The Spanish National Distance University (UNED) will be a pioneer in Spain as it will allow free and open access to all its teaching and research material.
Online courses, audio and video material, e-books, radio programmes, PhD theses, scientific journals, etc. The UNED will offer open access to its resources, having the possibility to reach half a billion spanish speakers around the world.
Open UNED will be an online platform with direct access to massive online open courses (MOOCs). Spanish and Latin American universities will be allowed to reuse all these resources to create their own teaching material.
You can access Open UNED here.
What are the challenges of OER? How are they affecting the academic world? These are some of the questions answered by three professors from The Open University: Patrina Law, Senior Manager for Strategic Projects in the Institute of Educational Technology, Patrick Mc Andrew, Professor of Open Education and Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology.
How has been your experience with OER at your university?
Martin Weller: In terms of open access publishing, we were a pioneer a long time ago, with a journal we had called JIME before the term open access publishing was around. That was in 1996 and it’s still going on. We also have a few other open access publishings.
Patrick McAndrew: In terms of OER, The Open University launched OpenLearn back in 2006. It was an experiment for us and it succeeded. Since 2008, we’ve been operating OpenLearn as part of way the University acts. The material is available openly and for free under a Creative Commons license. That has had a big impact on the university in terms of how we work with others and how we make our material available. It has proved to attract students, so we see it as a significant actor in the world of open education.
Patrina Law: We have several hundred course texts on OpenLearn website. The challenge now is that people want our material in different formats. The heavy use of mobile devices is a new challenge. The Open University is in a quite unique position as it publishes its own resources. We have our own publishing house, we don’t use external contractors or any other suppliers to achieve these goals, we have it all here, including the most important part: research into OER.
Why is the release of open content that essential for the academic world?
Martin Weller: Open Access has changed since the university was founded in 1969. But it’s always been part of our DNA. The aim of an academic community is to get your research disseminated. You’re not going to be rich on the back of an academic book but you want to reach as many people as possible. Open Access gives you this opportunity. Every three months, I publish a “metajournal” with articles from different journals on education technologies. This wouldn’t be possible with articles behind a paywall because I wouldn’t have the right to republish them.
Patrick McAndrew: There’s so much available as free access on the internet. We need to be a part of that in order to retain the access that people need to look at what we’re doing. We not only need access to be free but also to be open. That allows users to understand how they can republish or reuse it. It’s hard to justify now an approach where openness is not part of how we operate. Those who ignore openness close themselves off from opportunities and take the risk of actually being ignored in the world today.
Patrina Law: There are over 600 courses available as OER from The Open University. There can’t be a course-writing academic amongst our staff who hasn’t come across the concept of OER. However, we’re not good at creating courses from open content. It’s not currently built into our production processes. So this is something that we’ll be looking at this year.
How important will be the OER in the future of education?
Martin Weller: It’s difficult to argue for a closed model but I don’t think we will move to a completely open world. I think universities will still have something you will have to pay for. They need to have a sustainable business model. Increasingly, the institutions will have policies on open access. Openness becomes a core component of the studies in the university. And the role of the teacher changes because you can’t give a lecture on a topic while someone can watch a video from a professor in Stanford who may be more expert than you are. So you need to change the way you teach in order to integrate OER.
Patrick McAndrew: I think a revolution is going to come and this will cause us to rethink what it means to be a learner. I think it’s vital to have an open approach; otherwise we cannot meet the scale of the challenge. We have to find new ways in which we can support learners.
Patrina Law: The Open University’s approach to distributing OER is quite different from other institutions. For example, we have a partnership with the BBC. So our audience doesn’t necessarily come across us through simply googling us or finding us on iTunesU. It could be because they watched an OU collaborative TV programme. The BBC has allowed us to reach millions. So we have a slightly different approach. It has raised the question of: who are the non web informal learners? And how can we best serve them?
How will MOOCs force teachers to rethink their way of teaching?
Martin Weller: I think MOOCs are interesting. We’re going to run a few at the OU. For certain audiences, they work very well. But there are some dangers. You might end up with a small number of global providers, which could be an ironic victory for open education, it would be less open than it used to be. Another issue is that they tend to suit experienced learners better. But in general they’re a good thing, they’re complementary to traditional education. People are scared that they would overturn universities but actually there’s a process that makes an informal learner become a formal learner, and MOOCs help do that.
Patrick McAndrew: In Minnesota, they have banned Coursera because it is providing education outside of the rules of the State. It is not approved as an official provider of higher education. That means people have seen it as a threat to the existing education system. The MOOCs show a way that higher education can be made available through the internet.
What we’re trying to do is to use a gentle approach to encourage learners. But some current MOOCs are emulating a sort of test-based culture that might put off less experienced learners. So MOOCs are part of the mix but there’s a bigger area of open education still to be tackled.
Patrina Law: From an Open University perspective, because we already have the infrastructure in place to create online open courses, the question for us is purely whether or not there is business case for doing so. And that’s the thing we need a crystal ball for.
