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This post is the third in a series on sharing African research outputs, using open licensing. This post concentrates on open data.

Open data means that users can make free use of research data without requesting written permission and without copyright or patent violations. The data are typically stored in a non-proprietary format, which allows editing and analysis. Open data are usually given an ‘Attribution and Share-Alike for Data/Databases’ licence. Just as Creative Commons provides licences for educational and research resources, the Open Data Commons provides a set of legal tools for researchers to use when they make their data open to the public.

OER Africa’s open knowledge primer provides background on basic concepts and their pertinence to African researchers. OER Africa has also created a Learning Pathway – an online tutorial – on publishing using open access. Both resources describe the role of open data.

Why is open data assuming such significance today? Quick release of current and verifiable information on COVID-19 is one reason, of course. More generally, many open access journals, research organizations, and donors now require authors to make their data publicly available, usually by depositing them in an appropriate and approved data repository. The journal, Nature, maintains a list of data repositories that it has evaluated and approved.

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) Open Data Guidelines also lists reputable repositories.  The Open Knowledge Foundation gives three reasons why open government data is important: it promotes transparency; it can help create innovative business and services that deliver social and commercial value; and it can lead to participation and engagement on the part of the business sector and civil society.

The Open Data for Africa Portal was developed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in response to the increasing demand for statistical data and indicators relating to Africa. The Portal provides multiple customized tools to gather indicators, analyze them, and export them into multiple formats. Users can search by region or country and by topic. There is also a COVID-19 Situation Room, with data collected by the World Health Organization.

The Open Data for Africa Portal relies on official statistics from governments and international agencies. Open Africa, on the other hand, is driven by volunteers and aims to be the largest independent repository of open data on the African continent. Although a civil society initiative, some government agencies contribute data, such as the South African National Department of Health. Data are available in PDF, CSV, and XLSX. Note that the dataset in the figure below was updated after its release.

 

Figure 1: South African health care system’s readiness for COVID-19

Open data does not mean sharing confidential information without protecting privacy. Some data qualify for release without any alterations; others must be altered to protect privacy before release. Still other data should not be released at all. The African Academy of Sciences, for example, gives detailed data guidelines for authors to follow, including a section on instances for which data deposit is not required.

 

Figure 2: When data deposit is not required for AAS Open Research

Making research and related data openly and widely accessible is an essential component of the Open Science movement, the benefits of which are becoming increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Open science can also promote scientific collaboration between individuals and research centres.

Africa is becoming an integral part of Open Science.  Following a three-year landscape study carried out by the South African Academy of Sciences and the Association of African Universities, the South African Research Foundation has been selected to host the African Open Science Platform (AOSP). The AOSP Strategic Plan delineates the challenges facing African science as research and communications methods worldwide undergo transformation.  AOSP believes that the Platform can meet these challenges:

'The Platform’s mission is to put African scientists at the cutting edge of contemporary, data-intensive science as a fundamental resource for a modern society.'

 

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

What's New

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to help to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

Image courtesy of opensource.com, Flickr

The Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) (40 C/32) was adopted at the 40th UNESCO General Conference in Paris on 25th November, 2019 as the culmination of a long process of UNESCO engagement with the concept of OER. Now that it is adopted and a UNESCO Dynamic Coalition has been discussing the next steps (download workshop report here), this raises the practical question of what steps government and educational institutions at all levels can do to operationalize the OER Recommendation.

To help to unpack the possibilities, OER Africa has been facilitating a process to support UNESCO and its stakeholders to consider what actions they might take in each of the four key areas of the Recommendation:

  1. Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER;
  2. Developing supportive policy;
  3. Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; and
  4. Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER.
 
This work is being done with support and input from a Network of Open Organizations established by Open Education Global. Discussions are in very early phases but has so far led to development of a very detailed Matrix of possible actions to operationalize the OER Recommendation. The draft Matrix considers in detail all the Actions identified for each Area of Action in the OER Recommendation and lists possible initiatives that governments and institutions might take (analysed separately for each stakeholder group). It is a work in progress. A Working Draft of the OER Recommendation Actions Matrix can be downloaded as a PDF file here.
 
