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What is OpenCourseWare?

Do you teach a course which you’d like to improve? Maybe you have run it a few times and now need to refresh and update it. Or maybe you are starting a new course on a topic that you are less familiar with, and would like a template to work with? OpenCourseWare (OCW) may provide the support you need.
OpenCourseWare are courses created at universities and published for free via the Internet. OCW projects have become a worldwide means of delivering educational content (Wikipedia). According to Open Education Global (formerly the Open Education Consortium), OpenCourseWare is:
  • A free and open digital publication of high-quality educational materials, organized as courses.
  • Available for use and adaptation under an open licence, such as certain Creative Commons licences.
  • Not normally certified.
It is important to understand that OpenCourseWare is a ‘subset’ of Open Educational Resources (OER).

Source: UCI Open

OER Africa will cover MOOCs in an upcoming article.

Advantages and Disadvantages of using OCW

The main advantage of OCW for academics who are developing courses is the open licence, which enables adaptation and reuse, but other benefits include:

  • OCW provides complete modules or courses, which can be very helpful if you are starting a course from scratch, providing you a template from which to work.
  • OCW development in an institution can encourage academics to foster and use OER if they have not previously had experience in doing so.
  • Course developers can share ideas and curricula openly, examine and adopt courses from other institutions, and potentially put their own courses online.
  • By sharing courses openly, institutions can attract new students to enrol and be certified for a formal qualification.

Some disadvantages:

In adopting someone else’s course, you are taking on their pedagogy and course structure, which may not suit your own style. For example, many OCW consist mainly of ‘talking heads’ and presentation slides, which can result in the student being a passive rather than active agent. Modern teaching theory stresses the need for active student engagement to enable them to construct their own knowledge rather than learn a series of facts. A further disadvantage is that many OCW are produced in developed country settings, and cannot easily be transferred to other contexts without considerable adaptation. On the other hand, of course, the open licence allows just this adaptation (though sometimes trying to adapt an existing course can end up taking longer than developing it from scratch if the differences between what is there and what you need is too great).

Where can I find OCW?

OCW available on the Internet can be used in various ways, both by academics in Higher Education Institutions and by other educators. Quality courses from providers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Open University (UK) or the University of Michigan can be accessed, and (if they are openly licenced) provide an impetus for lecturers to revise them into contextualised programmes for a developing country context. Academics can encourage their students to work through particular OCW to supplement their own learning. Teachers and other professionals can undertake their own development by working through courses relevant to their practice.

OER Africa has various OCW offerings available:

In summary, OCW can assist academics in higher education to improve their own offerings, and encourage them to share their own courses for the benefit of others. OCW can also assist students wishing to access courses within higher education that otherwise might not be available to them. However, as with all OER, you are ultimately responsible for assessing their utility by comparing what you find with your own understanding of what is needed to run your courses successfully.


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

What's New

You have been teaching, but what have you been assessing? Can assessment also be about teaching? How do you know students have learned? It is easy to forget that instead of being separate processes, teaching and assessment have a close relationship


 Image courtesy of CC-0 Source: pxhere.com

You have been teaching, but what have you been assessing? Can assessment also be about teaching? How do you know students have learned?

It is easy to forget that instead of being separate processes, teaching and assessment have a close relationship – they complement one another and comprise a holistic educational process. COVID-19 has prompted an increase in online interactions with our students. As a result, many educators have had to adjust their teaching and assessment strategies. In this article, we explore online activity-based assessment to support teaching and learning.

Assessment and Feedback

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of distance learning and emergency remote teaching during COVID-19 has been the aspect of assessment. In addition to putting your course materials online, you may have been anxious to confirm what students know, and demonstrate whether or not they have met curriculum outcomes. In other words your focus may have been on assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. We have heard of cases, for example, where students have been allowed back onto campus to do exams, with little or no support for learning in preparation for those exams. It is certainly not fair, reliable, or valid assessment practice to expect students to come and write an exam when they have not had the opportunity and support to work through the activities and content leading up to that exam. Some institutions have managed to implement some form of online learning. Often, however, this has taken the form of asking students to read a textbook and submit an assignment. This is not necessarily very helpful for students struggling in this environment.  

If learning is reduced and less meaningful, what are you assessing?

Stop worrying about testing and start thinking about learning

In a post on Inside Higher Ed, in response to the pandemic, Jody Greene writes:

'By attempting to replicate in-person assessments in online settings, we fail to recognize that a change of medium may require a change of design. Especially if your instruction is interrupted close to the time of finals … don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you can or should just “put the final exam online.” Sorting students and rigorously determining what deserves an A-minus as opposed to a B-plus may not be the most urgent business in the face of a global pandemic. … Think outside the parameters of your original assessments and ask the question, what can we do here that keeps learning happening? What if our first priority in an emergency is not completing testing but giving an opportunity for students to integrate and demonstrate their learning? ... Consult your campus disability resource center to make sure you maintain accessibility and equity.'

Challenge yourself to think about assessment differently. But how do you do that? There are two important considerations.

