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Open Education has the potential to make education more accessible, enable the creation of relevant teaching and learning materials, improve the quality of content, and empower learners to be critical thinkers and knowledge creators. Open Education Week (OE Week), held annually, is an opportunity for actively sharing and learning about the latest achievements in Open Education worldwide. OE Week provides practitioners, educators, and students with an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of open educational practices and be inspired by the OE community. OE Week will be held from 1-5 March 2021.

The term ‘Open Education’ is often used when discussing open educational resources (OER). However the term more broadly refers to a commitment to remove unnecessary barriers to access learning while seeking to ensure high quality educational experiences that will enable success both during and after studies. This commitment includes developing policies and practices of openness in entry requirements (with minimal or no restriction on qualifications), choice of courses, place of study and time, and so on. An open education approach can inform practice in face-to-face education, distance education, and online and blended learning.[1]

Open Education incorporates the key principle of learner-centredness. The learner should be the focus of the educational process and should be regarded as an active participant in an interactive engagement. Cognisance needs to be taken of the learner context, building on their experience wherever possible. Open Education should encourage independent and critical thinking. This is facilitated by regarding the learner as an active participant in the educational process and can be further enhanced by offering learners choices, possibilities, and contesting viewpoints within that process. Teaching independent and critical thinking empowers learners to be able to interact confidently and effectively within society.

Click here to learn more about Open practices, trends and opportunities in higher education in Africa.

 

Lifelong learning is central to openness. Learning should continue throughout life, rather than being limited to childhood and teenage years, and should be of direct relevance to the needs and life experience of learners. The concept of lifelong learning implies an acknowledgement of the reality that learning is a process in which all people are inevitably involved from birth until death and a consequent attempt to make structured educational opportunities available to people throughout their lives.

Education has become far more accessible to more people through the innovations introduced by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). While ICT has created many new possibilities for reaching learners, it also creates new barriers to access for many. Although online learning can accommodate different ways and styles of learning (making for greater accessibility) and enable the construction of a richer learning environment, all learners potentially face barriers to learning. These barriers may include the high cost of Internet access and technology, technical constraints in the use of technology, a shortage of appropriate resources (in the local language or context), or content that is not designed to be accessible to learners with disabilities.

Harnessing technology and online learning methods can provide access to education for those in remote areas, for the socially disadvantaged, and for the marginalised. If carefully implemented, Open Education can play a potentially important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and enabling lifelong learning. Of course, effective learning design is critical and recognises that people learn differently and require learning resources that are related to their needs and circumstances.

The FLOE Handbook can guide teachers and content creators to develop more inclusive and accessible educational resources.

 

An important element of openness is licensing. Legal frameworks such as Creative Commons help to govern how open a resource is. These licences provide mechanisms to ensure that authors of materials can retain acknowledgement for their work while allowing it to be shared, can restrict commercial activity, and can aim to prevent people from adapting it if they so wish. Open licensing creates possibilities for teachers and learners to access teaching and learning materials that they may not otherwise have been able to access. While e-books for the academic market are becoming more widely available, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, unaffordable prices, an inability to buy e-books due to a refusal to sell or bundling of titles in packages, and restrictions on research copying are affecting coursework and research in universities. In the UK, libraries say they have struggled with high e-book prices and lack of availability for years, but this situation is now critical because students urgently need digital resources during the pandemic. Follow the hashtag #eBookSOS for more.

Using and creating OER encourages collaboration, so educators are able to share teaching practices and benefit from the ideas of others. Effective OER practices have the potential to improve the quality and reduce the costs of educational materials. This opens the possibility of making previously expensive materials affordably accessible to many. This is one potential solution to the challenges facing learners and teachers in Africa and across the world.

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) has created guidelines and a resource list for institutions to keep the doors of learning open during the COIVID-19 pandemic.

 

The fundamental principles underlying OER are the freedom to share knowledge and that the knowledge should be legally, socially, and technologically open. OER promote the creation and adaptation of content for different contexts. This is particularly important in Africa as it is the least visible continent online, despite accommodating a population of over a billion people. Content used in Africa is not always created by Africans. By using OER, learners and teachers in Africa are able to findadapt, and create open content that is tailored to their needs, inclusive, and reflects the local context.

OER Africa has developed a series of learning pathways for university academic staff that will enable them to improve their teaching and learning capacity using OER.

 

If you are interested in engaging in Open Education practices and networking with colleagues, there are a few ways to participate in OE Week. You can host an event, share OER, or attend activities hosted by others. For more information click here

Remember all the resources on the OER Africa website are free to use and share. Let us know what you are doing to celebrate OE Week. Tag @OERAfrica in your social media posts and use #OEWeek. 


[1] Commonwealth of Learning. (2020). Open and Distance Learning – Key Terms & Definitions [online]. Available from: http://oasis.col.org/bitstream/handle/11599/3558/2020_COL_ODL_KeyTerms_Definitions.pdf [accessed 22 October 2020].


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

 

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.


 

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[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.


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[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

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