OER Africa Menu

Close Menu

Search form

Image courtesy of Kojo Kwarteng, Unsplash

What is Open Access?

As the world continues to grapple with the uncertainties that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, the need for accessible, rigorous, unbiased knowledge has never been more urgent. However, this need stands in the wake of a barrage of misinformation, disinformation, and ‘fake news’.

In spite – or perhaps because – of this, the Open Access (OA) movement has gained even greater traction over the past 18 months, in an effort to make research on COVID-19 more widely available and to make research in other fields accessible to remote teachers and learners. But what is OA? Why is it increasingly important and how has COVID-19 advanced the OA cause?

OA is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers, providing users with full re-use rights.[1] OA seeks to make research and data available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read, use, and build upon the knowledge, thus making knowledge outputs more valuable to a greater number of people.[2]

Open access can be applied to any published research output, including peer-reviewed and non peer-reviewed academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, book chapters, monographs, research reports, and images. OA journals are categorized using a simple colour system.[3],[4]

Table 1         The OA publishing system

OA can, to an extent, be contrasted with ‘traditional’ publishing models for research outputs, with often exorbitant journal subscription fees that have consistently outpaced the consumer price index by a factor of four to five over the past three decades.[5] The high cost of journal subscription fees has meant that educational institutions, educators, researchers, and students may be locked out by paywalls and often cannot afford to access these articles, or are forced to buy them without knowing whether the content is relevant for their purposes. Moreover, publishing in scholarly peer reviewed journals usually involves long delays from submission to publication, which takes an average of nine months. This is partially due to the length of the peer review process, but can also be attributed to the prevailing tradition of publishing in issues – which has become less relevant because of the digitization of materials. This custom ultimately creates backlogs of manuscripts awaiting publication.[6]

 

Open Access during COVID-19

Why is OA more relevant now than ever before? The last 18 months has provided an extraordinary research context in which researchers have bypassed traditional systems to provide up-to-date research and findings about the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. As a group of United States-based patient and disease advocacy organisations recently noted, ‘information critical to health should no longer be held hostage by arcane publishing’[7].

Throughout the pandemic, researchers have embraced open publishing platforms and preprint servers to disseminate their findings as rapidly as possible. The first article related to COVID-19 was published on bioRxiv on 19 January 2020 – just 20 days after the Chinese government informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of the impending COVID-19 threat. The article was licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence.[8] Some publishers have committed to publishing scientific articles relating to the disease as OA. Others are facilitating rapid open peer review and expediting the publishing of related research. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Hiltzig refers to this convincing demonstration of the value of OA to scientific research as one of the most important positive disruptions caused by COVID-19.[9]

At a practical level, the adoption of open practices has ignited collaboration and interaction amongst the scientific community. As Heather Joseph, the executive director of SPARC explains,

One of the things that COVID is showing us is that when scientists start openly pooling their data and articles, they start to have conversations about science in real time. Instead of waiting months for key findings to be published, scientists are sharing their findings on the sorts of channels many people use every day—such as Slack and Twitter.

This demonstrates how OA is part of the evolution of research publishing and in so doing, how it has contributed to our understanding of the disease. It is easy to see how the greater availability of information has propelled more rapid progress in various areas relating to COVID-19 – freely available scientific information has never been more necessary than in this age, where misinformation from unidentifiable or unrecognised sources muddies the waters between fact and fiction. But how has the pandemic highlighted the need for more people to consider making their research and data OA?

 

What about other research?

While most COVID-19 related studies were commendably made freely available to all, much of the world’s publicly funded university research remains hidden behind paywalls. However, the tide seems to be turning. Publishers, research institutions, and funders are collaborating to deliver high-quality OA publications for free at the point of publication.[10]

Efforts to remove journal paywalls have also gained significant traction since 2018, when an influential group of research funders announced that the scientists they fund should publish their peer-reviewed papers outside journal paywalls. This initiative, named Plan S, created instantaneous speculation over its efforts to eliminate journal subscription models. After many deliberations over policy, the project officially began in 2021, with 25 funding agencies rolling out similar OA mandates.[11] This has catalysed a significant shift, as an article in Nature explains,

Despite the complexity it’s brought, Plan S has already catalysed a shift in the OA landscape, advocates say. Journals that previously offered no route to make peer-reviewed articles immediately OA now do — even if only for authors with Plan S funders — and there’s been a blossoming of experiments with OA business models.[12]