  • Learning is more important than assessing in this context.
  • Students need support and feedback

Support Learning

Give students something meaningful to do, preferably supported by communication with their peers and yourself as educator. Primarily the challenge is to find ways of introducing activities into the design of your materials. Rather than just reading text books, lecture notes, and PowerPoint presentations, ask students to critically engage with a reading, analyse case studies, create diagrams, tables or summaries, or conduct observations and interviews.

Students can also support each other. Encourage them to set up their own study groups, if necessary via WhatsApp or email. Build some kind of collaboration into the activities you set, creating and sharing the products of their studies, reflecting together and giving each other feedback.

Be there for students. Write your voice into the materials and engage in a written conversation with them. Ask questions and challenge students to respond in a variety of ways. Try to set times when students can contact you to ask questions and feel your presence, and clarify how they should do so. If you ask them to send you WhatsApp messages, make sure the messages come through, if you give them the option to email make sure you respond to the emails within the agreed turnaround time. It is frustrating for students to send messages or emails to which they never get responses.

Understand the value of formative assessment

Usually the focus is on summative assessment. This often takes the form of an assignment or a written exam after students have completed a section of work. Traditional summative assignments may be more challenging for online students, particularly. Online learning and assessment require more self-direction and self-motivation. Many students are still developing skills like time management. Most institutions have a Learning Management System (LMS), but, if your students only have intermittent access to the internet, they will not necessarily be able to do assessments online on your institution’s LMS.

Formative assessment is an activity, or set of activities, designed to support and enhance learning. It requires ongoing feedback to allow students to see their mistakes and fix them with guidance. This supports cognitive development. Once you have integrated activities into students’ learning, you have already begun to shift the focus to more formative kinds of assessment. An activity such as a quiz can be designed in a way that students engage with a base reading, do the quiz alone, and then compare their thinking with the feedback you provide. Provide written commentary on the activities against which students can check their own understanding. This can be followed up with a conversation between students about their responses. In this way, there is individual study, self-assessment, peer collaboration and formative assessment all built into one activity. This is learning and assessment.

As an exercise for yourself, consider each of the following statements. Are they true or false, in your view?

Note: Scroll down within the block below to complete all eight questions



All these strategies encourage communication, negotiation, and collaboration. Students use feedback they receive on their formative assessments to understand how well they have learned and where they need to focus to prepare for summative assessments. They are also motivated to continue engaging with the course.

Consider integrated summative assessment

In a context where students are not face to face with you or each other, and do not have a reliable connection to the internet, traditional summative assessments can be more challenging.

Summative assessment does not have to be an exam. The formative assessment activities that you have built into your design can form an important part of an integrated summative assessment strategy. Rather than a single exam, consider an assessment strategy that consists of four tasks that build up to a final product, for example, each building on the previous one, improving each time based on the feedback you have provided in between.

This site offers some ideas for thinking about alternative assessment strategies that might suit your context.

Use feedback to build communication and collaboration into assessment

Feedback is probably the most important aspect of assessment in any teaching and learning situation. Feedback can help a student to feel more ‘present’ in a course, and to feel the presence of others more strongly.

Provide feedback that is useful, timely and helps a student to reflect and assess themselves, and is useful for improvement. Encourage students to reflect on each others’ work by inviting comment or asking a question in a chat forum or WhatsApp group, or by sharing their work and requesting an evaluation against agreed criteria. The University of British Columbia in Canada has developed a series of workshops for online teaching. They talk about what makes feedback effective and describe ideas for communicating feedback online. For a useful article  giving ideas about the nature and extent of constructive feedback, go to the OER Africa website.

Additional Resources

For alternative assessment ideas in higher education:

Access more of our recent content below:



UNESCO recently hosted a set of worldwide public consultations from 22-24 July 2020, the aim being to expand and consolidate commitments to actions and strategies as well as reinforce international cooperation among all stakeholders. As we noted in a recent blog post, OER Africa provided support to UNESCO Dynamic Coalition Working Group Consultation on the OER Recommendation.

Image courtesy of Markus Büsges Wikimedia Deutschland.


UNESCO recently hosted a set of worldwide public consultations from 22-24 July 2020, the aim being to expand and consolidate commitments to actions and strategies as well as reinforce international cooperation among all stakeholders. As we noted in a recent blog post, OER Africa provided support to UNESCO Dynamic Coalition Working Group Consultation on the OER Recommendation. We are pleased to report that the final report from those consultation sessions is now available for download here. That report also summarizes data collected through the online surveys that led up to the consultation sessions.

The purpose of the three-day consultation process was to:

  • Further clarify the priority areas of action per Working Group
  • Identify activities and issues related to the establishment of an electronic tool for information sharing and collaboration on the activities of participating organizations.

The consultations provided a platform for rich conversation between a diverse group of participants. Thanks to the efforts of the organizers, facilitators and participants, valuable insights were collected across all four thematic Working Groups, as well as for the themes of the transversal Working Groups, as illustrated below.

