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What is a Community of Practice?

Are you looking to interact with people who are interested in Open Education Resources (OER)? Do you have ideas that you want to share with a wider audience and learn more about OER?  A Community of Practice (CoP) might be the right place for you.

The term ‘Community of Practice’ was created by Etienne Wenger, who offers a social theory of learning – a school of thought that proposes that humans can acquire new ideas and behaviours by observing others. The term has been used in various ways, and usually refers to informal networks that support people to develop shared meaning and engage in knowledge building.[1] A CoP is a group of individuals who share a domain of interest, which they use as a basis for interaction. Members of a CoP for OER might share resources, experiences, problems and solutions, tools, and methodologies. This results in members gaining knowledge from one another and, by extension, contributes to the development of knowledge within the domain of OER and the field of Open Educational Practices (OEPs) more broadly.[2]

A CoP is a great way to conduct advocacy and gain momentum for OER at your institution, within your organisation, or in your social circle. Some CoPs may involve projects like developing an OER strategy or distributing OER grants at an institution, while others may simply be aimed at knowledge sharing.

OER Africa published a report on CoPs, which is accessible here. Parts of this article are based on the report.

According to the report, CoPs have several defining characteristics, as illustrated in the graphic below.

Source: Hoosen, S. (2009). Communities of Practice: A research paper prepared by OER Africa

Important to note is that CoPs can take different forms and they vary across different dimensions; for example, they can be small and tight knit or large and loosely connected. The concept of virtual CoPs has gained increasing popularity as technology and the Internet open opportunities for faster and alternative means of communication with people who are geographically far away from each other. They have also become a very practical means of interacting with people who are interested in a particular subject field since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has created on face-to-face interaction and travel.

You can access more resources on CoPs here.

How do I set up a CoP for OER?

The success of a CoP ultimately depends on preparation and involves consideration of a number of key aspects. 

  1. Identify the scope and focus of the CoP for OER: Answer the following questions such as ‘What is the value proposition of the CoP?’ and ‘What will its scope be?’
  2. Build a case for action: Consider the purpose of the CoP and outline key deliverables over the next one to two years, as well as how the CoP will contribute to the OER movement. Think about how the CoP will satisfy members’ expectations.
  3. Identify a CoP facilitator: Since relationships are central to one’s sense of community, a facilitator is central to creating and maintaining a robust CoP. The facilitator should have sufficient time available to dedicate to the CoP and should be motivated, creative, and knowledgeable about OER. The facilitator will be responsible for organising meetings, maintaining and distributing knowledge resources, and monitoring the effectiveness of the CoP.
  4. Identify potential members and criteria for membership: Consider who the best people are to be part of the CoP. It might be useful to think about how to introduce diversity into the group through broad membership, so that there are wide-ranging perspectives. Depending on the scope of the CoP, you might consider approaching anyone from OER practitioners and advocates to librarians and institutional management.
  5. Highlight the benefits of joining the CoP to potential members: Benefits include faster solutions, reducing duplication of efforts, and enabling people to develop and share new ideas or strategies around OER promotion.
  6. Identify potential knowledge to share: Get community members to identify knowledge that would be useful to share.
  7. Decide on an initial technology platform: The platform/s should enable the group to communicate effectively and store resources. They should be easily accessible to all members.
  8. Consider how the CoP will be governed: Establish clear rules for decision-making and accountability, as well as what resources are available, what the key milestones or deadlines are, and who the stakeholders are, to name a few.

 

Once you have done the background preparation, you can start planning the official launch of your CoP. At the launch, it is good practice to develop a community charter. Thereafter, the CoP should determine the roles and responsibilities of community members, initiate events and spaces (such as meetings or OER advocacy activities), build a core group to drive the CoP, and find and share knowledge. Once you have passed the initial phase, here are some tips on ensuring that your CoP is effective and sustainable.

How do I find people who are interested in OER?

