OER international community: how do we know what they need?

by Spoon Monkey

This week at OLnet we are having a pilot virtual workshop (twitter #olnetvw). The aim of the workshop is to promote reflective practice within the OLnet team, and also to enable us to come up with an approach to run virtual workshops.

We are taking a closer look at the UNESCO OER Toolkit, at the same time looking at other OER resources aimed at the community, such as the OER Handbook and the OpenLearn Research Report 2006-2008. The programme of the workshop can be found here.

In our discussion of the toolkit, I started by raising the question of what it is proposing itself to do. Here is a copy of my post in our virtual workshop page:

“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?”

I am playing a little bit of a devil advocate here I know, but I believe that many times in the OER movement we act based on assumptions. Not to say that it is wrong, but is it enough?

2 Responses

  1. Reply by Giselle Ferreira (http://cloudworks.ac.uk/user/view/1191)

    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.

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

  2. Reply by Giota Alevizou (http://cloudworks.ac.uk/user/view/1003)

    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
    2:39pm 7 December 2009

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