- 1 Who could benefit from OER?
- 1.1 Learners
- 1.2 Information Specialists
- 1.3 Educators
- 1.4 Institutions
- 1.5 Publishers
- 1.6 Ministries of education
- 1.7 Inter-governmental, international agencies and funding agencies (multilateral agencies)
- 1.8 Development Agencies and project management companies (‘technical agencies’)
Who could benefit from OER?
Learners who want to participate in lifelong learning may benefit from increasing their awareness of the potential of OER both for accessing lifelong learning resources free of charge and for supplementing formal education programs. Learners who benefit from OER and are interested in its proliferation may consider becoming advocates for OER at community and institutional level.
The Internet provides a wealth of community resources to support learners who want to learn. Learners would benefit if they seek out, join and participate in the communities appropriate to their field of study and interest.
Information specialists, including librarians and knowledge workers, need to provide support for OER in a similar way in which they do so for journals, textbooks and online information, both for learners and educators.
Educators who are keen to explore ways to improve teaching and learning may benefit from considering the use of OER and its potential savings in effort, time and money. The optimal use of OER by educators depends on the ability of educators to quickly find quality OER that are relevant to the programs they facilitate, which they can then adapt and present to learners.
The use and adaptation of OER brings with it its own array of copyright implications. It is therefore advisable for educators to be familiar with the Creative Commons licenses and its legal implications.
Educators who are unable to interact with OER due to their own need for capacity building in Internet search, word processing or other skills, could consider addressing these through professional development and lifelong learning. Many free courses are available online for educators who have access to computers and bandwidth.
Educators are cautioned to be familiar with the terms of contracts they sign in relation to the use and creation of OER. A contract may be signed by the simple click of a checkbox or a mouse click and the terms are irrevocable.
The more learning content educators share with the world that helps to cover all curriculum at all levels, the better the chance of all teachers being able to offer better education (if they have the necessary minimum equipment and bandwidth). In the same vein that learners are encouraged to actively participate and share in the learning process, educators are also encouraged to actively participate and share in the creation of learning resources and especially OER.
The successes of the Education for All campaign at the primary level is helping large numbers of learners to complete primary school and look for places in secondary schools (Daniel, 2010). As previously mentioned, hundreds of millions of young people have found there are no places available to them in schools. Many learners who complete secondary schooling cannot find places within the national or private sector systems of higher education. Institutions that have an interest in resolving the need for additional places for learners in secondary and higher education could increase their impact by finding productive ways to ensure that learners and educators have the access to equipment and bandwidth needed to learn.
If institutions were to install the necessary information technology equipment, it will enable learners, educators and administrators to have easy and affordable access to computer equipment and the Internet. Initial installation costs may be offset in some cases through grants or sponsorships, but institutions need to build in financial models of sustainability to support ongoing training of technical staff, educators, learners, administrators and the community. The replacement and maintenance of equipment and payment of bandwidth are crucial to the provision of education.
Access to schooling, quality education and increasing literacy rates all have a positive impact on economic and social development. This includes increased individual earnings, increased economic growth and a reduction in poverty, crime and conflict. These outcomes could serve as incentives for institutions to be involved in community outreach projects aimed at uplifting community members who have benefitted from fewer opportunities in life. Community outreach projects in areas that do not have Internet access and also have a lack of teachers, can be implemented by combining OER with technologies such as the Digital Doorway94 and eGranary95, to deliver large quantities of learning content.
Institutional management should guard against treating OER projects as a way to ‘tap into’ funds that grant agencies make available, only to cancel the project once the external funding runs out.
The movement toward free textbooks may have been slowed by arguments of quality control, but the success of Wikipedia already shows that community-based models can have peer quality review processes built in.
Publishers should consider ways that they could benefit from free textbook business models as shown by Flatworld knowledge and other publishers, where the digitized text is available for free download, but the printed book is available in the conventional manner at a cost.
Ministries of education
If Governments take global leadership by investing taxpayers’ funds in free textbook projects, rather than supporting for-profit projects, a wealth of learning materials from around the world could be accumulated very quickly.
If ministries of education were to agree to follow internationally recognized curriculum guidelines as far as practically possible, it will make OER more transferable, leaving only localization to be performed by educators. Where localized versions of OER are shared via the Internet, it should preferably be via the same repository from which the original was received, enabling other countries to benefit from the enriched resources.
According to Barbara Chow, Director, Education Program of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, there are several ways governments could use OER to help achieve their education goals:
‘Government Support Strategy 1: Facilitate sustainable implementation
Governments can facilitate sustainable implementation of OER by creating incentives for development and re-use, removing barriers to OER adoption, and funding infrastructure to increase access to OER.
One way to create incentives for OER development and re-use is to embed openness as an expectation within funding programs. There are several examples around the world where governments have done so. The United States Department of Education now includes OER as a specific “invitational grant priority” under its competitive grant programs in its 2010 Notice of Proposed Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs. The Netherlands’ Wikiwise and New Zealand’s national OER initiative are both publicly funded, as are several Joint Information Systems Committee OER-related programs in the United Kingdom.
Other incentives can help encourage the development and use of OER as well. The BC Campus program in British Columbia, for example, gives funding preference to OERs developed through multi-institutional partnerships, for credentials and credit-based courses, and to projects that incorporate existing OER, incentivizing re-use.
Sustainable implementation also requires the removal of barriers to OER, such as legislation that restrict purchase and use of OER within school systems. In the United States, the state of Georgia required that the state restrict instructional materials purchases to textbooks on a several year cycle (e.g., every 6 years). By locking the content approved for use over that time period and requiring that content to be captured in a physical, proprietary book, OERs have been obstructed from any but the most modest role. Recently, however, Georgia changed its law to allow for the investment in digital and open content in addition to textbooks. By explicitly allowing the use of digital content, the state is now in a position to make direct investments in OER and ensure that students and teachers have the technology to access it...
