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Open licensing is used for many different kinds of resources – open educational resources (OER), open access research publishing, open data, and more broadly open science. This post discusses developments in access to African research information through repositories that use open licensing. All of the resources are freely available and usually carry a Creative Commons or equivalent license.

OER Africa’s open knowledge primer provides a background on basic concepts and their pertinence to African researchers. OER Africa has also created a Learning Pathway on publishing using open access, which defines terms and will help you acquire the skills necessary to publish or advise on publishing research using Open Access (OA).

Like their global counterparts, many African research institutions and universities are increasingly using open licensing to make their research available and visible globally. The number of open access repositories is growing so quickly that it is difficult to keep track of them. The UK International African Institute (IAI) maintains a list that is frequently updated. IAI, in collaboration with AfricarXiv, has created an interactive map of African digital research literature repositories. You can also search on Google or the search engine of your choice by entering the name of an institution or country and repository (though this would require you to know better what you are looking for).

University open access repositories collect student theses and dissertations, case studies, conference papers, and sometimes journal articles. There are also continent-wide repositories. Three are discussed below. One focuses on university research output; one is a pre-print service; and one is discipline specific.

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Database of African Theses and Dissertations

The Association of African Universities maintains the Database of African Theses and Dissertations, including Research (DATAD-R). At this writing, universities in six countries contribute to DATAD-R. There are over 29,000 theses and dissertations and 4,700 research articles.

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AfricArXiv African Preprint Service

The AfricArXiv African Preprint Service is a part of the worldwide ArXiv movement in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics. ArXiv has become an important vehicle to speedily pre-publish scientific research and data on the coronavirus. The platform is maintained by Cornell University. Although contributions are not peer reviewed, ArXiv relies on a strong team of scientists as moderators and advisors.

Launched in 2018, AfricArXiv is an initiative of the Project for Open Science. This service allows African scientists to mount preprints of their research for review and discussion by peers in the international scholarly community before publication in a scholarly journal. AfricArXiv, which does not peer review submissions, sees itself as a way for African scientists to circulate their research quickly and freely in order to communicate with others in their field. It does not replace publication in a peer-reviewed journal. AfricArXiv is collaborating with Science Open to collect COVID-19 research in and about Africa.

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Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM)

RUFORUM, is a continent-wide consortium in 126 African universities and 38 countries. It operates an open access knowledge repository in the broad-based agricultural sciences, with copies of theses and dissertations, journal articles, case studies, briefing papers, policy briefs, posters, presentations, and conference papers from RUFORUM member universities and RUFORUM staff.

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Click on the links below to access other articles in this series.

What's New

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.