Yesterday UNESCO hosted a policy forum “Taking the Open Educational Resources beyond the OER Community”.  The attendees were mainly the permanent UNESCO delegates and observers, heads of UNESCO-supported projects and a sprinkling of odd bods like myself.  Speeches started “Exellencies, esteemed guests, …” which lent the occasion a slightly regal air but once the formalities were passed there was plenty of substance to the presentations and discussions.

The Programme for the day can be viewed at http://oerworkshop.weebly.com.  There were strongly upbeat presentations from Sir John Daniel (President, Commonwealth of Learning which co-sponsored the forum), Martin Bean (Open University VC) and Barbara Chow (Hewlett Foundation Education Programme Director). These and other speakers made great play of the large quantity of high quality OERs now available but Quality Assurance also kept cropping up during the day.  Emma Kruse-Vaai from the Virtual University of Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC)  gently observed that for most users of English language OERs worldwide English was a second language so quality, if viewed from the perspective of fitness for purpose, was not an absolute but depended on the context.

UNESCO asked delegates what they thought the organisation could and should do to support OER.  It’s not an outfit flush with cash – indeed their current OER Programme is primarily paid for from a tiny $50,000 grant from the US Government.  The main answer that emerged was to seek to influence national policies – in particular to encourage governments to:

  • create incentives
  • remove barriers
  • fund infrastructure (to allow the digital economy to take off)
  • integrate openness into public policy
  • require open publications of government-supported research (including data), software and funded projects

It wasn’t clear to me though if the channel back to national governments through the UNESCO “excellencies” would be sufficient to bring about any change.

UNESCO has a unique global reach and its interest in OERs goes back a long way – indeed the term Open Educational Resource was coined by UNESCO in 2002.  For some excellent case studies (from CoL) go to http://bit.ly/hdbnCf.  I would also commend the OER Dossier written for UNESCO by  Neil Butcher http://bit.ly/d2jYIj.

The main thoughts I took away from the forum were:

  • it’s really important that the flow of OERs is bi-directional and not just North -> South.
  • OERs written for second language speakers of English are likely to be of more value globally than those written for native speakers
  • the most impressive OER initiatives are in the developing world – eg VUSSC which exclusively develops course content as OER and TESSA (see case study at http://bit.ly/eytj5m) delivering teacher education through the medium of OER to 300,000 primary school teachers
  • governments (eg USA) are simultaneously increasing protection for rights holders by for example extending the duration of copyright and restricting fair use provision while promoting OER as a solution to educational needs.  The two “movements” need to be brought together to achieve an optimal balance.
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I have been interviewed about OER twice recently for TV programmes. The first time was in Madrid at a meeting of the OER- HE project (see Is OER at the heart of EuROpe?). The second time was in Hanoi at the OCW Consortium Global meeting. Both interviews were in English but I wonder whether they have ended up being sub titled or dubbed. Whatever, both instances indicate significant interest in OER by the media in those countries (well more significant than most new educational topics) and that the OU is acknowledged as a leader in the field.

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Apart from playing simple word games with my title there is definitely a number of European HEIs that are getting into the OER field. Interestingly most started out just doing their own thing but it was not long before they began to join together and share their efforts with others. A good example of this has been the pivotal work of the European association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) which I have been fortunate to be part of. Through 2 substantive grants they have first brought together its own members in the MORIL project. Through MORIL they also have shared their work with more traditional campus based universities such that their second project, OER-HE, formally includes a conventional university.

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The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) asked me to answer a few questions to feed into a short discussion paper for their upcoming OER workshops in Cape Town and Windhoek on 26 April and 3 May respectively (See http://www.col.org/progServ/programmes/livelihoods/Pages/eLearning.aspx#workshops ).

 They are particularly interested in two key issues related to OER in Higher Education, namely quality assurance and sustainability.

So here are the questions and the answers I gave them.

 

I have just been to OER10 and it was clear from most of the papers about how everyone is trying to think hard about how OER influence practices. I wrote about this for Terra Incognita two years ago but as that site is now seemingly in hibernation and just in case you missed it here I go again with an updated version.

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Just coming to the end of OER10 [www.ucel.ac.uk/oer10/] and so much coming out of the discussion there that confirms what I have been thinking, extends that thinking, and gives me things to take away and mull over. I am really heartened by the shifting of emphasis towards considering how we can engage users – students and also educators. Some really interesting conversations in the Tuesday lunch session led by Helen Beetham. These brought together experiences from Tom Browne (OpenExeter) on exposing new academic staff to OER. New staff have a need for resources and are developing their teaching practice. A great opportunity to influence and guide impressions of oER, and support staff in having a very positive starting out in using these in practice. Peter Hartley (Bradford), Paul Batholomew (BCU) and I worked on a proposal to reach this group and influence OER use in 2009. It wasn’t funded, but we’ve remained convinced that it was a good idea and Tom has now tested this approach and reinvigorated our interest. [More …]

It’s 15th March 2010 and the Higher Education Shared Solutions programme is about to launch. Those that can’t be there can see it all on Stadium (either as webcast or as replay). Shared Solutions is home to three projects – this is not only about SCORE, but about the OU working on a range of projects to benefit the sector. Working with these projects over the past three months, has brought home to me how OER can influence and be influenced by higher education in a broad sense. How intra-institutional and cross-functional conversations about OER in higher education can be really illuminating.  (Read full item …)

I have recently returned from a sojourn to South Africa. My main reason for going was to attend the latest Board meeting of the OpenCourseWare Consortium. However the Consortium also likes to promote local meetings alongside the Board meetings at which Board members can participate. Thus we had a half day workshop at the University of the Western Cape (a longstanding member) involving staff from other South African Universities followed by the official launch of the OER website for the University of Cape Town (and who had just joined the Consortium the previous week). I was a panel member answering questions at the former and collecting the obligatory T-shirt and mug at the latter after celebrating the cutting of the official ribbon (not everything should be done virtually).

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SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education) is a national HEFCE-funded project which is supporting change in policy and practice in Open Educational Resources across higher education institutions. The three year project, which is based at the OU, builds on the successful OpenLearn initiative and aims to support change at a time when OER activity is starting to take off.

This blog is linked with the main website for SCORE but definitely has a life of its own. Authored primarily by Chris Pegler (Chris’ View) and  Andy Lane ( who supplies the World View). The blog is also open to others who wish to share their views of OER and will increasingly feature contributions from SCORE fellows.

We would welcome conversations with Subject Centres and their communities on how SCORE can support existing OER work in higher education and also how it can help develop new OER initiatives at national, institutional, discipline and/or individual level. We are particularly keen on supporting dissemination of OER and having conversations around creation, reuse and adaptation of OER drawing on both practice and research examples.