Finally, a framework for sustainable implementation requires a good information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. Unfortunately, to increase access it is not enough to create a vast supply of OER, make it available online, and expect it to reach the thousands of people who could use it on its own – government support is necessary for OER to get to scale. In order to access OER, there must be sufficient infrastructure such as power, Internet access, and computer centers. While foundations and private sector donors can fund OER development projects, very few can fund infrastructure projects, which are necessary to fully take advantage of OER.
Government Support Strategy 2: Encourage openness as a component of public policy
Policymakers can also integrate openness as a component of public policy by requiring all publicly funded materials to carry a public license, publishing educational research through open access journals, making more data publicly available and supporting and using open source software.
Open Educational Resources as a concept fits within larger context of openness, which public funders can embrace as a higher overarching policy framework. As noted previously, policymakers can take a major step toward openness by requiring all publicly funded materials to carry a public license. For example, all grantees of British Columbia’s Online Program Development Fund must choose a shareable open license, either Creative Commons or one that allows sharing within the province. Another step toward openness includes publishing of educational research through open access journals, thereby increasing access to important research data. Furthermore, policymakers can also encourage openness by making more data public. By releasing government resources and other resources created under government contract, other resources that benefit the public can be developed. There are several countries joining this particular effort around the world. Open data encourages greater transparency, sharing of data that have social and commercial value, and supports more active citizen participation. Finally, support of open source software enables greater innovation and integration of projects.’ (Chow, 2010).
Governments wishing to overcome the remaining backlog in Education For All at all levels, may consider open and unconventional forms of education. This includes the registration of open schools, open universities and ‘institutions without walls’.
Inter-governmental, international agencies and funding agencies (multilateral agencies)
Multilateral agencies hold influential positions, which make them suited to taking the lead in obtaining consensus on and establishment of broad global curriculum outlines for all subjects at all levels. If these are published with open licenses, it will make it accessible for all countries and enable countries to voluntarily follow it.
OER concepts will only be widely used in education systems’ plans and proposals, if specialist staff of multilateral agencies in all fields are familiar with the concept and availability of OER. Regional training workshops will ensure that a thorough understanding of the OER concept is imbedded in the organization and that the important details and issues surrounding OER are known.
In every activity entailing the creation of resources, it would be prudent if a scan for existing OER is conducted prior to starting development of content from scratch. Only where existing appropriate OER cannot be found, should new resources be created; alternatively, the best available OER should be used as a starting point to reduce development time and cost.
Where the creation or customization of educational resources are undertaken, an open copyright license should be insisted upon and only in particular exceptions, alternatives to this be accepted. A policy decision needs to be taken by each multilateral agency on which licenses will be used and why different licenses may be applied under specific circumstances. The ‘most free’ license should always be adopted depending on circumstances.
When funded projects are conceptualized to create, translate or adapt OER, efforts should be made to include multiple institutions from industrialized and developing countries. Careful note should be taken to ensure the creation of equal partnerships and to counter the possibility of unequal or ‘paternalistic relationships’ between countries, institutions or educators.
International and donor agencies should put extra effort toward the support of global platforms that enable the creation, translation, adaptation and sharing of OER. The platforms should be able to cope technically with the demands of international education and law; that multiple technical formats can be uploaded, converted and provided; and that the systems are simple to use for educators with basic word processing skills.
OER catalogues such as the OERCommons show particular promise for making available to educators and learners, OER in multiple formats, languages and copyright licenses. Where multiple platforms such as this exist, interoperability between these platforms should become a further objective. An internationally recognized cataloguing system needs to be applied and if necessary, conversions between major non-compliant systems with this system be created.
Business models that support the sharing of OER in financially sustainable ways, such as that of the publisher, Flatworld Knowledge, should be supported and knowledge of these business models included in capacity building workshops for staff and partners.
In support of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action99 international and donor agencies could host global and regional donor coordination workshops aimed at eliminating duplication of effort, while increasing the potential for projects with merit to be supported financially.
In order to strengthen the effectiveness of projects, international and donor agencies should plan monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into project implementation from the start of any new initiative. M&E is a built-in process from the onset of a project and not merely an after-thought. M&E needs to be a constructive and positive process with M&E specialists being fully part of the process and co-responsible for outcomes and impact (not necessarily outputs). International and donor agencies need to ensure they have a member of their own staff directly involved in M&E in projects that they fund.
It is necessary for international and donor agencies to have the tenacity to support programs and initiatives for long enough to help ensure sustainability. Short term funding (e.g. 3 to 5 years) is often not sufficient for a large-scale program to show sustainability. Agencies need to focus on the 5 to 10 year planning horizon and ‘stick with it’.
Development Agencies and project management companies (‘technical agencies’)
Technical agencies that focus on the implementation of initiatives, programs and projects should take into account the potential of finding and customizing OER to add efficiencies to project deployment. A specific motivation should be included in project reports if new resources have had to be created from scratch rather than customized from existing resources.
When educational resources are created as a part of any project, the complete set of resources should be made publicly available via one of the global repositories, such as the OERCommons100, to help make other funded projects more efficient. Where this is not possible, specific motivation should be published in the project reports.
In order to strengthen the effectiveness of projects, agencies should plan monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into project implementation from the start of any new initiative. M&E is be a built-in process and not merely an after-thought. M&E needs to be a constructive and positive process with M&E specialists being fully part of the process and co- responsible for outcomes and impact (not necessarily outputs).