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).

What struck me in South Africa is that many Universities see OER as an integral part of their futures. They have concerns and are not always sure what best to do but they see the value of cooperation and collaboration both within South Africa and with other countries as critical and that they have to rethink and review their institutional priorities. In fact they see all types of openness as being important as ways of building and developing a better and more substantive Higher Education sector. And while they want to do much of that themselves they are willing to join with others abroad in mutually supportive activities.

So the Open Courseware Consortium seemingly offers one way to bring like-minded institutions together even now they have to pay (very reasonable) membership fees. And they do not even have to join as an institutional member but can join through an affiliate member such as the country based Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium. So now we have emerging regional consortia to sit alongside the global one. But we also have other global consortia emerging.

It was the 2001 MIT decision to release materials used in their undergraduate courses openly that really started a global interest around OER and in 2005 MIT helped found the OpenCoursWare Consortium which has now moved out from under the incubator role that MIT provided. The OCW Consortium now involves more than 200 institutions in over 40 countries.

In a similar way another global consortium is being developed that derives from the Connexions website. The Connexions Consortium is interested in doing many of the same things as the OCW Consortium but of course it is their platform and repository that provides a particular attraction to members. Just as recent is the OER Foundation which has equally similar aims and is equally but not solely linked with a platform, WikiEducator, and a set of core principles.

So is it a good or bad thing that there appear to be competing organisations and a proliferation of movements? I don’t think so. I like to take the old eco mantra of ‘think global and act local’. Global consortia and movements help set a distinct discourse and forum for the sharing of ideas and beliefs but real action is more local to your department, your subject, your organisation, your country. Real sharing occurs when the relationship is reciprocal and mutually beneficial. You publish something. Someone else uses it. And you think ‘wow, why did I not think to do it that way’. The difference OER make is that you can do that independently if you want to or collaboratively if you want to. And because it is open you can collaborate in ways that you would never have imagined possible.

PS While much of what has happened globally could be said to indicate that institutions were huddling together for warmth in a hostile climate the ever-growing recognition and financial support given by regional and national governments means that this movement or collection of movements will certainly grow as did open source software before it, although it is difficult to guess how life changing it may be and how long it will take to happen. Open and distance learning has been around decades but is still a minority activity although now many Universities embrace it in some way it too is growing fast.