As OER Africa is committed to ensuring that the impact of the OER Recommendation is maximized for African governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders, we encourage you to review the draft Matrix and add your ideas and comments (editable version can be found here).
 
Additional suggestions of how African governments and institutions can be supported in adopting the Recommendations are most welcome. Please add these to the editable version.
 
Your feedback and suggestions will make the draft Matrix much stronger and useful to others. We anticipate that it might be used, amongst other purposes, to:
  1. Develop a catalogue of freely available online resources for each Area of Action that governments, networks, institutions, and other stakeholders can draw on for support.
  2. Create communications and advocacy resources, drilling into detail on specific aspects of the OER Recommendation to provide ideas on possible activities.
  3. Repackage content for governments and other audiences to explore possible actions and policy reforms that governments might consider when implementing the OER Recommendation.
 
We hope the draft Matrix is already a useful contribution to implementing the OER Recommendation. We will keep the document open for editing until 30th November, 2020.

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

A few years ago, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were touted as “the next big thing”. They have developed since then and are part of the current education landscape. Who are they aimed at? Can university faculty members take an existing MOOC and use it in their own courses? How open are MOOCs? Where can you find them?

Image courtesy of Mathieu Plourde, Wikimedia Commons

What are MOOCs?

A few years ago, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were touted as “the next big thing”. They have developed since then and are part of the current education landscape. Who are they aimed at? Can university faculty members take an existing MOOC and use it in their own courses? How open are MOOCs? Where can you find them?

A MOOC is a course (teaching a specific subject or topic) available online via the Internet, aimed at unlimited participation (hence massive) and open in so far as anyone can enrol (no formal admission process and normally no charge). They are produced by universities, companies (Microsoft, Linux, Canvas, Blackboard) and non-profit initiatives (edX), and are aimed at anyone who wishes to learn about the subjects covered. Most MOOCs are distributed via course providers such as Coursera and Udacity. The extent to which they are considered ‘open’ has changed over time, but also depends on how they are presented online. When they first emerged, MOOCs were typically open in two ways: in enrolment and the fact that their constituent materials were openly licensed. By about 2012, many MOOCs no longer had openly licensed materials available, so their open-ness had diminished (Vollmer, 2012). As most MOOCs available now are not openly licensed, you cannot simply take one (or part of it) and use it in your own course. We suggest other ways in which you might use MOOCs below.

In a previous post, we discussed OpenCourseWare (OCW) as a ‘subset’ of Open Educational Resources (OER). We contrasted OCW with MOOCs, and here we provide a table showing the differences between these two educational tools:

 

Adapted from Martinez, 2014

A common criticism of MOOCs is their very low completion rate: often as low as 5 to 15%. Critics suggest that such a low rate indicates that learning from MOOCs is usually minimal. However, some specialists are beginning to refer to MOOCs as one of many forms of digital content, proposing that they should be compared with podcasts or educational news sites on the Internet instead of facilitated educational experiences similar to university courses (Ahearn, 2018). Other educationists note that MOOCs could help to widen global access to higher education, but they need careful research to assess the learning experiences that MOOCs can offer (Laurillard & Kennedy, 2017).

How can academic staff best use MOOCs?

Despite being not fully open, university academics can still make use of MOOCs as part of an interactive mix of educational experiences. They can be useful in various ways:

  • As professional development for you: you might find that enrolling on a MOOC provides you with recent developments in your own field, which you can later incorporate into your courses.
  • As a refresher for your own courses: High quality MOOCs often include recent research or cover topics in innovative ways. By enrolling on a MOOC, you can rethink your own courses, making them more relevant and enriching for your students.
  • As a supplement to student learning: You can review MOOCs in your subject areas, and encourage your students to enrol, even if it’s only for a section of the course. You can get them to engage fully and critique the MOOC as part of the learning experience.

The open access article Twelve tips for integrating massive open online course content into classroom teaching suggests various innovative ways in which you might incorporate MOOCs into your teaching.

