Topic 2: Openness in education

(Article 16.1.) Declaration of Human Rights (1949):

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

This has been an engaging topic. Openness has positive connotations, being open is being  progressive, honest and generous. Open science is a hot topic and I was burning to discover how education is approaching this. Some of the concepts were new to me and it took me some time to understand and explore them. I am still working on it.

Why open?

The arguments for ‘openness in education’ are fair and convincing. Open education is a global effort to make education universal, outstanding and sustainable, by:

  • Giving free access to educational resources to make knowledge available to all and reduce social inequalities (universal education)
  • Providing high-quality, up-to-date and flexible means of teaching and learning (outstanding education)
  • Stopping us from wasting time, energy and money in creating endless versions of the same content (sustainable education).

The tools

Open educational resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials (mostly content) that are shared freely in every sense. Access to OERs is free of charge and open to everybody. Even more, OER must be iterative, mixable and reusable to a small level of granularity. The key to OER has been the development of open licenses (e.g. creative commons), which provide the users with a toolbox of permissions without the necessity of contacting the copyright holder. I think that the idea is brilliant, because it extends the rights of the users without compromising the intellectual right of the developers. 

What is holding us back?

During our PBL work we were confronted with the doubts of an educator towards OER. To tackle this problem, we decided to explore using and contributing to OERs by ourselves. Our experiences were overall very positive and we all found specific OER that facilitated our work and enjoyed contributing to them. Nevertheless, this exercise also raised some concerns. In my opinion the biggest problems of OERs are:

  • Discovery problem. Finding high quality OER that match our interests can be difficult and overwhelming. For the contributors, this can result in low visibility and the generation of unwanted duplications. For the learners, this is confusing and demotivating. Yet, there are a number of repositories that facilitate access to OER as well as search engines. I found many blogs that cover this topic and give comprehensive lists and good advices, as for example:
  • Quality problem. There are no standardized systems that assess the accuracy, quality and the pedagogical value of OER. Notably, some OER have incorporated two quality control mechanisms: open peer-review and assessment of learning. To implement these mechanisms in a general way, a critical mass of OER engaged people, collaboration and quality standards (assessment) are needed.
  • Lack of incentives and support. Producing, revising, curating and assessing OER requires time, competences, skills and sometimes money. Sadly, there is a lack of  reward, institutional support and incentives for those educators that are committed to OER.

Are we going were we wanted?

The term OER was born in 2002 at UNESCO’s Forum on Open Courses. Since then, the open movement has developed and progressed in their goals. Nonetheless, their ‘promotional’ material often takes me back. Why is open education presented as the ‘alternative’ to ‘traditional’ and ‘institutionalized education’? After all, this institutionalized education has provided free, universal and high quality basic education for several generations in many countries. Is open education actually reaching everybody? What are the efforts to encourage the development of OER in a variety or languages?

Despite these comments, I still think that open practices hold great promise for education, in terms of equality, costs, quality, innovation and learning outcomes. These are great and exciting times for education.


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