Other significant developments include the global OA advocacy initiative OA2020’s efforts to implement transformative agreements in transitioning scholarly journals to OA. Transformative agreements allow users to repurpose former subscription payments to cover open publication of a country’s or institution’s research articles, thus eliminating author-facing article processing charges. Transformative agreements also allow one to restructure financial streams, creating enabling conditions for OA publishing and a more transparent, competitive market.[13]

In Africa, Côte d’Ivoire has launched a country-level Open Access repository, while Ethiopian university and government stakeholders have implemented OA policies for repositories, journals and infrastructures. In South Africa, institutions like University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand have made similar inroads in promoting OA, with the former institution developing a continental platform for publishing OA journals, monographs and textbooks in Africa.[14] In addition, countries such as Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda, have finalized their national policies for data and repository management.[15]

These kinds of arrangements have contributed to significant progress in mainstreaming OA. Piwowar et al estimate that, as of 2019, approximately 31% of all journal articles are available as OA and 52% of article views are to OA articles. Given these trends, they project that, by 2025, 44% of all journal articles will be available as OA and 70% of article views will be to OA articles.[16] However, there is still a lot of work to be done, as noted in a recent article:

In addition to and sometimes combined with geopolitical arguments and regional skepticism, active attempts to discredit open access as “bad science” are never far from the surface, e.g. the insinuation that open access publications may not be properly peer reviewed or that the APC model inevitably leads to lots of publications with questionable merit.[17]

This drives home the point that OA requires a consistent commitment to make sustainable – and sometimes incremental – gains in realising its goals. The current COVID-19 crisis highlights the importance of unfettered access to scientific and scholarly information, for researchers, educators, students, journalists and non-academic professionals alike. But sustainable change needs to happen at both the systemic and individual levels. Ultimately, it is not a question of whether OA is better than other publishing models, but rather of how OA can enhance a more equitable publishing ecosystem and thus make knowledge and data more accessible.

For more information on how to publish OA research, OER Africa has created a learning pathway to give you practical guidance for doing so. Visit Publish Using Open Access to access this tutorial. Other learning pathways are available here.

 

Related articles:

 

Access the OER Africa communications archive



[4] Open Access.nl. (nd). What is Open Access? Retrieved from https://www.openaccess.nl/en/what-is-open-access

[5] Burns, P. (2017). Academic journal publishing is headed for a day of reckoning. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/academic-journal-publishing-is-headed-for-a-day-of-reckoning-80869

[6] Björk, B. and Solomon, D. (2013). ‘The publishing delay in scholarly peer-reviewed journals’. Journal of Infometrics. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259165321_The_publishing_delay_in_scholarly_peer-reviewed_journals

[8] Kiley, R. (2020). ‘Open access: how COVID-19 will change the way research findings are shared’. Wellcome. Retrieved from https://wellcome.org/news/open-access-how-covid-19-will-change-way-research-findings-are-shared

[9] Tavernier, W. (2020). ‘COVID-19 demonstrates the value of open access: What happens next?’ Association of College and Research Libraries. Retrieved from https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/24414/32251

[10] Boyle, P. (2021). ‘Covid-19 underlines the need for full open access’. Times Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/covid-19-underlines-need-full-open-access

[11] Else, H. (2021). ‘A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing’. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00883-6

[12] Else, H. (2021). ‘A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing’. Nature. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00883-6

[13] Open Access 2020. (2020). OA2020 Progress Report. Retrieved from https://oa2020.org/wp-content/uploads/OA2020-Progress-Report-December-2020.pdf

[14] Makoni, M. (2021). New continental platform for open access publishing. University World News. Retrieved from https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20210203114558607

[15] Markin, P. (2020). Open Access in Africa, Institutional Repository Development and Open Science Challenges. Open Research Community. Retrieved from https://openresearch.community/posts/open-access-in-africa-institutional-repository-development-and-open-science-challenges?channel_id=2448-players

[16] Piwowar, H., Priem, J. and Orr, R. (2019). ‘The Future of OA: A large-scale analysis projecting Open Access publication and readership’. bioRxiv. Retrieved from https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/795310v1

[17] Spichtinger, D. (2020). ‘Not yet the default setting – in 2020 open research remains a work in progress’. London School of Economics. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2020/01/17/not-yet-the-default-setting-in-2020-open-research-remains-a-work-in-progress/

 

What's New

What initiatives or organizations do you know of who are transforming literacy learning spaces in Africa? UNESCO marks International Literacy Day every year to remind people of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. The theme for this year’s International Literacy Day is ‘Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces’.

Image courtesy of TEACHRwanda, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

UNESCO marks International Literacy Day every year to remind people of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. Unfortunately 771 million illiterate people around the world still lack basic reading and writing skills.[1] The theme for this year’s International Literacy Day is ‘Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces’. Because literacy learning goes beyond the classroom, what spaces can we transform to teach reading and writing, especially to more women and girls, to ensure they can become lifelong learners? 

