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 What’s Needed to Advance OER

Repositories and Platforms

Coordination between international and donor agencies can help ensure that funding is applied most efficiently, ideally to create a complete set of peer reviewed educational resources in all subjects and all levels in all major languages.
The emerging global repositories and catalogues of OER need to ‘feed off’ or link to each other so that learners and educators can look for OER in any one of these sites from one central access point, without the need to visit multiple sites individually. This can be accomplished by the coordination and cooperation between repositories and catalogues, rather than attempting to choose one repository as a global archive.

The global repositories and catalogues that receive funding support from donor agencies should all provide full support for all languages supported by existing computer technologies. Meta-data of all OER should be available in the first instance, in the official languages of the United Nations and then additional languages as funding and skills allow.

Platforms that support the creation and customization of OER will need to create systems that enable the transfer of OER between platforms (and between platforms and repositories). Rather than attempting to get the whole world to adopt one set of standards, focus should be given to ensuring that a range of software applications can be used to suit all styles and budgets across the world, and that completed OER are translatable into other formats. These completed OER should be listed in one or more of the available global repositories and catalogues.

Information about the technologies used by the global platforms, repositories and catalogues should be communicated freely to institutions so that people around the world can connect directly to these systems and share resources dynamically. If institutions share their OER with the global platforms, repositories and catalogues, their resources can be more readily found, customized and shared.

International and Funding Agencies

International agencies, multilateral agencies, governments and funding agencies can promote OER by acquainting their staff with OER, its economies of scale and collaboration and the potential OER hold to accelerate education across the globe. Extensive training workshops, both face-to-face, webinars, and other online or offline formats could be used in all regions to share knowledge of OER. Experience and evaluation of the Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth initiative, shows that extended face-to-face training workshops of up to 3-weeks helps to accelerate and solidify the ICT skills of educators and Ministry officials (West, 2009). Where educators already have ICT skills, projects such as the Learning4Content64 training program of WikiEducator has shown that thousands of people can be trained online, with the support of volunteers, through a learning contract (WikiEducator, 2011d).

Funding agencies and governments can consider including requirements in funding packages that pay institutions based more on the success rates of learners (outputs), rather than registrations (inputs).

If OER are to make a substantial impact on the Education For All (EFA) campaign, funding agencies and governments may need to find common ground in methods of providing learning opportunities to young people for whom there are no schools and no teachers. Funding agencies in particular, could make an impact by demonstrating how projects work that involve providing robust, shared computer and Internet terminals and local repositories that provide large volumes of information from the Internet.

To date, funding seems to be a key factor in making OER projects work. Institutions and governments have specific patterns of how they currently spend income and need firm examples to help them to see ways to apply budgets in different ways. The projects funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation are exemplary in showing that other ways are possible than the current way that still leaves some 400 million young people out of secondary education and millions more out of higher education.

The example projects need to show how they can be translated into funding being saved from existing budget line items in governments and institutions and how these amounts can be more productively invested in overall OER strategies. The examples need to show that not only can existing funds be redirected, but that this will lead to better quality, more consistent education (across institutions and countries) and that education opportunities can therefore be expanded to more people who currently do not have these options available to them.

Grant agencies might consider contracts in which institutions give the assurance that projects will, once the revenue models have been shown, be continued after the external funding runs out.
Specific funding objectives to expand the use of OER and to encourage institutions and governments to re-direct funds toward more productive uses include:

The establishment of global curriculum outline guidelines could support OER by:

  • Providing a broad base curriculum outline for all subjects at all levels. This would ensure that when an OER resource is created in one country, that the majority of the resource is usable content in most other countries.
  • Encouraging partner institutions to translate and adapt existing materials across, firstly the official languages of the United nations, and then to other languages as needed by countries.
  • Free Textbook projects that could be funded include:
  • Free or OER Textbook projects, to increase access to educational resources at reduced costs.
  • Digitized textbooks that can be used by any person with a computer or hand-held device without being forced to print the book. This can help to reduce budgeted funds from being transferred out of the country.
  • Digitized textbooks that can be printed locally for people who do not have access to computers or hand-held devices, can provide textbooks locally. This can help to reduce budgeted funds from being transferred out of the country, while supporting local business opportunities (including school or college print-shops).

Online content development platforms, repositories and catalogues could be funded if:

  • The projects selected for support shows that they have the technical capacity to work with all languages and alphabets.
  • Various technical formats can be uploaded, converted and shared, provided any of the most popular computer applications are used.

To overcome the extreme shortage of schools and institutions of learning, especially in the developing world, but wherever there is a shortage of affordable places for learners, funding could be directed to:

  • The establishment of a new form of a very low cost school or institution that can operate with the minimum of formality, with teachers being available to groups via online forums and where learners are able to support each other.
  • A simplified method of accrediting open and unconventional schools, colleges, private sector and non-profit institutions that accommodate the out-of-school youth who have no other alternative.