Open to sharing in higher education – from Leicester to Durban

Posted on November 23, 2011


This morning I gave a presentation at the Durban University of Technology’s E-learning Festival. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to join the audience in beautiful Durban, so I presented via Blackboard Collaborate. My theme was open educational resources, which was a relatively new concept to the audience. I started by giving a potted history of OERs and open courseware, and then introduced the OER university concept, as one possible future in which OERs could meaningfully address the problem of lack of access to quality higher education opportunities in developing countries.

The post-presentation discussion focused on how students and teachers in rural areas might be able to access these computer-based resources, and we talked about the importance of offline access to resources, as well as multiple formats of OERs, ensuring that text-based materials can be accessed electronically (without requiring proprietary programmes such as MS Office) and then distributed on paper. There was also some discussion about the cultural aspects of materials being used by a global audience. I made reference to a paper by Andy Lane at the Open University, who found that in the early stages of OER creation, authors had attempted to transform their materials to make them more appealing to a global audience, but this had been very resource-intensive and there was no evidence to show that it made the materials more usable by others. Research by the TESSA project in fact showed that teachers in African contexts did not mind the “Euro-centricness” of UK-produced OERs – they understood that the materials had been produced for use in a specific context, and that they needed to be adapted and mediated for learners in other contexts.
We also discussed the kind of support that might (or might not) be needed for students trying study alone with the help of OERs. The example of Sugata Mitra’s “hole-in-the-wall” project was mentioned as evidence that not all learners need an expert teacher to guide them through the learning process. Mitra’s research focused on young children however, and I am extremely curious to see what kinds of strategies adults adopt when faced with opportunities to engage in formal education in a relatively unstructured and unsupported way on the scale envisaged by the OERu.
I’ll end with a few quotes from the text box during the presentation, which give a flavour of the excitement within the audience towards the concept of OERs and the OERu:
Hooray for Creative Commons- a library vision for some of us in DUT!
This is radical and exciting, viva! the world is changing with incredible speed, for the better.
Thanks to my colleagues at Leicester – Ming, Pal, Paul, Ale and Terese – who shared of their wisdom as I created (and discarded) earlier drafts in preparation for today’s presentation 🙂 And a big thank you to DUT colleagues for the great opportunity to participate in your festival today. Please feel free to continue the conversation in the Comments thread below.
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