Struggling to find people who are interested in your preferred subject area? Here are some options for you to consider:

  • Reach out to your network: It can be surprising how you might share a common interest in OER with people in your network – even if you haven’t discussed it with them before. They might even be able to put you in contact with someone they know who is interested in OER or looking to gain knowledge.
  • Search on LinkedIn: One of the benefits of LinkedIn is that you can search for keywords and come across thought leaders, organisations, different stakeholders, or people with a general interest in OER. You can strike up a conversation by sending a message on LinkedIn.
  • Do your research: Use a search engine to look for resources and websites with information about OER. Find out who is producing this knowledge and approach them to gauge their interest in being a CoP member. 

Access the links below to see some CoPs for OER, and OEPs more broadly, in action:

Ultimately, developing a CoP for OER is a wonderful way of learning, sharing knowledge, and advocating for OER use. As long as you maintain a clear sense of the scope of your CoP and ensure that all of the CoP’s activities contribute to its case for action, it can make a valuable contribution to the OER movement.

 


[1] Hoosen, S. (2009). Communities of Practice: A research paper prepared by OER Africa. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/system/files/7779/cop1-web_0.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=7779

[2] Gannon-Leary, P. and Fontainha, E. (2007). Communities of Practice and virtual learning communities: benefits, barriers and success factors. eLearning Papers. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/system/files/7680/communities-practice-and-virtual-learning-communities_0.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=7680


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

What's New

The open knowledge ecosystem has seen significant growth in the last few years. This communication is about Open Science from an African perspective. It explores examples of how Open Science platforms are being constructed, together with linkages among the different forms of openness.

Image courtesy of Kiran Kumar, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

The open knowledge ecosystem has seen significant growth in the last few years. UNESCO’s November 2019 Open Educational Resource (OER) Recommendation is rightly considered a groundbreaking development in support of open education practices; OER Africa has already explored the significance of the Recommendation in July 2020August 2020, and November 2020

What may be less widely known is UNESCO’s role in open knowledge more broadly – Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science. UNESCO also works to link these three ‘opens’ with OER. In UNESCO’s post on its work in support of an Open Science Recommendation, UNESCO writes about these linkages:

[The] UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science will complement the 2017 Recommendation on Science and Scientific Research. It will also build upon the UNESCO Strategy on Open Access to Scientific Information and Research and the new UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

OER Africa discussed Open Access publishing and Open Data in previous posts. This communication is about Open Science from an African perspective. Below you will find examples showing how Open Science platforms are being constructed, together with linkages among the different forms of openness.

Member states tasked UNESCO to develop an Open Science Recommendation at its 40th General Conference, the same one in which the OER Recommendation was approved. UNESCO began multi stakeholder consultations shortly thereafter, which will continue until September 2021.

This is UNESCO’s cogent explanation of Open Science:

The idea behind Open Science is to allow scientific information, data and outputs to be more widely accessible (Open Access) and more reliably harnessed (Open Data) with the active engagement of all the stakeholders (Open to Society).

Figure 1: Concepts linked to Open Science, UNESCO

Image adapted from Robbie Ian Morrisson, Wikimedia (CC BY)

The concept of open or openness ties together all these elements. Open Access, Open Data, OER, and open-source hardware all carry licences that permit sharing and reproduction. Open Access and OER content typically use Creative Commons licences, while Open Data licences are largely based on those written by Creative Commons. 

Indigenous Knowledge Systems are a part of the Open Science concept, but they are not always easily available to researchers, development experts, or policy makers because they have not been considered part of the development of Western empirical science. In its article on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, SciDevNet explains why Indigenous knowledge is a form of scienceand should not be ignored. UNESCO’s programme on Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems is trying to bring indigenous knowledge into the open. It is important to bear in mind, however, that some communities are wary of theft of intellectual property by for-profit companies, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is taking a leading role in helping them articulate these fears.[1]

In 2016, a preparatory pilot for the African Open Science Platform (AOSP) began. Its priorities were to:

