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African Library and Information Associations & Institutions (AfLIA) Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, 2019

Image courtesy of AfLIA, CC BY


Report by Leanne Rencken,[1] for OER Africa.

Three inspiring conversations with remarkable African librarians provided me with great hope that our libraries on the African continent are in good hands.

Why did I have these conversations? My mission was to find out more about the ongoing collaboration between the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) and OER Africa

OER Africa has developed three learning pathways, as part of its grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, along with AfLIA, is piloting them with university and academic librarians on the continent. 

The pilot project focused on three learning pathways:

  • Find Open Content is a short tutorial for participants to acquire the skills necessary to search for open content, decipher Creative Commons rights and permissions and evaluate the accuracy and relevance of Open Educational Resources (OER) identified.
  • Adapt Open Content provides a rapid solution to adapting open content for new purposes. It covers adaptation options, and how to revise and remix open content.
  • Publish using Open Access explains what Open Access is, and why academics might consider publishing in this way. It goes on to discuss publishing options, guidelines, and touches on other Open movements.

I spent a few delightful hours on Zoom calls with Dr Nkem Osuigwe, who is based in Nigeria, but commutes to Accra, Ghana for work, Dr Sarah Kaddu, who is based in Kampala, Uganda and Dr Ayanda Lebele, who is based in Palapye, Botswana. 

With their shared vision, curiosity, thirst for knowledge, leadership, and a collection of PhDs, it’s not surprising that I’m in awe of these three women who, in one way or another, are stewards of library science and services on the African continent.

Dr Nkem Osuigwe, who is the Human Capacity Development and Training Director at AfLIA, chatted to me about the pilot, in which 50 librarians across Africa participated, and who, by completing these learning pathways, are testing innovative alternative approaches to continuing professional development (CPD), to reduce dependence on traditional workshop-based professional development. 

Dr Osuigwe reveals herself through anecdotes; she is a great storyteller and admits she is driven by curiosity and her love for anything that concerns reading. She is the only librarian in a family of medical professionals, her late father, husband, and children included. She explains that she holds a position of importance in her home, because doctors can’t know everything, and often turn to their in-house librarian for research assistance.  

This same thirst for knowledge, and innate hunger to find out more about how the world works led to her appointment at AfLIA and how she approaches her current position. 

As she describes it, AfLIA is the platform for all librarians in Africa to come together, learn from each other, and encourage one another. It’s a strong network of different types of libraries, as well as an advocate for better operating environments for libraries on the continent. One of her most vivid memories, from when she first started out at AfLIA, is of a goosebumps-inducing visit to a library in Nakaseke, just outside Kampala. She was struck by how much the humble, two-room establishment influenced and involved the community it served.

"This little library could get news from the radio, TV, newspapers, but also books. They knew when and where it was going to rain, the cost of seedlings, how to get better produce. They were passing this information down to members of the community, so, in turn that made the community go there to find out, ‘where do I sell my bananas today, at what price, how do I sell them, which market will give me higher prices…’ That was the first time I realized that public libraries can really do awesome things when the people that work there understand what it is all about, when they engage their user communities more."

Thanks to this need to know more, see more, and do more, coupled with her networking skills, Dr Osuigwe stumbled across open licensing. She pursued a friendship with Amna Singh of StoryWeaver on Twitter, and, through these interactions was introduced to Pratham Books (India) and its enormously appealing StoryWeaver project. This work sees the creation of openly licensed children’s storybooks that can be translated, copied, and adapted at will, because of the Creative Commons licence used. Once she had made the connection, written a book for the platform, and participated in a StoryWeaver competition to translate children’s stories, Dr Osuigwe had a better idea of the potential for open licensing, what it means for African libraries, and how children can access books in their mother tongue.

And because Dr Osuigwe goes all-in with everything she does, she continued to make fruitful connections, initially via Twitter and then in-person, between AfLIA and Wikimedia, as well as AfLIA and OER Africa. Subsequently, several productive projects have ensued. 

For the learning pathways pilot, AfLIA selected potential participants from amongst its tertiary-level librarian community. They received questionnaires to ascertain their knowledge of OER and open licensing, Open Access, and using the Internet to retrieve information. Librarians from nine universities in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda were ultimately selected. 

Dr Lebele and Dr Kaddu were two of the participants selected to participate in the pilot project, which consisted of an introductory Zoom call, followed by a call for participants for each learning pathway. The librarians had two weeks to complete the learning pathway(s) they had chosen. Participants also received pre- and post-pilot questionnaires and a user experience survey. 

For Dr Kaddu, who works as a lecturer at the East African School of Library and Information Science at Makerere University, CPD is critical, because she’s got to stay relevant to her students, who are a lot more digitally savvy than she was when she studied for the same degree. As she explains it:

"When you look at the information landscape today, you’ll see that it’s characterized by plenty, there is a lot of information available out there, so the question is, how do I navigate all this information?"

She also says that the webinars AfLIA has provided, as well as the digital skills it is supplying to support educators in their daily work, have been well received. 

"They raise awareness of existing trends that we might otherwise take a while to get to know. AfLIA, being a continental voice, has been key in unifying all that is needed on the continent, there is one place to go for guidance on curricula, for example, and it’s been very useful."