Literacy is more than mere cognitive skills; it encompasses the social contexts, purposes, and relationships in which literacy is actively used. Functional literacy implies that a person can apply their skills in social, cultural and economic contexts. Moreover, the notion of literacy should be understood as a continuum of different proficiency levels of literacy and numeracy skills.[2]

Libraries are critical literacy learning spaces for both children and adults. During the piloting of an Early Literacy Development Course for Librarians, Dr Nkem Osuigwe, Director of Human Capacity Development and Training of the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA), asked participants:

"Have you ever wondered why some children find it easy to learn in primary school, while some do not? Have you ever thought about how learning to speak and communicate in the mother tongue affects children when they start school and have to learn concepts in another language that they call official? Don’t you think this affects how we imbibe knowledge, keeping what is learnt at school, different from what we learn and do at home. As library staff, has it ever occurred to you that your library can change the trajectory of the lives of children in your community?"[3]

Public libraries in Africa are increasingly required to do more with less, while providing vital access to reading material and resources for communities and individuals who cannot find such support elsewhere. Dr Osuigwe says of open educational resources (OERs):

"This is an area that people do not know much about, and it’s also an area that will help librarians generate more resources for their user communities. Where they can go and learn how to collaborate with others and to create resources if needs be."[4]

OERs are created to be free to use, share, and adapt. They have the potential to reduce accessibility barriers by implementing best practices in teaching and being adapted for local unique contexts and diverse learning needs, therefore transforming learning spaces to be relevant and effective.

Librarians like Dr Osuigwe are making great progress in transforming libraries in Africa to be more inclusive and ensure access to more books in more local languages, aided by technology and OER. Libraries can provide women and girls the space and opportunity to learn. Across the globe, women face greater literacy challenges than do men. Two thirds of people who lack basic literacy skills are women. Social inequalities, cultural biases, structural barriers to education, and stereotyped gender roles are often at the root of this. And, yet, women’s literacy is key to sustainable development. Educating women contributes to creating a better life for them and their families, as well as enabling the wellbeing and economic productivity of their communities. Better educated women often support and improve their children’s academic achievement.

Some of the ways that libraries can support literacy learning for women and girls include:

  • Creating a safe and welcoming space: for example, ensure there is trustworthy security, establish special events, and promote reading and writing by designing competitions.

  • Building a collection of resources relevant to the lives of women and girls. This could include materials on health, parenting, and entrepreneurship for women, story times for mothers and young children.

  • Establishing partnerships with local organizations such as women’s centres and family planning centres.[5]

African Storybook (ASb) is transforming how African children can access storybooks and even stories that have been passed down orally – and it uses open licensing to do this. Dorcas Wepukhulu[6] discusses how ASb taps into the rich storytelling and oral tradition of Africa and, supported by technology, provides opportunities for stories to be written, published, and openly shared on the ASb website in underserved languages. As she says,

"various social aspects of life are better learnt or passed on from one generation to the other through stories and parables, whether orally or in a written form, rather than more didactically in a formal classroom setting…Language has the power to limit and exclude and it also has the power to broaden opportunities, promote creative expressions and foster social belonging."

Literacy learning does not just rely on physical spaces. Virtual spaces are also now opening opportunities for literacy development, particularly in underserved languages.

AfLIA and ASb are just two initiatives that are working to transform the literacy learning spaces in Africa to foster equality and inclusion through open learning practices and OER. Globally, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) have published Guidelines on open and distance learning for youth and adult literacy to support literacy providers around the world in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating open and distance learning-based (ODL) literacy programmes. It includes practical ideas and a comprehensive list of OER that can be used to incorporate open learning practices into literacy programmes – which now include online and offline spaces to ensure literacy learning is accessible, inclusive, and reaches more youth and adult learners.

What initiatives or organizations do you know of who are transforming literacy learning spaces in Africa? Tag these organizations on social media using the hashtag #OERAfricaCelebratesInternationalLiteracyDay. Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


 

Related articles:

 


[2] Hanemann, 2015 in UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and Commonwealth of Learning. (2021). https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379397

 

On the 12th August, we celebrate International Youth Day. This year’s theme is ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a world for all ages’. The theme encourages people to think about how to harness the full potential of all generations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Image courtesy of Monstera, Pexelssee licence

On the 12th August, we celebrate International Youth Day. This year’s theme is ‘Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a world for all ages’. The theme encourages people to think about how to harness the full potential of all generations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Given that youth[1] constitute approximately 16% of the global population, the decisions and investments we make in empowering them are a strong predictor of success in realising sustainable development for societies. However, one of the main barriers to sustainable development is unequal access to high quality education, which disproportionately affects young people. So, it makes sense to ask: how can we create a world where people of all ages have access to the same educational opportunities, and what role are youth playing in this quest? At OER Africa, we strongly believe that part of the answer lies in open learning.

