a self-paced, unfaciliated introductory course created by Open UAS

Module 1: Introduction

Why Open Education?

Before we dig into all things OER, it’s important to gain a common understanding of the open education movement more broadly. What is it, and why is it a big deal? While there are varying perspectives and areas of focus within open education, advocates agree that open education has the potential to increase access to the world’s knowledge by removing barriers to knowledge sharing.  The development and promotion of open educational resources is often motivated by a desire to curb the commodification of knowledge and provide an alternate or enhanced educational paradigm. As an educator, what benefits do you see in using OER for you and your students?

Let’s begin with a video introduction that focuses on the idea that sharing is fundamental to education, and that new media and technology allows for nonrivalrous sharing of expressions of expertise. Not only can educators be generous in sharing their expertise, but they can also share it online, for free, and without restrictions on the use of that information (more on this later).

“The OERs – Open Educational Resources” by “intheacademia” is licensed CC-BY

Another important component of open education is a social justice concept. By removing barriers to education, access to information becomes more equal. In their chapter, “Introduction to Open,” Robert Biswas-Diener and Rajiv Jhangiani explore the history and existing problem of educational inequality, and remind us that Article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to education for everyone. Biswas-Diener and Jhangiani describe open education as follows:

The open education movement offers one possible, partial remedy to educational inequality. The most obvious benefit of open education is in its low cost. The word ‘open,’ in this sense, means ‘allowing access to’ although it is also often equated with ‘free of cost.’ In fact, most open education resources are freely available and even in cases where they are low cost, they still help to drive the market toward a lower price point. By removing or substantially reducing the expense normally associated with software, textbooks, and course fees, education becomes more accessible to more people. The open education movement can also help raise the quality of education for all students because instructors are better able to share and build on one another’s pedagogical innovations. It is here, in the second sense of ‘open,’ meaning customizable by and shareable among instructors, that we have the potential to design more engaging, locally relevant, interactive, and effective teaching resources.

Visual Notes from OER Forum
Giulia Forsythe. Visual Notes. (2012). #OER Forum, @BCCampus. https://open.bccampus.ca/summary/. Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial Share Alike License.

History of the Open Education Movement

We know that technological advances and the need for more affordable, equitable access to information are two key drivers of the open education movement. But how did we get to where we are in open education? What were the specific influences that formed the concept of open education as we define it today? Martin Weller provides a summary of the history of open education in his 2014 book, The Battle for Open.

 Openness has a long history in higher education. Its foundations lie in one of altruism, and the belief that education is a public good. It has undergone many interpretations and adaptations, moving from a model which had open entry to study as its primary focus, to one that emphasizes openly available content and resources. This change in the definition of openness in education has largely been a result of the digital and network revolution. Changes in other sectors, most notably the open source model of software production, and values associated with the internet of free access and open approaches have influenced (and been influenced by) practitioners in higher education. The past decade or so has seen the growth of a global open education movement, with significant funding from bodies such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and research councils. Active campaigners in universities have sought to establish programs that will release content (data, teaching resources, publications) openly, while others have adopted open practices regarding their own working, through social media and blogs. This has been combined with related work on open licenses (notably Creative Commons) which allow easy reuse and adaptation of content, advocacy at policy level for nation or state-wide adoption of open content and sharing of resources, and improved technology and infrastructure that make this openness both easy and inexpensive.

illustration w quote from Martin Weller, "Openness helps shaped the identity of higher education and its relationship to society"
Openness and Higher Ed. by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

Cape Town Declaration (2008)

One document that has been influential in defining the mission of open education and establishing shared global strategies is the Cape Town Open Education Declaration of 2008. The text of the declaration is as follows:

Cape Town Open Education Declaration: Unlocking the promise of open educational resources

We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.

This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.

The expanding global collection of open educational resources has created fertile ground for this effort. These resources include openly licensed course materials, lesson plans, textbooks, games, software and other materials that support teaching and learning. They contribute to making education more accessible, especially where money for learning materials is scarce. They also nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.

However, open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning. Understanding and embracing innovations like these is critical to the long term vision of this movement.

There are many barriers to realizing this vision. Most educators remain unaware of the growing pool of open educational resources. Many governments and educational institutions are either unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education. Differences among licensing schemes for open resources create confusion and incompatibility. And, of course, the majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts.

These barriers can be overcome, but only by working together. We invite learners, educators, trainers, authors, schools, colleges, universities, publishers, unions, professional societies, policymakers, governments, foundations and others who share our vision to commit to the pursuit and promotion of open education and, in particular, to these three strategies to increase the reach and impact of open educational resources:

  1. Educators and learners: First, we encourage educators and learners to actively participate in the emerging open education movement. Participating includes: creating, using, adapting and improving open educational resources; embracing educational practices built around collaboration, discovery and the creation of knowledge; and inviting peers and colleagues to get involved. Creating and using open resources should be considered integral to education and should be supported and rewarded accordingly.
  2. Open educational resources: Second, we call on educators, authors, publishers and institutions to release their resources openly. These open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.
  3. Open education policy: Third, governments, school boards, colleges and universities should make open education a high priority. Ideally, taxpayer-funded educational resources should be open educational resources. Accreditation and adoption processes should give preference to open educational resources. Educational resource repositories should actively include and highlight open educational resources within their collections.

These strategies represent more than just the right thing to do. They constitute a wise investment in teaching and learning for the 21st century. They will make it possible to redirect funds from expensive textbooks towards better learning. They will help teachers excel in their work and provide new opportunities for visibility and global impact. They will accelerate innovation in teaching. They will give more control over learning to the learners themselves. These are strategies that make sense for everyone.

Thousands of educators, learners, authors, administrators and policymakers are already involved in open education initiatives. We now have the opportunity to grow this movement to include millions of educators and institutions from all corners of the earth, richer and poorer. We have the chance to reach out to policymakers, working together to seize the opportunities ahead. We have the opportunity to engage entrepreneurs and publishers who are developing innovative open business models. We have a chance to nurture a new generation of learners who engage with open educational materials, are empowered by their learning and share their new knowledge and insights with others. Most importantly, we have an opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world through freely available, high-quality, locally relevant educational and learning opportunities.

We, the undersigned, invite all individuals and institutions to join us in signing the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, and, in doing so, to commit to pursuing the three strategies listed above. We also encourage those who sign to pursue additional strategies in open educational technology, open sharing of teaching practices and other approaches that promote the broader cause of open education. With each person or institution who makes this commitment — and with each effort to further articulate our vision — we move closer to a world of open, flexible and effective education for all.

The Cape Town Declaration was updated in 2018 with “ten key directions to move open education forward.” You can learn more about these 10 areas at CPT+10.

Check Your Knowledge [quiz]

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