Where can you find MOOCs?

MOOCs in English are produced mostly by universities in the US, Europe, and Australia. They can be found on some university websites, but the better place to search is through course providers, which collaborate with universities and other organisations. These providers are now marketing themselves as online learning platforms, and some of them charge for the courses – this is another way in which the open-ness of MOOCs has changed. Examples of such platforms are CourseraedX, and Udacity. If you want to find a MOOC relevant to one of your own courses, the best way is to use a browser and enter “MOOCs in <subject>”. You can then choose from your search results to examine them further.

Relatively few universities in Africa run MOOCs. Exceptions to this include the University of Cape TownUniversity of the Witwatersrand, and the African Leadership Institution. More institutions are likely to run courses as MOOCs or using online learning platforms in the future. The OER Africa website hosts some MOOC-related resources, such as:

In summary, MOOCs appear to have become less open since their original inception before 2012. They can be used by academics in higher education as a form of professional development, and as a supplement to the courses they offer. MOOCs can also assist students wishing to access courses within higher education that otherwise might not be available to them. 


References

Ahearn, A. (2018). Stop Asking About Completion Rates: Better Questions to Ask About MOOCs in 2019. Available online at https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-11-28-stop-asking-about-completion-rates-better-questions-to-ask-about-moocs-in-2019

de Jong, P., Pickering, J., Hendriks, R., Swinnerton, B., Goshtasbpour, F. & Reinders, M. (2020) Twelve tips for integrating massive open online course content into classroom teaching, Medical Teacher, 42:4, 393-397, DOI: 10.1080/0142159X.2019.1571569 (Open Access)

Laurillard, D., & Kennedy, E. (2017). The potential of MOOCs for learning at scale in the Global South. Centre for Global Higher Education, working paper series, Lancaster, UK, 42

Martinez, S. (2014). OCW (OpenCourseWare) and MOOC (Open Course Where?). In Proceedings of OpenCourseWare Consortium Global 2014: Open Education for a Multicultural World.

Vollmer, T. (2012). Keeping MOOCs Open. Available online at https://creativecommons.org/2012/11/01/keeping-moocs-open/


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

You have been teaching, but what have you been assessing? Can assessment also be about teaching? How do you know students have learned? It is easy to forget that instead of being separate processes, teaching and assessment have a close relationship

 

 Image courtesy of CC-0 Source: pxhere.com

You have been teaching, but what have you been assessing? Can assessment also be about teaching? How do you know students have learned?

It is easy to forget that instead of being separate processes, teaching and assessment have a close relationship – they complement one another and comprise a holistic educational process. COVID-19 has prompted an increase in online interactions with our students. As a result, many educators have had to adjust their teaching and assessment strategies. In this article, we explore online activity-based assessment to support teaching and learning.

Assessment and Feedback

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of distance learning and emergency remote teaching during COVID-19 has been the aspect of assessment. In addition to putting your course materials online, you may have been anxious to confirm what students know, and demonstrate whether or not they have met curriculum outcomes. In other words your focus may have been on assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. We have heard of cases, for example, where students have been allowed back onto campus to do exams, with little or no support for learning in preparation for those exams. It is certainly not fair, reliable, or valid assessment practice to expect students to come and write an exam when they have not had the opportunity and support to work through the activities and content leading up to that exam. Some institutions have managed to implement some form of online learning. Often, however, this has taken the form of asking students to read a textbook and submit an assignment. This is not necessarily very helpful for students struggling in this environment.  

If learning is reduced and less meaningful, what are you assessing?

Stop worrying about testing and start thinking about learning

In a post on Inside Higher Ed, in response to the pandemic, Jody Greene writes:

'By attempting to replicate in-person assessments in online settings, we fail to recognize that a change of medium may require a change of design. Especially if your instruction is interrupted close to the time of finals … don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you can or should just “put the final exam online.” Sorting students and rigorously determining what deserves an A-minus as opposed to a B-plus may not be the most urgent business in the face of a global pandemic. … Think outside the parameters of your original assessments and ask the question, what can we do here that keeps learning happening? What if our first priority in an emergency is not completing testing but giving an opportunity for students to integrate and demonstrate their learning? ... Consult your campus disability resource center to make sure you maintain accessibility and equity.'