Around the world, youth have held a mirror to society and have questioned the status quo. They have asked important questions about social structures, politics, economics, and power dynamics. Young people are becoming increasingly influential in different spheres, including the education sector. One would be hard-pressed to find a comparable period in history where youth have been able to voice their experiences to such a wide audience and incite change as a collective. The past decade has seen youth ask valid questions about education systems, how they function, and who they serve. Their concerns have stemmed primarily from inequitable access to high quality education. For example, angry youth in Chile recently protested expensive and poor-quality school and university education, echoing South Africa’s #FeesMustFall protests which have raged intermittently since 2015.

High quality education still eludes a significant proportion of the world’s population, even though the right to education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the United Nations Headquarters’ OpenCon UN in 2018, Rajiv Jhangiani explained,

Many of you will recall these words from Article 26 [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights]:

‘Everyone has the right to education.’

And yet, over 265 million children are currently out of school.

‘Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.’

And yet, 57 million out-of-school children are of primary school age.

‘Technical and professional education shall be made generally available’

And yet 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills.

‘higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.’

And yet, by 2025 tertiary education worldwide will need to find a way to provide 100 million additional seats.[2]

Done well, open learning can provide part of the answer to the question of how we can rebuild education systems to be more inclusive, accessible, and meaningful. Open learning is an approach to education which has two primary aims: first, it seeks to remove barriers to learning and second, it aims to give students a reasonable chance of success in an education and training system that directly addresses their needs. At its core is the quest to democratise access to quality education, as it seeks to ‘allow as many people as possible to take advantage of affordable and meaningful educational opportunities throughout their lives through: sharing expertise, knowledge, and resources; reducing barriers and increasing access; and acknowledging diversity of context.’[3] This definition is a fundamentally inclusive one that works toward the idea of an education system that serves all.

Saide (nd) highlights the following key principles of open learning, which acknowledges the need for flexible, meaningful, learner-centred education throughout one’s life

  • Learners are provided with opportunities and capacity for lifelong learning 
  • Learning processes centre on the learners and the contexts of learning, build on their  experience and encourage active engagement leading to independent and critical thinking 
  • 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 
  • Prior learning and experience is recognised wherever possible; arrangements for credit  transfer and articulation between qualifications facilitate further learning 
  • Providers create the conditions for a fair chance of learner success through learner support, contextually appropriate resources and sound pedagogical practices.[4]

One of the most well-known elements of the open learning ecosystem is Open Educational Resources (OER), which are teaching, learning, and research resources that exist in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that allows others to use and/or repurpose them. If used to support effective pedagogical practices, OER can make a significant contribution to advancing the principles of open learning (though the use of OER should not be conflated with the adoption of open learning principles).[5] There are several case studies that demonstrate the impact of OER initiatives, including OER Africa’s recent research on OER initiatives in African higher education and our collaboration with the Network of Open Orgs to develop a set of seven case study summaries and accompanying report that explore the successes of OER. This research has demonstrated how OER initiatives have succeeded in improving access to educational materials, mainstreaming the use of OER into institutional practices, and developing resources and research, amongst other successes.

The growth and adoption of OER is also spurring the rise to other notable open movements, such as the Open Access (OA) movement. OA generally refers to research outputs that are distributed online, which are free of cost and may be licensed with a Creative Commons licence to promote reuse. OA journals are growing in popularity, and websites like DOAJ curate and index directories of such journals. OA can be used as OER if the open content is used in a teaching/learning context.

However, the use of open licensing does not automatically lead to better education systems, nor does it allay the need to address educational challenges from multiple angles. Butcher and Hoosen (2019) stress that opening access to educational opportunities through tools like open licensing is only part of the work of creating effective education systems.

'… it is important to recognize that designing and implementing effective educational environments is critically important to good education and encompasses many more dimensions than simply opening access to educational materials using open licensing. Thus, OER should not be regarded as a panacea to challenges facing education systems but are nevertheless a potentially important contributor to bridging gaps in access and equity in education'.[6]

Open learning principles provide a foundation on which we can rebuild education systems to better serve people on their lifelong learning journey, starting with the youth. Open learning is one of the most apt expressions of intergenerational solidarity: when we collectively seek to improve access to and quality of education, we can fully harness human potential and move society towards sustainable development. So, as we celebrate this day, let us also remember that we each have a role to play in this pursuit.