While highlighting pertinent challenges and lessons, the discussions also provided insight into the countless OER-related activities occurring around the world. This speaks to the multifaceted network of individuals, Member States, organizations, institutions, and other stakeholders who can draw from one another in advancing the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Notwithstanding challenges in connecting across time zones, the consultations illustrated that there is a strong network of people and organizations keen to support UNESCO in ensuring success in adoption of the OER Recommendation by Member States. Likewise, consultations yielded information on many resources and portals available online that can be harnessed by both Member States and institutions seeking to give practical expression to the OER Recommendation. It was heartening to see how much the OER Community has grown and how this has translated into growing access to openly accessibly resources. A major challenge here, though, remains a need to have materials available in a variety of languages other than English, although there are encouraging signs of diversification over time.

The highest priority moving forward will be to make strong connections with Member States to support their efforts to operationalize the OER Recommendation at national level. Across all Working Group areas and particularly in the Dynamic Coalition Communication Strategy, it will be important to focus on reaching out to and building working relationships with OER champions in government.

Linked to the above, effective communication will be critical to taking forward the OER Recommendation and the work of the Dynamic Coalition. Consequently, the Dynamic Coalition is considering how to develop an electronic tool which will be a means:

  1. For the community to communicate with one another within and across projects;
  2. To provide public information on the Coalition’s activities; and
  3. For stakeholders to collaborate on common projects and activities.


At OER Africa, we are proud to be supporting the work of UNESCO’s Dynamic Coalition and excited to see the process moving forward. We look forward to more widespread operationalization of the OER Recommendation at national and institutional levels over the coming years as these efforts start to bear fruit.

Access more of our recent content below:

The Open COVID Pledge was launched on 12 August 2020. Within the context of COVID-19, the Pledge encourages individuals and organizations to make their intellectual property available to support educators, students and decision-makers; assist educational organizations; and build a fairer and more resilient education system.


The Open COVID Pledge was launched on 12 August 2020. Within the context of COVID-19, the Pledge encourages individuals and organizations to make their intellectual property available to:

  • support educators, students and decision-makers;
  • assist educational organizations; and
  • build a fairer and more resilient education system.

Developed by the Open COVID Coalition with the support of the Association for Learning Technology, the Pledge has been signed by representatives of many global open education initiatives. OER Africa is proud to be a founding signatory of this Pledge.

Details about the Pledge can be found below.

As we begin to imagine - and to shape - the ‘new normal’ in education, we need every opportunity to learn from each other.

Today, with the support of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), we are proud to launch the Open COVID Pledge for Education, covering all forms of research, data and know-how that can support the COVID-19 response in education around the world.

Since the start of the pandemic, researchers in medicine and healthcare have openly released their findings to build a shared knowledge base and save lives. Thousands have signed up to the Open COVID Pledge, hosted by Creative Commons: millions of valuable patents and datasets have been put into the public domain. An equivalent pledge for research and know-how in education could have a similar impact - and researchers in digital, open and online education could lead the way.

During lockdown, Open Education Resources (OER) have been critical for keeping students in touch with their learning. There are already several global initiatives to boost OER access and development, like the Open Door initiative hosted by the Commonwealth of Learning, and the OER Dynamic Coalition, launched by UNESCO in March.

But we need more than shared content: we also need credible evidence on which to base day-to-day decisions in practice and policy. We need urgent research into the experiences of teachers and learners. We need shared know-how, especially from experienced online and distance educators and learning technology specialists. (This summer has seen a generous flowering of blog posts, webinars, infographics and how-to courses – but more will be needed as the ‘new normal’ takes root.)

Education globally faces many challenges, not only for the people who work and learn in the sector but for whole organisations and modes of learning. Societies depend on education to improve lives, widen economic participation, and support civic life. Education will be critical to the long-term response to the pandemic crisis.

A recent UNESCO report, Education in a post-COVID world, compared public education explicitly with public health in this respect: “the focus must be on cooperation not competition. We are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes”.

The Open COVID Pledge for Education commits people and organisations to sharing what they know, to support the world-wide educational response. Not all research will be shareable as open data. But whether fully open, redacted, anonymised, synthesised or combined with other datasets, data should be shared whenever possible. Not all evidence will look like formal research. But outcomes should be available to everyone who can use them – educators and students around the world, trade unions and stakeholder bodies, funders and policy makers. This is true of organisational research and evidence from practice as well as research that is funded and published more formally.

The Pledge has been signed by representatives of many global open education initiatives. Thanks to them, much of the hard work of building open principles and processes has been done. But the hard work of understanding education in a time of pandemic is still ahead. 

Right now, we have a chance to make ‘open’ the default for that work – to make this moment an ‘open’ pivot rather than just an ‘online’ one. Please sign the Pledge here, and persuade other people in your organisation to do the same. With a shared commitment to open knowledge, we can build back education to be more sustainable, more accessible, and fairer for all.

Helen Beetham and Maren Deepwell

Open Covid Coalition