  1. Map the current landscape of data/science initiatives in Africa. 
  2. Build a Pan-African open science community and encourage the formation of national open science fora. A notable and crucial success of the pilot in this regard was development of an African community of practice and support, which included relevant government ministries, universities, and pan-African and regional organizations. African networks, such as the African Academy of Sciences, the Network of African Science Academies, the Association of African Universities, the West and Central African Research Network (WACREN), and the UbuntuNet Alliance (the research and education network for Eastern and Southern Africa).
  3. Develop frameworks for policy, incentives, training, and technical requirements that would inform the operational platform.[2]

 

The final report was published in 2018. On 29 April 2020, the NRF announced that it would be responsible for hosting the African Open Science Platform project for the next three to five years.

The WACREN is responsible for coordinating African national and regional efforts to build the technical components of the Platform through its LIBSENSE initiative. LIBSENSE was established in 2016 to bring together African research and education networks and academic library communities to advance Open Science in Africa and foster the continent’s participation in Open Access globally.

WACREN and others draw a clear link between Open Science and Open Access, for instance using a national Open Science platform to host Open Access repositories. In a panel session at the 2021 WACREN annual conference, held virtually this year, Owen Iyoha, Managing Director of Nigeria’s Eko-Konnect made the following points about Open Science and infrastructure considerations in the figure below:

Figure 2: Open Science infrastructure for Nigeria

Eko-Konnect plans to include Moodle, the open-source learning platform on its Open Science cloud, which will allow the seamless integration of OERs created at multiple institutions.

OER and Open Science are based on a shared belief that access to knowledge should be freely, openly, and publicly available. In its draft Institutional Open Access Policy Template, LIBSENSE ties together open principles in its section on reward mechanisms by:

Setting up reward mechanisms for researchers using open science practices (e.g. sharing provisional results through open platforms, using open source software and other tools, participation in open collaborative projects, open access to publications and data, using open educational resources etc.).

However, specificity about where OER fits into Open Science is lacking. Where exactly might Open Science take advantage of OER principles and vice-versa? As a start, capacity building and training are integral to efforts to drive Open Science planning and implementation in Africa. If all training materials were openly licensed and made widely available, they would be relevant to a much broader audience and might be adapted to fit different needs. In addition, many African countries and institutions are planning Open Science clouds, including Eko-Konnect in Nigeria. All content related to platform-building could also be openly licensed. Finally, should Open Science clouds host or link to OER, at the very least the OER created for Open Science cloud training and capacity building? The bottom line is for WACREN and others working on Open Science to ensure that OER play an integral role in building OS communities and platforms.

Policy is another issue that would benefit from more sustained attention. There are proposed or actualized polices for Open Access, OER, Open Data, and now Open Science. Some African universities, particularly those in South Africa and East Africa, have their own Open Access policies. A few of these include the University of Cape Town in South Africa; Kenyatta University in Kenya; and Ethiopia, which has a national Open Access policy. LIBSENSE is also working on an Open Access template. Somewhat fewer African universities have distinct OER policies or broader policies that support OER; OER Africa tracks these examples. In addition, research networks such as the African Academy of Sciences have both Open Access and Open Data guidelines. Until now, however, most policy setting has been tackled in silos, with little sustained effort to build knowledge on what options work best. Are individual standalone policies desirable? Should they be integrated into other, existing tools rather than being developed independently? In addition, do university intellectual property policies require revision (where they exist)? 

Open Knowledge (OER, Open Access, Open Data, and Open Science) can greatly benefit African knowledge production, access, and utilisation by improving its discoverability and visibility. Open UCT at the University of Cape Town, for example, has usage statistics for each of the resources included in its repository. The National Academic Digital Repository of Ethiopia does the same.

OER Africa will continue to monitor developments, such as the ones we write about above, which impact on higher education on the continent. Please contact us here if there are additional issues you would like us to discuss.

 

 


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

 

Are you familiar with open learning as an approach to education? Are open learning and open pedagogy the same thing? What does open pedagogy look like in practice?

