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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.

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

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.