In fact, Dr Kaddu, who completed the Adapt Open Content and Publish Using Open Content learning pathways, has taken these resources and worked them into her own curriculum, so when her publishing seminars with the masters and doctoral students come up, she is teaching them a lot of what she’s just learnt. 

While Dr Osuigwe believes that much of what librarians learn during their formal education can become obsolete in five to ten years, Dr Kaddu reckons that sometimes it feels like three to six months. To counter that, she says:  

"You must continuously learn and discover what is out there to make your work better, something that is going to complement what you are doing, to make your work appreciated, otherwise your learners will challenge you. Acknowledge that there is a gap, while you are teaching, and challenge your students to help."

Prior to the pilot project, Dr Kaddu had a vague awareness of OER, and the symbols representing the various Creative Commons licensing options. However, following these tutorials, she says a lot has now been clarified for her, and in turn for her students. 

‘They were really awesome, they were well designed, the information was easy to find, the materials were very, very clear,’ she says of the tutorials, and although she only had to complete two of the three, she’s working on learning pathway one in her free time. 

Like many others in her line of work, Dr Kaddu is mindful of the fact that ‘academics are supposed to publish’. She says knowing what she now knows, she plans to publish more and is advocating for open content. 

"I really want people to put their content out in the public domain, so that it can be utilized. If we publish to a greater audience, who are available to comment on our work, we can only improve. When info is in the open, it attracts many benefits. I no longer want to have it ‘closed’ – that’s selfish, and it’s not taking Africa anywhere. We need to add on to the existing literature, content, and data we have. We want to promote our scholars."

It’s going to take some convincing though. Dr Kaddu says the initial reaction, amongst her students, to publishing using open access, is negative. She says, ‘we need to be into it, to participate in it and promote it, then they will appreciate it’.

Dr Ayanda Lebele is the Director of Library Services at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). She tells me that it’s impossible to talk about her professional self separately from her private self because ‘I’m passionate about librarianship, it’s generally who I am.’ While she has this in common with her colleagues from Nigeria and Uganda, there are other similarities in their approaches to work.

‘For it to be functional, and effective, it’s the people that matter the most,’ says Dr Lebele, describing her team of librarians or, as she sees them, her work family, at BIUST.

To this end, she has entrusted a lot of the processes around CPD to her team, directing them where necessary, but also letting them find their own way. That way, she’s constantly learning as well. 

With regards to the learning pathways, she had 16 members of her team sign up for the tutorials. It was a challenge, as they were just going into lockdown in Botswana at the time, so there was the related anxiety, difficulty in adapting to working from home, and data and device limitations. 

But she’s pleased to report that they succeeded and are still reaping the benefits. One of her team members, Winnie Jamara, was the self-appointed champion for the completion of the course work, while another, Barulaganye Hulela has taken the knowledge on board and applied it specifically to podcast development. 

‘She adapts content we get from the open access platforms and uses it to suit the BIUST context, and to disseminate information to our audience, who we no longer interact with face to face due to COVID-19,’ Dr Lebele explains. ‘Through the pathways we did, we’re able to enhance our service delivery.’ 

Just as Dr Kaddu admitted that there was some hesitancy in her students adopting the idea of open publishing, Dr Lebele has seen a similar attitude from teaching academics at her own institution. She believes that, as librarians, they have some responsibility towards changing this mindset.

‘We see ourselves as knowledge workers,’ she says.

"We don’t just manage giving people information, we also manage how they participate in knowledge creation. We have a responsibility to help those who don’t have the awareness, to know their role is not just to be reading knowledge created by other people; they also have to package their own knowledge, so that somebody else may benefit from it in a context that best suits their environment."

Having completed the Adapt Open Content and Publish Using Open Content learning pathways, Dr Lebele is a great believer in the subject matter, but would like to see a more basic introduction to open licensing and OER. She explains further, saying we need to take a step back to where people are, bring them on board and build their interest. She’s concerned that ‘people don’t see the need’. 

Dr Osuigwe shares this sentiment: 

"People inherently want to learn, but the point is that sometimes you don’t know that something exists, and so, you don’t hunger for it. Once you’re curious to know what’s happening in your field, and you dig into it, you stir up that hunger to learn."

Finally, Dr Osuigwe chatted to me about motivation, what will drive librarians to complete these tutorials, and thus embrace this unique opportunity for CPD.

With reference to open licensing and OER, she says:

"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. That’s the motivation for me! I believe that in everybody there’s a curiosity quotient, there’s that element in everyone born in this world to find out what’s next. But you know, life kind of puts out the fire in almost everyone, so what we are trying to do is to reignite that fire to find out what’s next, what can be done, how can this be achieved. This is the adventure!"

If you’d also like to get in on the adventure and find out more about open licensing and OER, you can complete the learning pathways available here on the OER Africa website.


Related articles:

[1] Leanne Rencken is an enthusiastic, happy person with years of experience in content creation, curation and publishing. She has travelled extensively across Africa, from Botswana where she grew up, to Nigeria, Kenya, Angola and beyond. She believes in the transformative power of great content, no matter the platform or product. Most recently this love of story-telling has led to her to pursuing travel, teaching English as a foreign language, and freelance writing and editing on a wide-range of topics.



What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.

Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.

Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.