Open Education through Cultural Lenses Part 1 – Policies and Protocols

The focus of this post is to discuss the ways in which cultural competence approaches can safeguard traditional cultures and enhance open education practices when sharing Indigenous knowledges. This includes issues related to the cultural ownership of information, intellectual property rights for traditional owners, cultural safety of artefacts, and forms of reciprocity within education technology and media contexts. Part 2 will focus on principles and guidelines, inviting commentary.

“Know your world, see my world”
(National Centre for Cultural Competence)

Open education through cultural lenses is an expansion of the OER approach which asks us to question and clarify issues of information ethics and intellectual property for all authors, contributors and participants. This post arose as a continuation of activities 
gulaay__400x400between CSU Gulaaythe uImagine team & the Bathurst Wiradjuri Elders who are collectively exploring this issue to arrive at protocols for curriculum practices. In 2017 Stage 2 of ICCP professional development workshops were co-facilitated to discuss the embedding of culturally competency within all eLearning efforts at CSU. In 2018 within an international panel at the Open Professional Learning Series the need for cultural warnings and sensitivities were reinforced through a discussion on the potential for cultural biases online.

Cultural protocols for open educational information are emerging locally by reframing our relationships to Indigenous knowledges and seeking expert cultural mentoring and advice. Much work is happening globally, for example, Associate Professor Maha Bali @Bali_Maha from the American University in Cairo asks Can we decolonize OER/Open? #DecolonizeOpen (OER 2019 conference) with a blog post offering some interesting points from a range of experts. Scholarship is focussing on traditional cultural expression and the internet world (Fitzgerald & Hedge, 2008), and open access versus the culture of protocols (see Chapter 5 by Morphy from the museum sector).

Through the work described above, two themes of visibility and representation are evident and warrant exploration:

  1. Visibility of Indigenous identities online can be achieved through collaboration with Aboriginal Elders and everyone’s engagement within the higher education sector. As with research methodologies, parity around issues of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property (ICIP) rights can be established within open education spaces. Local guidelines and expert advice on a case by case basis within and across institutions is a developing space.
  2. Representation through open education supports generous and creative approaches through a range of multimedia to open spaces for connecting in real time, in real ways and in real life!

Protocols and practices that acknowledge and embed these two themes exist. Three to be aware of and to enhance your professional practices are:

Cultural warnings: The CSU DOMS Collection contains resources that directly support the Indigenous Education Strategy (IES) collection, stating that “Users should be aware that this catalogue may hold resources which contain images and voices of deceased persons which can cause sadness and distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and offend against strongly held cultural prohibitions. I agree to use this material with sensitivity, and am aware that it may contain works or stories which are not normally spoken of publicly.”

Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) rights: Refer to all aspects of Indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage, including the tangible and intangible. ICIP is a short way of saying Australian “Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property”. Two examples are Artists in the Black ICIP and MAAS Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Protocol (2016)

Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) acknowledge the deep connection and continuing practices of Indigenous peoples and in order to build a culture of respect and exchange between organisations, workplaces, communities and traditional owners and cultural custodians. At CSU the Guide to working with Indigenous Australian staff supports the RAP.

Part 2 will invite expert comment and propose a detailed set of Draft Guidelines where we invite your feedback via comments on this blog.


Contributed by:

Ms Melinda Lewis, GLO Courses & Resources Lead, Indigenous Cultural Competency, Gulaay Indigenous Australian Curriculum and Resources team, Learning Academy, Division of Learning & Teaching, Charles Sturt University

Twitter: @meljlewis


Gulaay is a Wiradyuri word for ‘bridge’ or ‘to cross over’ and was given by Aunty Gloria DindimaRogers to acknowledge the work being done across cultures.

I would like to acknowledge the Wiradyuri, Ngunawal, Gundungurra, Ngiyeempaa and Biripai (or Biripi) peoples of Australia who are the traditional owners and custodians of the lands in which CSU’s campuses are located and with whom CSU has association and I pay my respect to their Elders both past and present.

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