Can OER reduce the inequalities in education?
Patrick McAndrew: Yes it can. We have found that using OER has helped us work with US Community Colleges and charities to support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds or who are struggling with starting to learn at college.
Patrina Law: It depends on the OER. Certain of the large OER projects and initiatives that we see in the US are aimed at those who are already privileged and who have the required educational background to tackle some of the subjects being offered. Hence, this is offering free education to those who have already had access to a good education. Other OER projects do help to reduce inequalities. We learnt at the OER2012 conference in Cambridge this year, that the Indonesian Department of Education is going to use OER to reach its millions of people dispersed on thousands of islands and in doing so, level the playing field in terms of access to higher education. Their challenge was to persuade academics to make their material open, and in meeting the infrastructure requirement of bringing internet connectivity to those thousands of islands.
Fred Mulder holds the UNESCO chair in Open Education Resources (OER). In the frame of the Open Access Week, he talks with us about the progress that has been accomplished and the efforts to be done to further promote the OER.
The original concept of OER was to “develop a universal educational resource for the whole of humanity”. Has it been accomplished?
That goes back to the UNESCO ambition, the relevance of which I would like to underline. I think OER can certainly contribute to reaching this ambition but it will take 20 to 30 years, so we must be happy with the progress that we’ve made in the first decade after 2001 when MIT started its OCW program. The OER movement is not carried anymore by only believers, engaged practitioners, and educational or digital experts, it’s a movement of many institutions and a growing number of governments that are aware that OER is important for them as well. The ambition is there and we just need an additional 10 or 20 years to reach its ultimate realization around the world. In my view we are quite well on track.
What would be the next step of development?
Governments have to become more active and committed through a national OER policy as well as institutions should explore more OER initiatives. Governments should know that OER has the potential to increase the accessibility, the quality and the efficiency of education simultaneously. Institutions should be aware of the great and partly yet undiscovered opportunities of OER. When the top-down and bottom-up approach merge, the odds are that the outcome will be real mainstreaming of OER as a significant innovation in all educational sectors.
Has the effort of private and public institutions been enough to promote OER?
I think a lot has been done already but this should extend and I’m sure it will. In this respect, it is important to note that the context in which institutions operate is becoming much more favourable for and responsive to OER. For example, UNESCO has firmly contributed to this change in the last 10 years, while OECD is becoming an OER advocate in the last couple of years. The European Commission, finally, is preparing a brand-new initiative called ‘Opening up Education’. I expect this to have a big OER impact in many EU countries by offering much better policy and financial conditions to support the introduction of and conversion to OER. This then will create a rich and fruitful environment for all educational institutions to incorporate their own OER perspectives.
Can OER reduce the inequalities in education?
In principle yes, because the accessibility of the learning materials is 100% if you have it all available on the internet. But that does not mean that there are no barriers anymore. For example, connectivity can be absent or problematic, which may apply to developing countries. There can also be barriers related to the type of the learning materials: have they really been designed for people who want to study on their own? Or are they requiring additional effort, for example in a classroom? Furthermore, the cultural component is important. For example, for most knowledge domains US-based content cannot be directly used in Asian or African countries or even in Europe. Simply translating is not enough, adaptation to the cultural context is necessary.
How important is the release of open content for the academic world?
It’s important for them for two reasons. On the one hand, developing your own content and making it available to others might help enhancing its quality because you will receive feedback from users and colleagues. And you might also raise your reputation in the academic arena. On the other hand, you could use OER materials from other experts as well, which may reduce your own course developing time and therefore may add to your research time.
Can OER reduce the cost of education?
It certainly reduces the cost of education. A good example is the ’Open textbook’ activities in the US, where they have shown that the cost for the students can be brought down to not more than 10% of the regular cost associated with books produced by publishers. And I said before, you can not only reduce the cost but also raise the quality. Cost reduction also follows from the fact that it’s not necessary anymore that multiple universities or author teams all develop their own full courses on a same subject, which may prevent them from massive duplication of work.
How important will OER be in the future of education?
It will be extremely important. It’s one of the major innovations for the future for higher education and beyond, including all levels of education and both the regular study at young age and lifelong learning. Moreover, it may create an attractive and efficient bridge between informal learning and formal education.
How will MOOCs change the traditional university model?
We don’t know yet what the exact consequences of the MOOCs will be. It is a new adventure that started last year at Stanford University. It’s a new branch on the OER tree, although in the Open Education world people are rather critical on MOOCs because they are not really open ‘as should be’. For example, you cannot adapt or reuse MOOCs. The open licensing is not there, and also most MOOCs have a rather basic model for learning, which is rather distant from what the world of Open Education is working on. On the other hand, I think it’s fantastic that this is happening because there’s a lot of attention to the MOOCs movement, both in the media and among academics. Undoubtedly, this will also be to the benefit of the broader Open Education movement, if only by significantly raising the awareness in society about ‘Open’.