In this week’s article, we explore the concepts of open pedagogy and open learning. We also unpack open pedagogy using an interactive learning template.

 

Are you familiar with open learning as an approach to education? Are open learning and open pedagogy the same thing? What does open pedagogy look like in practice?

Open Learning

In a report prepared by Saide (2000) for the South African Department of Education, the authors dispel certain misconceptions about open learning that have developed over time.

Firstly, open learning is not the same as distance education. The idea of open distance learning creates a false expectation that all distance learning is open. There are many instances of distance learning that do not provide open access or lead to success. In addition, face-to-face learning can be open. Open learning is an approach that has the potential to promote openness within a whole educational system.

Secondly, open learning is relevant to all fields of education, not just adult education.

And finally, open learning goes beyond opening learning through isolated, individual educational projects.

'The principles of open learning provide a set of benchmarks against which all aspects of any educational system (international, national, provincial, or institutional) can be measured. This process can lead to improvements in the underlying design of such system, because it can remove unnecessary closure and consolidate closure where it is important to the efficient and financially viable functioning of the system.' (Saide, 2000) 

In this report, Saide (2000) suggests that,

'open learning [is] an approach to education which seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning, while aiming to provide learners with a reasonable chance of success in an education and training system centred on their specific needs and located in multiple arenas of learning.'

Open Pedagogy

There has been much debate about the link between open pedagogy, open educational resources (OER), OER-Enabled Pedagogy (Wiley & Hilton, 2018) and open educational practice (OEP). 

In an article published in the International Journal of Open Educational Resources (IJOER), 'Towards a Working Definition of Open Pedagogy,' Witt (2020) proposes a working definition of open pedagogy as  'any pedagogy informed by the practitioners’ conscious identification with the open movement, open access, and open educational resources.' He suggests that OER-enabled pedagogy and open educational practices address the how, [and] open pedagogy addresses the why.

In this spirit we want to share our conception of open pedagogy as part of an open learning approach. We are interested not only in what open pedagogy means, but also in the why and the how. We use a set of open learning principles to help us understand why open pedagogy is necessary, but also what it means in practice.

Open Learning Principles

Over time, Saide (2019) has developed and adapted a set of open learning principles and categorised them as follows:

1. Increasing access for success 

  • Learners have meaningful and affordable access to opportunities for lifelong learning.
  • Unnecessary barriers to access are removed.
  • Wherever appropriate, learning provision is flexible, allowing learners to increasingly determine where, when, what and how they learn, as well as the pace at which they will learn.

2. Enabling success

  • Providers create the conditions for learner success through learner support, contextually appropriate resources and sound pedagogical practices.
  • Learning processes centre on the learners and contexts of learning, build on their experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking.

3. Continuing success

  • Prior learning and experience is recognised wherever possible.
  • Arrangements for credit transfer and articulation between qualifications facilitate further learning.

The intention is for educational practitioners to apply these principles as part of an ongoing process of evaluation and improvement, to develop meaningful educational opportunities, regardless of the 'mode of delivery' used.

Open pedagogy is not just about open content

Wiley (2013) spoke about open pedagogy as “that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources” (Wiley, 2013, final paragraph). Conole (2010) defined open educational practices as “a set of activities and support around the creation, use and re-purposing of Open Educational Resources (OERs)”. So open pedagogy (and open educational practices) assumes access to content and resources in the form of OER.

For us, access can mean many things. Hegarty (2015) associated open pedagogy with attributes such as participatory technologies; people, openness, trust; innovation & creativity; sharing ideas & resources, connected community; learner generated; reflective practice; and peer review. So, we need to think about access to technology, or access to data, for example. Particularly in this time of Covid, when most students are online (if they have access to data and technology) and remote we also think of access to people — each other and their lecturers.

What about access to the learning process? Think about university students you know of who struggle with reading, either because most, if not all, of the reading is in academic English and they do not have the experience of reading those kinds of texts. Or the student who has an educational background that has not prepared them well for post-school study. You may be thinking about a student who has work experience, but not in their direct field of study. For these students, access is about language, level, and what students already know. 

