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Launching OER Degree Pathways: An Early Snapshot of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative and Emerging Lessons is a formative evaluation report prepared by SRI International that was released in June, 2017. It is a preliminary report that shares findings from initial surveys and interviews of an initiative to launch ‘OER degrees’ in 38 community colleges across the United States of America, which is being led by Achieving the Dream.

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How can we be sure that OERs – open education resources – are of high quality? Many educators are concerned when it comes to open content as there appears to be no quality control. It also seems counter-intuitive that resources that are free can also be good.

Photo courtesy of Agence Olloweb, Unsplash

How can we be sure that open education resources (OERs) are of high quality? Many educators are concerned when it comes to open content as there appears to be no quality control. It also seems counter-intuitive that resources that are free can also be good. Many educators prefer the ‘safety net’ that commercially published textbooks offer, even though there is obviously no guarantee that, just because a book costs money, it will definitely be good. The logic is that textbooks have been through a rigorous review process. So why bother with OERs?

Of course, there is no international ‘review board’ vetting everything that is released with a Creative Commons licence (but nor is there any such mechanism for all-rights-reserved copyrighted materials). Regardless of licensing conditions, the onus is always ultimately on the planning to use the resource  to assess its value; of course, experience helps to determine what that value might be. However, even for those relatively new to the process, quality assuring an OER is not difficult if guided by a suitable set of criteria.

OER Africa has recently released a learning pathway, or online tutorial, that includes a section on evaluating OER. You can access all of OER Africa’s learning pathways here. Our favourite set of OER quality criteria (see below) was created by British Columbia OER Librarians. The list has been released with an open (CC BY) licence and the six criteria are easy to apply. When you have sourced an OER and are wondering if it is good quality, use the checklist below to do a quick review.

Other resources about developing and using OER are available here, while you can find resources focusing on OER research in Africa here.

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

What exactly can you do with OER? In what ways are they different from other resources? The beauty of OER is that most of them can be adapted to better suit your teaching and learning environment. They can be revised. It is also possible to ‘stitch’ multiple OER into a new resource, like a patchwork quilt. We call this ‘remixing’ resources.

What exactly can you do with OER? In what ways are they different from other resources? The beauty of OER is that most of them can be adapted to better suit your teaching and learning environment. They can be revised: you can re-work the language to make them more accessible to students; cut out and replace images with your own; translate into different languages; and add additional content, questions and exercises.

It is also possible to ‘stitch’ multiple OER into a new resource, like a patchwork quilt. We call this ‘remixing’ resources.

However, there is some skill and know-how required to revise and re-mix well. OER Africa has prepared a concise learning pathway (LP) to help you acquire these practical skills quickly.

The Adapt Open Content learning pathway covers the following themes:

Access the learning pathway on the OER Africa website here.

This LP on Adapting Open Content follows a previous LP that focused on Finding Open Content so if you are not clear how to find a good open resource, make sure you look at that LP too. All the LPs can be accessed here.

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

This post is the third in a series on sharing African research outputs, using open licensing. This post concentrates on open data. Open data means that users can make free use of research data without requesting written permission and without copyright or patent violations.

 

Photo courtesy of Lukas Blazek, Unsplash

This post is the third in a series on sharing African research outputs, using open licensing. This post concentrates on open data.

Open data means that users can make free use of research data without requesting written permission and without copyright or patent violations. The data are typically stored in a non-proprietary format, which allows editing and analysis. Open data are usually given an ‘Attribution and Share-Alike for Data/Databases’ licence. Just as Creative Commons provides licences for educational and research resources, the Open Data Commons provides a set of legal tools for researchers to use when they make their data open to the public.

OER Africa’s open knowledge primer provides background on basic concepts and their pertinence to African researchers. OER Africa has also created a Learning Pathway – an online tutorial – on publishing using open access. Both resources describe the role of open data.

Why is open data assuming such significance today? Quick release of current and verifiable information on COVID-19 is one reason, of course. More generally, many open access journals, research organizations, and donors now require authors to make their data publicly available, usually by depositing them in an appropriate and approved data repository. The journal, Nature, maintains a list of data repositories that it has evaluated and approved.

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) Open Data Guidelines also lists reputable repositories.  The Open Knowledge Foundation gives three reasons why open government data is important: it promotes transparency; it can help create innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value; and it can lead to participation and engagement on the part of the business sector and civil society.

The Open Data for Africa Portal was developed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in response to the increasing demand for statistical data and indicators relating to Africa. The Portal provides multiple customized tools to gather indicators, analyze them, and export them into multiple formats. Users can search by region or country and by topic. There is also a COVID-19 Situation Room, with data collected by the World Health Organization.

The Open Data for Africa Portal relies on official statistics from governments and international agencies. Open Africa, on the other hand, is driven by volunteers and aims to be the largest independent repository of open data on the African continent. Although a civil society initiative, some government agencies contribute data, such as the South African National Department of Health. Data are available in PDF, CSV, and XLSX. Note that the dataset in the figure below was updated after its release.

 

Figure 1: South African health care system’s readiness for COVID-19

Open data does not mean sharing confidential information without protecting privacy. Some data qualify for release without any alterations; others must be altered to protect privacy before release. Still other data should not be released at all. The African Academy of Sciences, for example, gives detailed data guidelines for authors to follow, including a section on instances for which data deposit is not required.

 

Figure 2: When data deposit is not required for AAS Open Research

Making research and related data openly and widely accessible is an essential component of the Open Science movement, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Open science can also promote scientific collaboration between individuals and research centres.

Africa is becoming an integral part of Open Science.  Following a three-year landscape study carried out by the South African Academy of Sciences and the Association of African Universities, the South African Research Foundation has been selected to host the African Open Science Platform (AOSP). The AOSP Strategic Plan delineates the challenges facing African science as research and communications methods worldwide undergo transformation.  AOSP believes that the Platform can meet these challenges:

'The Platform’s mission is to put African scientists at the cutting edge of contemporary, data-intensive science as a fundamental resource for a modern society.'

 

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