Digital and Technological Considerations with Equity

This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

There is a small body of work in this review that attends explicitly to the digital-technological elements of teaching and learning. This literature examines connections between equity and different technological possibilities, such online distance learning (Willems, 2012; Signor & Moore, 2014), three-dimensional virtual learning environments (Wood & Willems, 2012), and open educational resources (Bossu, Bull & Brown, 2012; Willems & Bossu, 2012). Each of these papers addresses both the possibilities and the challenges that these technological advances have made, in terms of both opening and constraining access and participation for particular groups, such as Indigenous students (Willems, 2012) and students with disabilities (Kent, 2016; Owen et al., 2016). In addition, Horn et al. (2015) make an argument for embedding library services and guidance into a course’s Learning Management System (LMS) so as to harness the affordances of the online pedagogic environment, arguing that, “The development of information literacy is too important to be left to chance encounters with the library – particularly for students at risk. Embedded librarianship, through the LMS, provides an effective means for equitably facilitating these encounters” (p.248).

The literature on digital learning and equity in higher education also investigates factors influencing student engagement in online learning. Muir, Milthorpe, Stone, Dyment, Freeman & Hopwood (2019) explore online student engagement over a whole semester at a regional Australian university. The weekly feedback obtained from 9 students over the semester highlights assessment tasks, unit(s) workload, relevance and lecturer input as key factors influencing student engagement, while other factors mentioned by participants include lecturer presence, work life commitment and nature of units in the course (Muir et al., 2019). The authors therefore advocate the significance of planning, design and teacher presence to successfully engage online learners in higher education, consequently improving their educational outcomes, including their retention and course completion times (Muir et al., 2019). On the other hand, Hockings, Bret & Terentjeves’ (2012) work investigated the infrastructure and interventions effective in ‘developing, embedding and extending inclusive teaching and learning in practice’ (p. 238) in the University of Wolverhampton. The study identified three embedding models of extending the Open Educational Resource  for inclusive practice in the University (Hockings et al., 2012). Model 1 involves developing professional values through the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, where a blended learning approach with an emphasis on the ‘development of professional values through the university’s Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice’ will be implemented (Hockings et al., 2012, p. 246). Model 2, on the other hand focuses on flexible resources customized to support local CPD activities and issues (Hockings et al., 2012). The starting point for this model involves embedding teachers’ classroom concerns instead of students’ concerns, resulting in a teacher-led non-confrontational approach which relieved tension, anxiety and cynicism felt by colleagues (Hockings et al., 2012). Model 3 comprises distance learning for (transnational) academic development, and uses the OER LTI module as a ‘full distance learning package’ (Hockings et al., 2012, p. 248), which can be used by colleagues who are unable to attend development opportunities in person (such as Models 1 & 2), or who want to gather evidence to apply for membership of the HEA individually (Hockings et al., 2012). The authors therefore contend that through the development of an inclusive pedagogy, and the building and sharing of understanding and knowledge regarding “complex and often deeply embedded differences in practices, ethnicity, and belief alongside class, locality and gender”, the OER LTI will ‘contribute towards social inclusion’ (p. 250), and help the HE sector “stimulate new forms of representation and participation” (p. 250), consequently encouraging practices of democracy (Hockings et al., 2012).

Summary by Sally Baker and Anna Xavier.


Bossu, C.; Bull, D.; & Brown, M. (2012). Opening up Down Under: the role of open educational resources in promoting social inclusion in Australia, Distance Education,

33(2): 151-164.

Horn, A.; Maddox, A.; Hagel, P.; Currie, M.; & Owen, S. (2013). Embedded Library Services: Beyond Chance Encounters for Students from Low SES Backgrounds, Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 44(4): 235-250.

Signor, L. & Moore, C. (2014). Open Access in Higher Education–Strategies for Engaging Diverse Student Cohorts, Open Praxis, 6(3): 305-313.

Willems, J. (2012). Educational resilience as a quadripartite responsibility: Indigenous peoples participating in higher education via distance education. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 16(1): 14–27.

Willems, J. & Bossu, C. (2012). Equity considerations for open educational resources in the glocalization of education, Distance Education, 33(2): 185-199.

Wood, D. & Willems, J. (2012). Responding to the widening participation agenda through improved access to and within 3D virtual learning environments, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(3): 459-479.

Dr Sally Baker is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sally’s research primarily focuses on equity in higher education, with her main interests being education policy, experiences of students from refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and educational transitions. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Refugee Education Special Interest Group and the educational focal point in the Forced Migration Research Network at UNSW.

The thematic organisation of the open access annotated bibliographies (OAABs) does not reflect the intersecting and complex overlaps of the various foci in the literature, so please keep in mind that this is an interpretive exercise and one that could easily be reworked by another set of authors. An important note to make is that these resources should not be read as ‘the reading’ of any piece — rather they reflect the interpretive lens of a small number of people and should therefore be used as a ‘way in’ to the academic and grey literature. Hyperlinks have been provided to each entry (where possible) so that you may be able to access the original texts (although many of these will be hidden behind pay walls, which we cannot override for copyright reasons).

Furthermore, it is important to note that these resources are not a ‘finished product’; rather, they are reflective of an on-going, iterative engagement with the inter/national literature that critically engages with issues relating to equity in education. As such, there are unintentional omissions in these resources — if you see a gap in the literature, please feel free to make this clear, or offer an entry for inclusion. This annotated bibliography will be updated every six months for the first year, and annually thereafter.