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As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, millions of learners and educational institutions globally have had to make rapid, unforeseen changes to how they run their learning programmes. Face-to-face teaching and learning have become impossible in many countries and there is uncertainty over when educational institutions will reopen their doors. This may have long-term effects on school programmes, examinations, and most importantly, learning. 

The pandemic has forced many educators and learners to explore new modes of learning provision such as online learning. It also places much greater emphasis on students being able to engage with educational resources as a primary mode of learning. Fortunately, over the last decade, a growing number of open educational resources (OER) have been made available by people in the education space for others to use. These OER offer great promise in ensuring that a range of educational materials are accessible to learners and educators.

What are OER?

There are many definitions of OER, one of the most comprehensive being:

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property licence that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge. (Hewlett Foundation, OER Defined)

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration states that OER should be freely shared through open licences that facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement, and sharing by anyone. The materials need to be published in formats that allow for both use and editing, while accommodating manipulation and adoption on various technical platforms. It also requires that materials be made available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet, where possible.

Creative Commons Licences 

The most common mechanism to share educational resources openly and legally is by using Creative Commons (CC) licences. Creative Commons ‘provides free, easy‐to use copyright licences to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work – on conditions of your choice’ (Creative Commons, nd). 

CC licences provide a wonderful opportunity to translate materials into other languages and use them for varying purposes. This is illustrated in the World Bank’s recent rapid response note, Remote Learning and COVID-19

A quick inventory of content that can be easily made available via remote learning is a first order of business. Freely available, ‘open education resources’ are plentiful in some languages; in languages where digital learning content is limited, translating existing open education resources from other languages may be worth considering, together with partners. (World Bank, 2020).

Over the years, countless educational materials have been available as OERs and released online. Because they are openly licensed, OERs can be rapidly aggregated and deployed in remote learning contexts to substitute for the loss of face-to-face teaching time caused by institutional shutdowns. With most proprietary educational materials locked behind paywalls and not free to copy or use, OERs can provide educators and students access to free, high quality resources, offered with no threat of litigation from overzealous copyright lawyers. 

In our upcoming series of communiques, we will share tutorials designed to provide users the skills to find and adapt OER. We will identify excellent open reading resources for your children while at home, and even how to start to assemble OER into a learning design. 

Our next installation will be on showcasing OER platforms. We will look at OER Africa’s activities and highlight some of the useful resources and sections on the website.

Image Credit: Bandita, CC-BY-SA 2.0

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.


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 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.