Challenge yourself to think about assessment differently. But how do you do that? There are two important considerations.

  • Learning is more important than assessing in this context.
  • Students need support and feedback

Support Learning

Give students something meaningful to do, preferably supported by communication with their peers and yourself as educator. Primarily the challenge is to find ways of introducing activities into the design of your materials. Rather than just reading text books, lecture notes, and PowerPoint presentations, ask students to critically engage with a reading, analyse case studies, create diagrams, tables or summaries, or conduct observations and interviews.

Students can also support each other. Encourage them to set up their own study groups, if necessary via WhatsApp or email. Build some kind of collaboration into the activities you set, creating and sharing the products of their studies, reflecting together and giving each other feedback.

Be there for students. Write your voice into the materials and engage in a written conversation with them. Ask questions and challenge students to respond in a variety of ways. Try to set times when students can contact you to ask questions and feel your presence, and clarify how they should do so. If you ask them to send you WhatsApp messages, make sure the messages come through, if you give them the option to email make sure you respond to the emails within the agreed turnaround time. It is frustrating for students to send messages or emails to which they never get responses.

Understand the value of formative assessment

Usually the focus is on summative assessment. This often takes the form of an assignment or a written exam after students have completed a section of work. Traditional summative assignments may be more challenging for online students, particularly. Online learning and assessment require more self-direction and self-motivation. Many students are still developing skills like time management. Most institutions have a Learning Management System (LMS), but, if your students only have intermittent access to the internet, they will not necessarily be able to do assessments online on your institution’s LMS.

Formative assessment is an activity, or set of activities, designed to support and enhance learning. It requires ongoing feedback to allow students to see their mistakes and fix them with guidance. This supports cognitive development. Once you have integrated activities into students’ learning, you have already begun to shift the focus to more formative kinds of assessment. An activity such as a quiz can be designed in a way that students engage with a base reading, do the quiz alone, and then compare their thinking with the feedback you provide. Provide written commentary on the activities against which students can check their own understanding. This can be followed up with a conversation between students about their responses. In this way, there is individual study, self-assessment, peer collaboration and formative assessment all built into one activity. This is learning and assessment.

As an exercise for yourself, consider each of the following statements. Are they true or false, in your view?

Note: Scroll down within the block below to complete all eight questions

 

 

All these strategies encourage communication, negotiation, and collaboration. Students use feedback they receive on their formative assessments to understand how well they have learned and where they need to focus to prepare for summative assessments. They are also motivated to continue engaging with the course.

Consider integrated summative assessment

In a context where students are not face to face with you or each other, and do not have a reliable connection to the internet, traditional summative assessments can be more challenging.

Summative assessment does not have to be an exam. The formative assessment activities that you have built into your design can form an important part of an integrated summative assessment strategy. Rather than a single exam, consider an assessment strategy that consists of four tasks that build up to a final product, for example, each building on the previous one, improving each time based on the feedback you have provided in between.

This site offers some ideas for thinking about alternative assessment strategies that might suit your context.

Use feedback to build communication and collaboration into assessment

Feedback is probably the most important aspect of assessment in any teaching and learning situation. Feedback can help a student to feel more ‘present’ in a course, and to feel the presence of others more strongly.

Provide feedback that is useful, timely and helps a student to reflect and assess themselves, and is useful for improvement. Encourage students to reflect on each others’ work by inviting comment or asking a question in a chat forum or WhatsApp group, or by sharing their work and requesting an evaluation against agreed criteria. The University of British Columbia in Canada has developed a series of workshops for online teaching. They talk about what makes feedback effective and describe ideas for communicating feedback online. For a useful article  giving ideas about the nature and extent of constructive feedback, go to the OER Africa website.

Additional Resources

For alternative assessment ideas in higher education:


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