Related articles:



[1] For these purposes, youth are defined as people between the ages of 15 and 24 years

[2] Taken verbatim from Jhangiani, R. (2018). Open Educational Practices in Service of the Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from https://thatpsychprof.com/open-educational-practices-in-service-of-the-sustainable-development-goals/

[3] OER Africa. (no date) Understanding OER. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/sites/default/files/2018.08.Web-Understanding%20OER.pdf

[4] Taken verbatim from Saide. (no date). Open Learning - A brief introduction to open learning principles. Retrieved from https://www.saide.org.za/article.php?id=5

[6] Butcher, N. and Hoosen, S. (2019). Harnessing OER Practices to Drive Pedagogical Improvement: The Role of Continuing Professional Development. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/system/files/13409/oer-africa-2019-research-report.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=13409&force=1

 

What is personal information? What is a Cookie Consent popup on a web page? What are the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), the GDPR’s South African equivalent? This week’s post looks at recent legislation around personal information and how we need to consider protecting it when working with OER and open education practices.

Data protection by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

What is personal information? What is a Cookie Consent popup on a web page? What are the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), the GDPR’s South African equivalent? This week’s post looks at recent legislation around personal information and how we need to consider protecting it when working with OER and open education practices.

When you open a webpage, you may have noticed that there is often a pop-up on the page which asks if you accept the website recording your interactions with it. There are many different formats; this is the one we use on the OER Africa website:

Most websites use HTTP cookies (web cookies, browser cookies). These are small pieces of data created by a web server while a user is browsing a website, which are placed on the user's computer or other device (Source: Wikipedia). Cookies serve important functions, such as authenticating the user and storing sensitive information. If you click “Accept”, then cookies will be set on your device, whereas if you click “Reject”, you may not receive the full user experience on certain websites. ‘Tracking cookies’ collect long-term records of individuals’ browsing histories and can be used to target advertisements to individuals. This has led to concerns about invasion of privacy, resulting in countries and blocs of countries requiring ‘informed consent‘ from the user before data is captured. The European Union enacted the GDPR that requires users to ‘opt in‘ to their cookies being stored. Similar legislation has been legislated elsewhere, for example the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US, and POPIA in South Africa. The African Union has called for the adoption of a common framework on the protection of data and at least six countries have adopted laws for the protection of their citizens (Daigle, 2021).

This short video explains how the GDPR works. Although it relates to Europe, data privacy laws in other countries work in similar ways.

How does this relate to OER?

As the name suggests, privacy and personal data protection legislation is intended to protect people from having their personal information accessed without their consent. There are two main ways in which personal data might be at risk when working with OER.

First, there is evidence that ransomware and related attacks target the education system, specifically school and university websites (Zdravkova, 2019) and that the attackers have accessed email addresses and other data from students and staff to mount the attacks. If you access a site that includes OER or open courseware, ideally you should be presented with a cookie consent form. You can then choose whether you allow yourself to be tracked and what data the website may use. For example, the UK-based Open University website includes a cookie consent popup on opening. While Khan Academy does not have one, it does have a page explaining its policy on cookies. Others, such as the MIT Open Courseware Repositoryand the South African Siyavula website (openly licensed school science and mathematics resources), do not show a popup on opening. Users need to be aware of the possible risks they face when using such webpages; their browsing history may be tracked. In the commercial world, unscrupulous companies sell user data to other companies for profit.

Second, many online activities require users not to be anonymous when working with OER. When creating an OER a person would normally provide their name and (possibly) their affiliation. In giving this information, users should be aware that the information can be shared widely. More importantly, if you are working with students, they need to be aware of their rights to informed consent. For example, if you are working with students on platforms such as learner forums, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia, they should be aware that their data are being shared. Large companies usually list consent within their Terms of Use/Terms and Conditions, which can be very extensive, couched in legal language and are often not read by the user before being signed. We recommend that universities should adopt data consent policies for their students, and that academics and librarians should make students aware that their consent must be freely given, specific and unambiguous. Such consent may constrain existing practices, for example if an academic sets the writing of a Wikipedia article or a series of tweets as an assignment, the student cannot be forced to create a social media account in order to comply with the assignment. 

In summary, with the rise of digital technologies (particularly smartphones) personal information of users can be easily accessed and tracked. If they register on a site, the information may include their browsing history, email address and any other details they have entered. People accessing and creating OER should be aware of the risks of allowing access to their personal information: OER repositories should consider including cookie consent popups, while data consent policies need to be made clear to all users.

References

Related articles