Could Digital Resources Help Teachers Reach LGBTQ Students?

By Alyson Klein — November 20, 2019 2 min read
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Some school districts and states are just beginning to think more broadly about how to best make sure that lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, gender non-binary, and other students are included in curriculum, professional development, and classroom discussions.

So how can technology help make that happen? Potentially through open educational resources, a report by the New America Foundation suggests. But so far, there aren’t a ton of such resources out there, the report concludes.

Open educational resourcesare materials for teaching or learning that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, changed, or shared with others. OER may include everything from a single video or lesson plan to a complete online course or curriculum. It can also include the software platforms needed to create, change, and share the materials.

Sabia Prescott, a senior program associate for the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, spent two years looking for OER materials dedicated to LGBTQ students and found almost nothing. (To be sure, she said, there are such materials available from non-profits like GLSEN, Gender Spectrum, and Teaching Tolerance but these can’t be altered or adapted like OER resources typically can.)

That dearth of materials remains even though four states with big populations—California, New Jersey, Colorado, and Illinois—have mandates requiring LGBTQ inclusion in pre-K-12 curricula, according to the report. And New York’s legislature is considering a similar approach.

On the other hand, six states&Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina—have laws on the books prohibiting teachers from “portraying LGBTQ people in a positive light, if at all” according to the report.

But there are big, technical hurdles to findng resources, even in states that encourage or require—or at least don’t prohibit—using LGBTQ-inclusive curricucula and teaching methods.

For one thing, it can be tough to rely on textbooks. Textbooks “get outdated really quickly,” Prescott said. “A lot of schools are using ten, fifteen, twenty-year old textbooks. And for talking about queer and trans identities, our understanding of these identities evolves. And our language for understanding these identities evolves.”

But digital materials can be much more current. And the opportunity to update, revise, remix, and adapt materials is really the big selling point of OER, Prescott said.

Prescott sees a couple reasons for the lack of LGBTQ-inclusive OER. For one thing, OER is just gaining popularity in the K-12 community. And some educators have told her they worry that if they publish OER on LGBTQ issues, those resources will end up being changed or adapted in a negative way that will be harmful to the students the teachers who created it are trying to serve.

So what are Prescott’s recommendations for school districts?

  • Make queer inclusion a priority.
  • Partner with LGBTQ groups to create appropriate learning materials. And then share those materials under an open license, train educators how to use them, and set standards for continuing to improve them.
  • Be sure to get feedback from teachers on how they work.

Want more? Check out the full report here.

Image: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.