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Mainstreaming OER in Latin America and The Caribbean

Open Education

Participants at the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Consultation on Open Educational Resources. Photo by the Commonwealth of Learning, CC BY 4.0

The fifth Regional OER Consultation for the Latin America and Caribbean region was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 3rd-4th April. The event was in preparation for the 2nd OER World Congress that will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia in September of this year. The meeting was organized by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), alongside partners UNESCO, University of Campinas, the Government of Slovenia, and made possible by the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The event brought together 31 government officials and key education stakeholders from 18 countries to discuss concerns and issues for mainstreaming OER to support inclusive and equitable quality education.

The opening session was launched by President and CEO of COL, Prof. Asha Kanwar, and Joe Hironaka, OER Programme Specialist from UNESCO Paris. There were also remarks made by Brazilian officers demonstrating why Brazil is the most vanguard country on OER policy in the region. The Brazilian Ministry of Education announced that it will soon discuss a federal bill where all educational resources would be made available under open licenses. Meanwhile, the Secretary of Education of the São Paulo local government talked about the 2012 state bill that required all educational resources funded by the public to be openly licensed and outlined the challenges to promote innovation and a new education culture of sharing and knowledge building.

The technical sessions began with the presentation of Prof. Kanwar, who emphasized that COL believes that learning must lead to sustainable development as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). It was argued that early reports revealed that many countries would fall behind the 2030 target to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, innovative approaches are instrumental to achieve both speed and scale. In addition, she stated that OER has a tremendous potential for increasing access and mitigating the cost of quality education.

Prof. Kanwar presented an overview of the surveys to governments and educational stakeholders currently in progress to provide a context for detailed deliberation. These surveys show a significant interest for developing national OER policies throughout publicly-funded programmes and projects that promote flexible learning that increases access, efficiency, and quality of educational resources. Alongside the potential benefits, the barriers to mainstreaming OER relate to insufficient access to quality content, lack of users’ capacity, lack of appropriate policies, changing business models, and language and cultural barriers.

OER UNESCO Chair and local host from the University of Campinas, Tel Amiel, followed with remarks that Latin America and the Caribbean is at an early stage regarding the adoption of OER. Although many of the countries in the region do show high use and practices of digital resources like remixing and open licensing, he pointed to two main reasons why there is delayed uptake: lack of visibility, and a lack of mobilization/articulation. There is a challenge to expose more and better OER initiatives within the region like the higher education open textbook initiative LATin, funded by the European Commission that gathered 12 countries, 9 from Latin America, or TEMOA, a knowledge hub and multilingual catalog of OER for Mobile Learning. EducAR, the national repositories of digital resources for K-12 education in Argentina, is the first repository to include an institutional OER policy (adopting the CC BY-NC-SA license) for most of the resources. This should be an example for other Latin American countries, specially being a member of Latin American Network of Educational Portals RELPE and the Iberoamerican Network for Educational Repository Usability RIURE.

Regarding mobilization/articulation, the OER initiatives of the region need to be better identified, for example through a project that maps OER activities as the OER Worldmap, where only two countries (Chile and Brazil) have “champions” to upload OER data. Again, Brazil leads the way with the recently launched Iniciativa Educaçao Aberta, kickstarted by the UNESCO Chair at UNICAMP, and the Educadigital Institute, which brings together productions, academic research, publications, repositories, distance-learning, and other projects in Brazil.

The OER UNESCO/ICDE/COL Chair, Rory McGreal, highlighted one of the biggest educational challenges for all countries: by 2025 there will be an increased demand for learning from 98 million new students. To meet this demand there would be a need to establish 4 traditional universities per week, an impossible task, so it’s urgent to develop and deploy new forms of teaching and learning to meet this tremendous future demand.

