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Image courtesy of Kiran Kumar, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The open knowledge ecosystem has seen significant growth in the last few years. UNESCO’s November 2019 Open Educational Resource (OER) Recommendation is rightly considered a groundbreaking development in support of open education practices; OER Africa has already explored the significance of the Recommendation in July 2020August 2020, and November 2020

What may be less widely known is UNESCO’s role in open knowledge more broadly – Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science. UNESCO also works to link these three ‘opens’ with OER. In UNESCO’s post on its work in support of an Open Science Recommendation, UNESCO writes about these linkages:

[The] UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science will complement the 2017 Recommendation on Science and Scientific Research. It will also build upon the UNESCO Strategy on Open Access to Scientific Information and Research and the new UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

OER Africa discussed Open Access publishing and Open Data in previous posts. This communication is about Open Science from an African perspective. Below you will find examples showing how Open Science platforms are being constructed, together with linkages among the different forms of openness.

Member states tasked UNESCO to develop an Open Science Recommendation at its 40th General Conference, the same one in which the OER Recommendation was approved. UNESCO began multi stakeholder consultations shortly thereafter, which will continue until September 2021.

This is UNESCO’s cogent explanation of Open Science:

The idea behind Open Science is to allow scientific information, data and outputs to be more widely accessible (Open Access) and more reliably harnessed (Open Data) with the active engagement of all the stakeholders (Open to Society).

Figure 1: Concepts linked to Open Science, UNESCO

Image adapted from Robbie Ian Morrisson, Wikimedia (CC BY)

The concept of open or openness ties together all these elements. Open Access, Open Data, OER, and open-source hardware all carry licences that permit sharing and reproduction. Open Access and OER content typically use Creative Commons licences, while Open Data licences are largely based on those written by Creative Commons. 

Indigenous Knowledge Systems are a part of the Open Science concept, but they are not always easily available to researchers, development experts, or policy makers because they have not been considered part of the development of Western empirical science. In its article on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, SciDevNet explains why Indigenous knowledge is a form of scienceand should not be ignored. UNESCO’s programme on Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems is trying to bring indigenous knowledge into the open. It is important to bear in mind, however, that some communities are wary of theft of intellectual property by for-profit companies, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is taking a leading role in helping them articulate these fears.[1]

In 2016, a preparatory pilot for the African Open Science Platform (AOSP) began. Its priorities were to:

  1. Map the current landscape of data/science initiatives in Africa. 
  2. Build a Pan-African open science community and encourage the formation of national open science fora. A notable and crucial success of the pilot in this regard was development of an African community of practice and support, which included relevant government ministries, universities, and pan-African and regional organizations. African networks, such as the African Academy of Sciences, the Network of African Science Academies, the Association of African Universities, the West and Central African Research Network (WACREN), and the UbuntuNet Alliance (the research and education network for Eastern and Southern Africa).
  3. Develop frameworks for policy, incentives, training, and technical requirements that would inform the operational platform.[2]

 

The final report was published in 2018. On 29 April 2020, the NRF announced that it would be responsible for hosting the African Open Science Platform project for the next three to five years.

The WACREN is responsible for coordinating African national and regional efforts to build the technical components of the Platform through its LIBSENSE initiative. LIBSENSE was established in 2016 to bring together African research and education networks and academic library communities to advance Open Science in Africa and foster the continent’s participation in Open Access globally.

WACREN and others draw a clear link between Open Science and Open Access, for instance using a national Open Science platform to host Open Access repositories. In a panel session at the 2021 WACREN annual conference, held virtually this year, Owen Iyoha, Managing Director of Nigeria’s Eko-Konnect made the following points about Open Science and infrastructure considerations in the figure below:

Figure 2: Open Science infrastructure for Nigeria

Eko-Konnect plans to include Moodle, the open-source learning platform on its Open Science cloud, which will allow the seamless integration of OERs created at multiple institutions.

OER and Open Science are based on a shared belief that access to knowledge should be freely, openly, and publicly available. In its draft Institutional Open Access Policy Template, LIBSENSE ties together open principles in its section on reward mechanisms by:

Setting up reward mechanisms for researchers using open science practices (e.g. sharing provisional results through open platforms, using open source software and other tools, participation in open collaborative projects, open access to publications and data, using open educational resources etc.).

However, specificity about where OER fits into Open Science is lacking. Where exactly might Open Science take advantage of OER principles and vice-versa? As a start, capacity building and training are integral to efforts to drive Open Science planning and implementation in Africa. If all training materials were openly licensed and made widely available, they would be relevant to a much broader audience and might be adapted to fit different needs. In addition, many African countries and institutions are planning Open Science clouds, including Eko-Konnect in Nigeria. All content related to platform-building could also be openly licensed. Finally, should Open Science clouds host or link to OER, at the very least the OER created for Open Science cloud training and capacity building? The bottom line is for WACREN and others working on Open Science to ensure that OER play an integral role in building OS communities and platforms.

Policy is another issue that would benefit from more sustained attention. There are proposed or actualized polices for Open Access, OER, Open Data, and now Open Science. Some African universities, particularly those in South Africa and East Africa, have their own Open Access policies. A few of these include the University of Cape Town in South Africa; Kenyatta University in Kenya; and Ethiopia, which has a national Open Access policy. LIBSENSE is also working on an Open Access template. Somewhat fewer African universities have distinct OER policies or broader policies that support OER; OER Africa tracks these examples. In addition, research networks such as the African Academy of Sciences have both Open Access and Open Data guidelines. Until now, however, most policy setting has been tackled in silos, with little sustained effort to build knowledge on what options work best. Are individual standalone policies desirable? Should they be integrated into other, existing tools rather than being developed independently? In addition, do university intellectual property policies require revision (where they exist)? 

Open Knowledge (OER, Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science) can greatly benefit African knowledge production, access, and utilisation by improving its discoverability and visibility. Open UCT at the University of Cape Town, for example, has usage statistics for each of the resources included in its repository. The National Academic Digital Repository of Ethiopia does the same.

OER Africa will continue to monitor developments, such as the ones we write about above, which impact on higher education on the continent. Please contact us here if there are additional issues you would like us to discuss.

 

 


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.