Diversifying content in education


Eela Devani discusses the need for more variety in educational content and formats—and how the CLA can help

As digitisation increases across a number of sectors, there has been a sea change in the delivery of content in education. To date, the higher education market has seen the greatest growth and adoption of digital content, but more and more schools are embracing new formats too. 

While digital content from most big publishers is readily available via their own platforms or ebook aggregators, some small to medium sized companies may find it harder to provide access to it. Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish publishers are also less well represented.

The other big challenge is in the provision of diversified formats for the purposes of teaching and learning, like audio, podcasts and video. These different formats are important because they support students with special learning needs, including those who are blind or partially sighted or have dyslexia, and make it easier for some other students to engage with their course material.

But content diversification is not just about a variety of formats. It’s about the inclusion of works from non ‘Anglo-Saxon male’ authors and publishers—otherwise known as ‘decolonising’ the curriculum. White, western, male perspectives have dominated our understanding of the world for centuries, but calls are growing to explore and counter this structural bias. It poses crucial questions about the relationship between the location and identity of writers, what they write and how they write about it. To broaden our understanding of a subject, we need to diversify the sources of our content and get different perspectives. This is not something that will happen overnight. It requires a sustained and serious commitment on all parts. 

It is worth noting that decolonisation of the curriculum is not—as James Muldoon from the University of Exeter has pointed out—about completely eliminating white men, but challenging longstanding biases and omissions that limit how we understand politics and society.

While the need to redress the balance is being recognised, university lecturers can find it hard to source content from BAME authors, the global South, China and India. Research undertaken with academics by the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) last year confirmed that access to content from small to medium UK publishers as well as non Anglo-Saxon males continues to be difficult. It also confirmed that student needs are changing, and that there is a greater expectation of content being made available in a variety of formats—especially audio and podcasts. 

To help address this problem, CLA is now exploring an idea to host print or e-PDFs on behalf of small to medium sized publishers on its Digital Content Store (DCS), which is accessed by two thirds of UK universities. Librarians use the DCS to scan and upload print published material that they own and share with academics and students under the CLA licence. CLA also hosts content on behalf of publishers for its schools’ digital licence service, the Education Platform, where it is constantly seeking opportunities to host resources from a wider variety of publishers.  

Provision of diversified content will become easier with a greater level of digitisation globally, which removes some of the barriers between countries and cultures. It should also support different ways of teaching and learning by making content available across different formats. In the meantime, it has been remarkable to see how the change and adoption of diverse formats accelerated during the lockdown. This has given us a glimpse of a different type of teaching and learning environments, where a blended approach may be more suitable in the future. 

Eela Devani is strategy and digital director at CLA.