In our view, open pedagogy asks the question: how do we provide learning opportunities for students in ways that remove barriers to access, and scaffold and mediate learning in ways that support students to succeed?

Understanding open pedagogy

At the heart of our understanding open pedagogy is understanding how people learn. One of the open learning principles for enabling success is that,

'learning processes centre on the learners and contexts of learning, build on their experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking' (Saide, 2019).'

We have developed a set of requirements for giving practical expression to this principle.

People learn by doing things that lead them to construct their own new knowledge. Reading, creating a mind map, doing an interview, planning a learning session, creating a model, doing an experiment, or teaching a class are all examples of being actively engaged in the learning process. If an action is facilitated or mediated in some way, students begin to understand and reflect on their action, and in that way start to internalise what they have learned.

Telling or transmitting information results in limited learning. For deeper learning to occur, people need to engage in a meaningful activity and then reflect on what they have done to learn something from it. This is an active rather than a passive conception of how we gain new knowledge.

Learning is structured around key activities that build up into identified learning pathways. There are structural links between programmes, modules, units and activities.

An important concept in open pedagogy is the idea of three presences: social presence, teacher presence and cognitive presence.

The most important thing you can do to make online learning accessible, meaningful and successful is to engage students in supportive and collaborative active learning. Create a presence. Create a set of learning activities that engages students in meaningful thought (cognitive presence), discussion with other students (social presence) with you as a critical and compassionate guide (teacher presence). Saide (2020)

Let’s explore the following activity template to unpack open pedagogy a bit more. Scroll down in the block to use the interactive template.

Open pedagogy and open learning principles

Stop and think

Which of the open learning principles are supported by our concept of an open pedagogy?

Our concept of open pedagogy supports student access to active learning, supporting them to reflect, think critically and solve problems. In open pedagogy, the materials “become a mediator” (Moll & Drew 2008), facilitating a conversation between and amongst the students and the teacher and supporting progress through the identified learning pathways. Open pedagogy supports students to succeed and equips them for critical lifelong learning.

Are you open?

Additional Resources

For further ideas about activity based learning, access the following online module: Designing Engaging Learning Activities

Conole, G. (2010). Defining open educational practices (OEP) [Blog post]. http://e4innovation.com/?p=373

Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of open pedagogy: A model for using open educational resources. Educational Technology, 3-13. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ca/

Laurillard, D. nd. Learning Design

Mhlanga, E. 2009. Enriching online learning experience: the three ‘presences’, Saide.

Moll, I & Drew, S. 2008. Learning, a learning spiral and Materials Design, SAIDE, WIP.

OER Africa. 2020. Online assessment: How do we know if students are learning successfully?

Saide. 2000. Open Learning in South African General and Further Education and Training: Report Prepared for the South African Department of Education, May 2000.

Saide, 2003. What is a Learning-centred Learning Centre? p26.

Saide, 2019. Open learning principles Enabling successful learning

Saide, 2020. Quality Online Teaching and Learning, an online course

Wiley, D. (2013, October 21). What is open pedagogy? Iterating toward openness [Blog post]. http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

Witt, A N. 2020 Towards a Working Definition of Open Pedagogy, IJOER, https://www.ijoer.org/towards-a-working-definition-of-open-pedagogy/

As readers will know, OER Africa is a strong proponent of open educational resources (OER) and open licensing. Creative Commons licences are the ones most frequently used when OER content is produced. There are six of them, which range from very permissive, allowing copying and modification (CC BY), to those that are more restrictive, permitting distribution of a work in its original form, but no modification (CC BY-ND).

Image courtesy of qthomasbower, CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

As readers will know, OER Africa is a strong proponent of open educational resources (OER) and open licensing. Creative Commons licences are the ones most frequently used when OER content is produced. There are six of them, which range from very permissive, allowing copying and modification (CC BY), to those that are more restrictive, permitting distribution of a work in its original form, but no modification (CC BY-ND). Users need not request permission to use resources with a CC licence, but the terms of each licence must be met. For more information on CC licensing, go to the OER Africa tutorial on Finding Open Content.