Even as we begin to address this incredible challenge, we face tremendous opposition from the traditional copyright industries. Mr. McGreal gave a brief history that copyright (or similar notions of it) going as far back as the 6th Century have attempted to restrict access to information and knowledge. But he advocated that copyright should be a tool to build the right balance between the “encouragement of learning” to society and the rights of authors and creators. OER, understood as technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users, clashes against the currently-unbalanced copyright rules. Copyright law frustrates potential new educational uses of copyrighted works, such as remixing to create a new resources, adaptation to varied learning contexts, extraction to remove assets, localization and translation to other languages or reuse/repurpose of the resources. Copyright is an obstacle to assemble or “deboning” OER in courses, especially for e-learning settings, further complicated by digital rights management (DRM) and restrictive digital licenses.

I work at the Library of National Congress of Chile, and followed with the challenges related to designing and implementing an OER policy. Presenting two real cases from Chile, a frustrated experience with personalized web-based platforms and the corrupted/poor quality public textbook market, I highlighted the first challenge for OER policy is to approach today’s educational challenges with specific, pragmatic, sustainable solutions at different levels guided by the OER principles and open practices. The necessary condition to shape OER as a response to educational challenges is OER capacity building for all education stakeholders.

Regarding capacity building, a major initial task is to advocate for the benefits and potential—and also address risks and barriers—of openness in educational processes for teaching and learning. This focus on the outcomes of the educational process is part of a maturity of the process of how openness impacts education, where as 5 or 10 years ago the focus was on infrastructure, licensing, and creating a volume of resources. There is a growing body called “Open Educational Practices” and “Open Pedagogies” emerging through the use of digital technology, a true reflection on how openness catalyses innovation. As we advocate for the massive potential of OER, we also have the opportunity to correct partial or misleading notions about “openness”, as there is still much confusion related on what openness is and how it relates to education.

Another issue around capacity building for stakeholders is to support them with resources and tools for OER Policies, such as COL’s Guidelines for Open Educational Resources for Higher Education, the Institutional OER Policy Template, the OER Policy Development Tool, the OER Policy Registry, and other excellent resources for college and university governance officials. UNESCO’s OER Country Policy Template is a tool that articulates the goals of the policy, outlines the purpose and rationale of the policy, and provides information on why the policy is necessary and what it will accomplish. Another venue for information sharing and action is the Open Policy Network (OPN), whose mission is to foster the creation, adoption and implementation of open policies and practices by supporting advocates, organizations and policy makers. The OPN is responsible for the Global Open Policy report that tracks the spread of open policies around the world with a systematic overview of open policy development, as well as the Institute for Open Leadership that trains new leaders on the values and implementation of openness in licensing, policies, and practices.

Research is also today an important asset for OER advocacy and policy-making. There is a growing body of evidence and recommendations on the process of adoption and impact of the use of OER in educational settings, with initiatives like the PhD student GOGN network, the OER Research Hub from the UK Open University, the Open Education Group in the U.S. Increasingly pertinent to developing and emerging countries is the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development ROER4D, a evidence-based research project from 26 countries in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle Asia and Southeast Asia, with the objective to improve educational policy, practice, and research in developing countries by better understanding the use and impact of OER.

The final issue around capacity building for all education stakeholders is the need to build a compelling and encouraging narrative about the benefits and potential of OER. A good example is the Open Washington OER Network that features videos of grassroots reports from the field, end-user practices in the use and impact of OER, and policy videos with interviews with experts in various areas of OER. These are woven into a series of multimedia presentations on Open Education policy strategy, implementation, and vision.

I closed by exploring the Open Government Partnership as a platform to advocate for OER policy, especially as countries begin to include education in their action plans. I highlighted initiatives from Chile and Brazil working to do this.

These presentation were followed by exciting and thoughtful group discussions with all the participants to focus on concrete action, such as strategies for mainstreaming OER and exploring national OER practices to tackle SDG4. Also drafted was a list of commitments that will to added to and synthesized for the global report leading up to the World OER Congress.

Read the full report from COL here.

View video presentations here.

Posted 08 May 2017