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What is OpenCourseWare?

Do you teach a course which you’d like to improve? Maybe you have run it a few times and now need to refresh and update it. Or maybe you are starting a new course on a topic that you are less familiar with, and would like a template to work with? OpenCourseWare (OCW) may provide the support you need.
OpenCourseWare are courses created at universities and published for free via the Internet. OCW projects have become a worldwide means of delivering educational content (Wikipedia). According to Open Education Global (formerly the Open Education Consortium), OpenCourseWare is:
  • A free and open digital publication of high-quality educational materials, organized as courses.
  • Available for use and adaptation under an open licence, such as certain Creative Commons licences.
  • Not normally certified.
It is important to understand that OpenCourseWare is a ‘subset’ of Open Educational Resources (OER).

Source: UCI Open

OER Africa will cover MOOCs in an upcoming article.

Advantages and Disadvantages of using OCW

The main advantage of OCW for academics who are developing courses is the open licence, which enables adaptation and reuse, but other benefits include:

  • OCW provides complete modules or courses, which can be very helpful if you are starting a course from scratch, providing you a template from which to work.
  • OCW development in an institution can encourage academics to foster and use OER if they have not previously had experience in doing so.
  • Course developers can share ideas and curricula openly, examine and adopt courses from other institutions, and potentially put their own courses online.
  • By sharing courses openly, institutions can attract new students to enrol and be certified for a formal qualification.

Some disadvantages:

In adopting someone else’s course, you are taking on their pedagogy and course structure, which may not suit your own style. For example, many OCW consist mainly of ‘talking heads’ and presentation slides, which can result in the student being a passive rather than active agent. Modern teaching theory stresses the need for active student engagement to enable them to construct their own knowledge rather than learn a series of facts. A further disadvantage is that many OCW are produced in developed country settings, and cannot easily be transferred to other contexts without considerable adaptation. On the other hand, of course, the open licence allows just this adaptation (though sometimes trying to adapt an existing course can end up taking longer than developing it from scratch if the differences between what is there and what you need is too great).

Where can I find OCW?

OCW available on the Internet can be used in various ways, both by academics in Higher Education Institutions and by other educators. Quality courses from providers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Open University (UK) or the University of Michigan can be accessed, and (if they are openly licenced) provide an impetus for lecturers to revise them into contextualised programmes for a developing country context. Academics can encourage their students to work through particular OCW to supplement their own learning. Teachers and other professionals can undertake their own development by working through courses relevant to their practice.

OER Africa has various OCW offerings available:

In summary, OCW can assist academics in higher education to improve their own offerings, and encourage them to share their own courses for the benefit of others. OCW can also assist students wishing to access courses within higher education that otherwise might not be available to them. However, as with all OER, you are ultimately responsible for assessing their utility by comparing what you find with your own understanding of what is needed to run your courses successfully.


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

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