Creative Commons and other organisations discuss OER in the context of five key points called the five Rs – reuse, retain, revise, remix, and redistribute.[1] Retain, reuse, and redistribute mean that users have the right to download, distribute, and keep the content without requesting permission from the resource creator. Revise and remix mean that the user may change the content in some way without asking permission. As an example, the stories on African Storybook and Storyweaver can be reused, retained, revised, remixed, and redistributed. At the tertiary level, all OER Africa content carries a CC BY licence. Go to the OER Africa tutorial on Adapting Open Content for more information on the five Rs.

Although many OER proponents argue that all five Rs are required in an open licence for a resource to be considered truly open, some organisations have opted for more restrictive licences. Two African award-winning early literacy NGOs – Ubongo, headquartered in Dar es Salaam, and the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy (MILL), based in Johannesburg – have each decided to permit three Rs, but not to allow remixing or revision. MILL limits its resources to a non-commercial and non-derivative (CC BY-NC-ND) licence so that the methodology of its Vula Bula literacy materials can be retained. Ubongo uses the same licences for much the same reason; it does not wish its strict quality assurance methods to be compromised in any way through someone else’s adaptation. 

The experience of Ubongo and other organisations with different kinds of CC licences is discussed in Closed or open? Ubongo’s switch from copyright protected to Creative Commons licensing.

In many countries, the high cost of textbooks and financial burdens placed on students have led initiatives to write and publish openly licensed textbooks. Siyavula, a South African NGO, produces open textbooks in mathematics and science in English and Afrikaans that are aligned to the South African curriculum as set by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). It licenses some versions of its textbooks only as CC BY-ND, while others carry a CC BY licence. Textbooks that feature a DBE logo are branded with a CC NY-ND licence to prevent any changes without permission, while the logo does not appear in the CC BY version. The ones in the latter category are downloadable in ePUB format to allow for easy adaptation.

Figure 1 Siyavula textbooks are available in PDF or ePUB formats depending on the licensing conditions.

Licence type is an important consideration, but file format is equally significant. By way of example, text document formats such as Word or ePUB files are relatively easy to edit if you have the required software, but their PDF equivalents are not. In addition, video can be particularly challenging to adapt, even if it is legally permissible. Khan Academy (KA) videos are a case in point. KA offers most of its videos with a CC BY-NC-SA licence, which allows for changes in content or language. But adaptation requires software and skills that many educators do not possess.

Thus, OER content creators should consider both the most appropriate licence to apply to their work and the format in which it will be released. In 2015, the University of Cape Town published a three-step guide for academics on open licensing, which includes a discussion of content creator intentions, institutional policy frameworks, and selecting and application of licences.

Figure 2 All resources must be atttributed to the content creator.

Finally, OER content creators must correctly attribute every resource they use while producing their OER. The figure above shows the attribution page of OER Africa’s learning pathway on finding open content. Note that each resource includes information on the licence used.

In conclusion, while the meaning of openness can relatively easily be defined, working out aspects of openness that are most suitable to implement for different kinds of resources is a process that will be strongly influenced by the wider context in which these decisions are being taken. Some organisations want to maximise distribution but are reluctant to permit adaptation of their resources because of potential problems this might create. Others have no objection to their resources being adapted, but those resources are in a format that cannot be easily revised. Still other organisations are unwilling for their content to be reproduced and monetised by commercial publishers, either for ethical reasons or because it might jeopardise their own financial sustainability. This suggests that we need flexible, less prescriptive definitions of OER that will remain relevant for different contexts and needs and that allow people and organisations to move towards greater degrees of openness in ways that work best for them.


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


[1] Open Educational Resources (OER): 5 Rs of OER. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2020, from https://nsufl.libguides.com/oer/5rs