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As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, millions of learners and educational institutions globally have had to make rapid, unforeseen changes to how they run their learning programmes. Face-to-face teaching and learning have become impossible in many countries and there is uncertainty over when educational institutions will reopen their doors. This may have long-term effects on school programmes, examinations, and most importantly, learning. 

The pandemic has forced many educators and learners to explore new modes of learning provision such as online learning. It also places much greater emphasis on students being able to engage with educational resources as a primary mode of learning. Fortunately, over the last decade, a growing number of open educational resources (OER) have been made available by people in the education space for others to use. These OER offer great promise in ensuring that a range of educational materials are accessible to learners and educators.

What are OER?

There are many definitions of OER, one of the most comprehensive being:

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (Hewlett Foundation, OER Defined)

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration states that OER should be freely shared through open licences that facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement, and sharing by anyone. The materials need to be published in formats that allow for both use and editing, while accommodating manipulation and adoption on various technical platforms. It also requires that materials be made available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet, where possible.

Creative Commons Licences 

The most common mechanism to share educational resources openly and legally is by using Creative Commons (CC) licences. Creative Commons ‘provides free, easy‐to use copyright licences to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work – on conditions of your choice’ (Creative Commons, nd). 

CC licences provide a wonderful opportunity to translate materials into other languages and use them for varying purposes. This is illustrated in the World Bank’s recent rapid response note, Remote Learning and COVID-19

A quick inventory of content that can be easily made available via remote learning is a first order of business. Freely available, ‘open education resources’ are plentiful in some languages; in languages where digital learning content is limited, translating existing open education resources from other languages may be worth considering, together with partners. (World Bank, 2020).

Over the years, countless educational materials have been available as OERs and released online. Because they are openly licensed, OERs can be rapidly aggregated and deployed in remote learning contexts to substitute for the loss of face-to-face teaching time caused by institutional shutdowns. With most proprietary educational materials locked behind paywalls and not free to copy or use, OERs can provide educators and students access to free, high quality resources, offered with no threat of litigation from overzealous copyright lawyers. 

In our upcoming series of communiques, we will share tutorials designed to provide users the skills to find and adapt OER. We will identify excellent open reading resources for your children while at home, and even how to start to assemble OER into a learning design. 

Our next installation will be on showcasing OER platforms. We will look at OER Africa’s activities and highlight some of the useful resources and sections on the website.

Image Credit: Bandita, CC-BY-SA 2.0

What's New

During the week of 20th July, 2020, OER Africa was privileged to be able to participate in, and provide administrative support to, the work of UNESCO’s Dynamic Coalition as its Working Groups convened in virtual consultations to begin preparing plans to support governments around the world in operationalizing the OER Recommendation.

During the week of 20th July, 2020, OER Africa was privileged to be able to participate in, and provide administrative support to, the work of UNESCO’s Dynamic Coalition as its Working Groups convened in virtual consultations to begin preparing plans to support governments around the world in operationalizing the OER Recommendation. This article provides an update on the latest activities of the Dynamic Coalition and offers links to the various resources that are being shared.

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Following adoption of the OER Recommendation, UNESCO launched the OER Dynamic Coalition on 2 March 2020 to support its widespread adoption. OER Africa has been actively involved in all the processes that led to adoption of the OER Recommendation and continues to support UNESCO in this important work through its engagement in the activities of the Dynamic Coalition. This includes, amongst other activities, chairing the Working Group on Communications as the Dynamic Coalition consults stakeholders to prepare implementation plans.

The multi-stakeholder Coalition aims to expand and consolidate commitments to actions and strategies, as well as reinforce international cooperation among all stakeholders in the four areas of the Recommendation:

  • Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER;

  • Developing supportive policy;

  • Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; and

  • Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER.

The Coalition’s webpage is accessible here and the final report is available here.

UNESCO 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 in these four areas. Stakeholders come from all regions of the world and include representatives from government, inter-governmental organizations, NGOs, educational institutions, associations and networks, and research agencies, amongst others. Central to the organization of the event were efforts for geographic balance, gender balance and a multisectoral approach, contributing to a diverse set of inputs and conversations. The consultations aimed to follow-up on an online survey (distributed by UNESCO to participants in the OER Recommendation activities and administered from 10 to 20 July) that collected information on priority areas of action. As such, the objectives were to:

  • Further clarify the priority areas of action per Working Group; and

  • Identify activities and issues related to the establishment of an electronic tool for information sharing and collaboration on the activities of participating organizations.

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, all consultations took place online. While this introduced certain challenges, it also allowed more widespread participation from a very diverse group of stakeholders, including many people who likely would not have been able to engage had the sessions been face to face at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The online meeting formats, allowing simultaneous audio and text-based contributions generated very rich feedback. OER Africa, which is leading the Working Group on Communications for the OER Dynamic Coalition and part of the Advisory Group for the OER Coalition, served as the Rapporteur for Online Consultation.  Furthermore, OER Africa has made recordings of all the consultative sessions, as well as the presentations made throughout, accessible on our website here.

The report from these consultations is expected to be completed during August as part of the following programme of activities:

In follow-up articles, we will present the final report when it becomes publicly available and provide further updates on the work of the Dynamic Coalition. We will also explore in more detail some of the suggested actions and associated challenges that may be experienced as UNESCO and its partners (including OER Africa) seek to give practical expression to the goals of the OER Recommendation and thereby ensure that OER practices are adopted on scale in ways that truly help to improving the educational experience for students at all levels around the world.

 

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

Saide and OER Africa would like to extend their deepest condolences to Professor Tolly Mbwette’s family and friends. Professor Mbwette was the former Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Tanzania.

Saide and OER Africa would like to extend their deepest condolences to Professor Tolly Mbwette’s family and friends.

Professor Mbwette was the former Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Tanzania.

We are particularly grateful for Prof Mbwette’s contribution to Saide’s OER Africa initiative to promote use of OER in African universities. He participated actively in the inception gathering for OER Africa in 2008 and in subsequent reviews and strategic planning meetings. He was always available to provide support and advice to the initiative, as well as being a generous and convivial dinner companion. 

In one phase of the initiative, he facilitated the commitment of the Open University of Tanzania’s to developing “Academic Digital Fluency” courses as open educational resources. These are available here.

Prof Mbwete was passionate and a great proponent for open learning and distance education in Africa. He firmly believed that distance universities have to play a very active role in expanding access to higher education in Africa. He served in a number of institutions and capacities at continental level to advance his belief and conviction on distance education.

He served as Vice Chairperson of the Executive Board of the African Council for Distance Education (ACDE) between July 2008 and July 2011 as well as one of the two Vice Chairpersons of the IUCEA Governing Board from July 2008 to June 2010. 

From September 2009, Prof Mbwette was an Honorary Advisor to the Commonwealth of Learning (COL).  In July 2011, he was elected as the President of ACDE for a period of three (3) years

The late Prof Mbwette will be sorely missed by the open and distance education community in African for his passion and commitment. His brilliance, humility and quest to achieve universal education transformed distance and open education. He left a legacy of achieving universal access to high quality higher education in Africa.

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.

Image source: Nick Morrison, Unsplash

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.