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OER Africa was very pleased to note that UNESCO OER Recommendation (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019. The formal Recommendation is yet to be posted online by UNESCO but the text can be found here. Approval of the Recommendation represents a significant recognition of the concept of open educational resources (OER) and its potential in education by governments around the world. While 34 Recommendations have been adopted since UNESCO’s inception in 1945, only seven of these pertain to education, so this represents a rare achievement for the OER movement.

OER Africa is proud to have been actively engaged in development of the OER Recommendation. Although the origins of the process may be said to date back to when the term was first coined was first coined in 2002 at UNESCO's Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries, the first meaningful effort to achieve consensus over global positions on OER took place at the first World OER Congress in Paris in 2012, which led to adoption at the Congress of the Paris OER Declaration 2012. OER Africa participated actively in the work leading up to this Declaration, conducting research on the status of government OER policies, participating in regional workshops leading up to the Congress, and helping with drafting of the Declaration. As the UNESCO website notes, ‘the Declaration marks a historic moment in the growing movement for Open Educational Resources and calls on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use’. However, as a Congress Declaration, it has no official status as a UNESCO document.
 
Following from this, a Second World OER Congress was organized in Llubljana, Slovenia in 2017, an event in which OER Africa was again actively involved (conducting further research on the status of OER globally, participating in regional consultation workshops, and playing an active role in the Congress programme and drafting of the Second World OER Congress Ljubljana OER Action Plan 2017
 
This Congress initiated development of a first draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation for public consultation, with OER Africa having participated in the drafting of this document at a special meeting of experts that took place alongside the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week in 2018. Following receipt of public comments, a second expert meeting took place alongside Mobile Learning Week in 2019, in which OER Africa again participated actively, which culminated in publication of the first official draft of the UNESCO OER Recommendation in April, 2019. As UNESCO Recommendations are ultimately inter-governmental agreements, this version was circulated to governments for their comments and discussed at an Intergovernmental Meeting for the Draft Recommendation in Paris in May 2019, to which all member states of UNESCO were invited and 150 delegates from 100 countries participated. OER Africa was able to attend and contribute to the meeting as an invited expert observer, though UNESCO procedures require that changes to a draft Recommendation can only be made with agreement by all member state representatives.
 
At the May 2019 meeting, the final text of the OER Recommendation was approved by consensus by all Member States and thereafter prepared for formal submission to the 4th UNESCO General Conference in November, 2019, where it was adopted. As the UNESCO website notes, 
'Recommendations are instruments in which ‘the General Conference formulates principles and norms for the international regulation of any particular question and invites Member States to take whatever legislative or other steps may be required in conformity with the constitutional practice of each State and the nature of the question under consideration to apply the principles and norms aforesaid within their respective territories’ (Article 1 (b)). These are therefore norms which are not subject to ratification but which Member States are invited to apply. Emanating from the Organization's supreme governing body and hence possessing great authority, recommendations are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices.'
 
Thus, while not legally binding, Recommendations are important documents within UNESCO and member states are obliged to report to the General Conference on their progress in implementing them. Given this, adoption of the OER Recommendation is a major achievement and one which OER Africa is proud to have contributed.
 
Since the Recommendation was approved, there have inevitably been some criticisms of the final text that was adopted (see, for example, critiques by David Wiley and Stephen Downes). These critiques tend to focus on compromises that were made during the drafting process of the Recommendation that may have the consequence of allowing some ‘closed’ practices to creep into implementation of the Recommendation by governments. While there is technical validity to these critiques, our view at OER Africa is that the OER Recommendation is important for the spirit of what it encourages governments to do, rather than in its specific technical details. As Recommendations are not legally binding on states, those governments that wish to undermine that spirit are more likely to do so by ignoring the OER Recommendation than by seeking to subvert its intent. And the compromises made were an essential part of the process of securing the necessary consensus to adoption of the final OER Recommendation (as we saw clearly during the Intergovernmental Meeting in May, 2019 where the final text was agreed). Consequently, as OER Africa, we believe that these technical limitations are relatively minor in the overall movement towards openness that adoption of the UNESCO OER Recommendation represents. Thus, we are excited to continue our work, and to continue supporting UNESCO and its government in implementing their work, in our joint efforts to harness open licensing to improve access to high quality education for all Africans.

What's New

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.

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.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues around the world, face-to-face lectures have ceased in many countries and academics are trying to find practical ways of delivering curricula remotely. In response to this, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and OER Africa presented a series of four webinars on Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) strategies.

As the spread of COVID-19 continues around the world, face-to-face lectures have ceased in many countries and academics are trying to find practical ways of delivering curricula remotely. In response to this, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and OER Africa presented a series of four webinars on Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) strategies. In contrast to online learning, which is an experience that is planned from the beginning to be delivered online, ERT refers to ‘a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances.’[1]

The webinars were intended to assist academics to implement ERT effectively. They covered a broad range of topics, including how to teach remotely; what content to cover; how to ensure that students are learning effectively; and how to communicate with students. We targeted academics with limited knowledge of online learning, aiming to provide a simple and practical guide to help them implement effective ERT for their students.

Recordings of all four webinars, along with their downloadable resources, are accessible here. To access information for individual webinars, click on the links below.

Webinar 1: Teaching effectively during the campus closure – Tips and tricks
Webinar 2: What to teach during campus closure
Webinar 3: How to know if learning is happening during campus closure
Webinar 4: Communicate effectively during campus closure

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To further support educators and students, OER Africa is also publishing regular communications on Open Educational Resources (OER) and their relevance within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Click on the links below to access articles in this series.
OER Africa COVID-19 Statement (3 April, 2020)
Understanding OER in a Context that Necessitates Remote Learning (9 April 2020)
Showcasing OER Platforms: OER Africa (15 April, 2020)
Online (and offline) reading resources for children (23 April, 2020)
How to Find Open Content (30 April, 2020)
OER Repositories in Africa (8 May, 2020)

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[1] Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T. and Bond, A. (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Educause Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning