growing ethos of open sharing, using materials from MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) and across the growing global Open Education Resources (OER) movement.

Yet free access to knowledge, by itself, is not enough. At OCW, we stand with all in the open knowledge ecosystem working for a world where everyone can put knowledge into action. And for a world where everyone can contribute their knowledge to make the progress relevant and inclusive.

Group photo of 26 people who are smiling, wearing business clothes, and standing or sitting in 4 rows on wooden bleacher seating.
Participants from HBCUs, MERLOT, and MIT OCW at From Open Access to Educational Equity

A dynamic OER joint effort

In this context, MIT OpenCourseWare is honored to begin a collaboration with a network of US-based Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are adopting and adapting OER to improve the educational opportunities of their students.

For several years, the HBCU Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) initiative has been building HBCU faculty capacity to use OER, delivering immediate benefits to students by saving them thousands of dollars in textbook costs, improving course outcomes and reducing financial stress. As they note, “students cannot learn from books they cannot afford.”

HBCU AL$ is a collaboration with the OER repository MERLOT and supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In its first three years, the HBCU AL$ community has grown to 26 schools with 88 participating faculty, and has delivered significant cost savings for students.

Discussions during the October convening, From Open Access to Educational Equity: An HBCU+MERLOT+MIT OCW Collaboration.

Now an HBCU AL$ Cultural Collections program is beginning to curate OER, and support adaptations and new content creation, which are culturally relevant for African American and Africana students. MIT OpenCourseWare and MIT faculty will work together with HBCU faculty and staff to expand the HBCU Cultural Collections by identifying and curating appropriate OER material, and adapting and extending materials from OCW to be more culturally relevant for HBCU students.

We started back in March 2022 with this inspiring webinar, beginning to explore the possibilities of working more closely together.

A convening of like-minded advocates

In late October, we were thrilled to spend two days at MIT with some OER leaders from Bethune-Cookman University, Central State University, Edward Waters University, Morehouse College, and Tennessee State University, along with the MERLOT team. Our goal was to spark connections between faculty and staff interested in creating or teaching with culturally relevant OER, and create a generative environment for specific collaborations to emerge and thrive.

Discussions during the October convening, From Open Access to Educational Equity: An HBCU+MERLOT+MIT OCW Collaboration.

We got to know each other better, shared our visions for the future, connected about challenges, and laid a foundation for how the teams will proceed. We shared many heartfelt moments, and lots of cheering and hearty laughter. And we announced that a new unit of academic energy has been named the Melton — “what happens when an unstoppable force vanquishes academic inertia”— in honor of Dr. Robbie Melton, Tennessee State University’s acting provost and the HBCU leader of this initiative.

Left: Dr. Robbie Melton. Right: MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles.

MIT Chancellor Melissa Nobles, who has deep family ties to the AL$ national hub Tennessee State University and other HBCUs, gave the group a rousing welcome on the first day. A few highlights:

  • Chancellor Nobles emphasized the importance of collaborating across disciplines, because diversity strengthens essential fields like science. See her co-authored editorials for Nature’s 2022 special edition “Racism: Overcoming science’s toxic legacy” for more.
  • We put into practice her direction to “focus on the connections that you are forging with each other”, as “gathering and convening can do the most to get us all started.”
  • Her closing questions, “What are the possibilities here? What can we build together?” continues to echo and inspire our work.

The second day of discussions connected this collaboration with the Open 2030 Working Group, a broader community of open education thought leaders convened by MIT Open Learning which focuses on building educational equity and social justice through OER.

As we embark on this collaboration with HBCUs and MERLOT, we want to acknowledge the many dedicated and creative educators who are reaching students everyday with more culturally relevant materials and practices. If you’ve adapted OCW materials, especially in order to make them more culturally relevant for your context, we invite you to share your ideas and experiences through the OCW Educator portal.

Originally published at on December 20, 2022.

From open access to educational equity was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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