B. Monday - Activity 1: OER and Open Education

A closer look at the OER scenario in higher education

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Andreia Inamorato Dos Santos
6 December 2009

The UNESCO OER Toolkit is a document produced by the OER community to the community itself. It represents the collective voice of the ones involved in providing and using OER, and points to some of the most relevant issues the community faces. An overview of the document is available here

This week we will take a look at this document (and other related OER material) with the aim to promote reflective practice.  Have we at OLnet been addressing the main research needs of the OER community? And what is the impact of our research? These are the overarching questions for us to bear in mind throughout the week.

In the first sections of the document, the OER toolkit brings to the fore the following ideas:

  • that the toolkit is aimed at developing countries in the southern hemisphere;
  • that universities in the southern hemisphere would benefit enormously with the use of OER, by decreased costs and increased access;
  • that there is an assumption that knowledge flows from developed to developing countries;
  • that not enough attention has been paid to the needs of the institutions in the southern hemisphere;
  • that more 'systematic' research into OER is needed, since all we know so far is '"anecdotal and shared only with a community of insiders" (section 2, Where next?)
To what extent are these statements fair? How is our research relevant in this scenario? What other questions do these ideas raise? And finally,  how can OLnet push this and/or other OER agendas forward?

In order to have some more food for thought here are some resource suggestions:

There are links to further relevant materials in this cloud. Please add links to other resources and academic references that you think may be of interest.

The best way to navigate around the virtual workshop is by using the A. Programme cloud and accessing the various events of the day through the links provided.

Contact details: Andreia Santos (a.i.santos@open.ac.uk)

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Andreia Inamorato Dos Santos
12:41pm 7 December 2009 (Edited 3:18pm 7 December 2009)

Perhaps I should kick this off....  I thought it was very interesting reading the UNESCO OER toolkit. I allocated 10 min this morning and went through sections A and B of the document, and I realised I was taking a lot for granted about it.

First of all, I did not know the doc was targeting developing countries. I thought it was just a nice and creative attempt to make available 'OER-How to' knowledge to all. It was definitely a surprise to me.

I wonder however whether there is a misconception in  the doc - the assumption that practitioners in the so called 'developed world' already know how to use OER. Do they?

I do not think so. Despite the fact that the OER movement was initiated by more privileged societies (due to the funding received), I believe the take up is still very timid. Often, practitioners argue they do not feel confident in changing content developed by others, or they do not seem to find the time to do so. Some of them have not even heard of OER... or struggle with the technologies. That is why it feels odd to think of a toolkit developed to the developing world....

UNESCO's initiative with the OER Toolkit is undoubtedly to be praised, and the work of all the collaborators too. I have read just a few sections of it so far but I can already see its potential. It is a document that can be changed and adapted to suit different audiences, and the fact that it is published in a wiki helps.

But  to what extent has this toolkit taken into consideration the reality of the developing world? I did not find this reflection appropriately developed in the doc anywhere yet. So far, using the doc's own language, it is all very 'anecdotal'.

I would like to know more about how it came to be  the case that the toolkit should focus on the developing world. Is it just because it 'sounds good' and is in line with the overarching altruistic proposition of the movement? And if not, how do we know we are offering the developing world what they need?


Giselle Ferreira
2:27pm 7 December 2009 (Edited 2:46pm 7 December 2009)

Good kick-off, Andreia!

I think there are historical reasons for the toolkit to be assumedly aimed at the 'developing world', reasons related to the overall agenda of UNESCO and its role in the 'movement' (see, for example, this 2002 article).

As I come to think of this: wouldn't tracing the evolution of the OER 'movement'  make for a nice little Master's dissertation? (perhaps I should add this to the wall of ideas? ;-)

Your comments on people's perceptions of OER are consistent with my experience, but then I'm very (very) sceptical of the 'developing' vs. 'developed' world categorisation. In the OER world itself, there are some incredibly 'forward-thinking' individuals in 'developing countries', as you know. So I'm inclined to think that there is actually more than one 'reality' in 'developing countries', just as there is more than one of those in 'developed countries'.

Consistently with this, I'm inclined to think that the toolkit reflects the experiences of a very specific, albeit (interestingly) international community. The issue I'd take with the 'evidence' being 'anecdotal' is that there may not be 'enough' anecdotes reasonably removed from this particular community (I'm yet to complete my reading of the resource).

Yet, I think the toolkit is a brilliant basis for further development, as you suggest, even if some of the assumptions are debatable.

Giota Alevizou
2:39pm 7 December 2009

Andreia, you are raising great points.I am going to try to respond to a couple of points you raise in your questions, to get the conversation going.

I haven't read the toolkit in great detail, but I think that it addresses wider issues and aims to raise awareness generally. Wikieducator's OER handbook has more detailed sections on subject, general, national, repositories and other issues, that maybe perhaps, if not more, equally relevant.

 I don't think the toolkit does take into consideration issues emerging from particular research/issues emerging from OER use and or awareness in low income countries. And I agree perhaps more situated approaches are needed to address the issue from 'within' rather than from 'the west'. This happens to extent -or at least that's the aim - with initiatives such as OER Africa (see specialised toolkit). Wikieducator too, has some more ad-hoc support projects. The question is to enable awareness that would change mentality about about open education in low income countries and enable exchange among instituions within a country and with the rest of the world.

A study focusing on 11 inhibitors for reuse of OERs in developing countries has just been published by Hatakka (2009). Focusing on three interpretive case studies (Teachers in Blangadesh, Content developers in Sri Lanka; UNESCO OTP’s users), the paper reveals how not only factors related to content issues (language, quality, relevance) affect the actual reuse of OERs, but also educational rules and restrictions, access, technical resources, intellectual property, awareness, computer literacy, teaching capacity, and teaching practices and educational traditions play a role as hindrances in the adoption of open content.


Giota Alevizou
2:51pm 7 December 2009 (Edited 2:52pm 7 December 2009)

It so seems that we are typing at the same time ;) I think there's a great scope for 'tracing trajectories of discourse' within the OER movement, and also understanding that 'the developing world' is neither homogenous, nor without tensions pertaining the use of OERs are that -often-similar to those in the 'developed world'. There's one matter gaining access to resources and another changing mentalities about Open Education, the legitimacy (and quality) of non-mainstream university projects, etc... Speaking of which I have so much work to analyse all this material I have been collecting...

Giselle Ferreira
3:14pm 7 December 2009

so we were, Giota ;-)

Thanks for sharing the paper - as I was looking through that I was thinking of Foucault's Preface to The Order of Things, the very first paragraph when he talks about the ways in which animals are described in 'a certain Chinese encyclopaedia'. We're up against a problem of categorisation, I think: take 'teaching practices', which you mention in your overview the findings in the paper. What is that, to whom, when and where?

Giota Alevizou
3:45pm 7 December 2009 (Edited 3:58pm 7 December 2009)

One of my fav books Giselle, and couldn't agree more. I am thinking if it's not categorisation, we need at least to map out perspectives, cultures, frameworks, audiences, modes of engagment and participation...too ambitious, i think, but still it could be deployed within a small number of diverse cases or through a systematic review of existing studies.

Giselle Ferreira
3:49pm 7 December 2009

I agree, Giota (with all of what you've said), though I think that the review ('of existing studies' - few, very few of these at a time, I suspect) would need to be complemented with other types of 'things' ... I'd love to have a chat about this!

Karen Cropper
9:02am 8 December 2009

I have just added a link to a Cloudscape that Martin Weller has added with discussions from the meeting he is attending in Turkey which I thought may be relevant to the discussion.

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