Gray Area

UCT signs the Cape Town Declaration

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The University of Cape Town –which is one of South Africa's leading research universities - lastweek became one of the few major universities worldwide to sign theCape Town Declarationon Open Education (previously blogged here and here). The Declaration was signed by  Deputy Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall, at a function in the Senate Room, hostedby the D-VC's office, the Centre forHiger Education Development and the Centrefor Educational Technology and supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation. The motivation for the event camefrom the OpeningScholarshipproject, both because Cheryl Hodgekinson-Williams and I wereparticipants in the inaugural workshop for the drafting of theDeclaration and because it is becoming clear as theOpeningScholarship project nears the end of its first phase thatthere is undoubtedly a role to be played by opening educationresources at UCT. The function was a great success, judging from thecomments of UCT blogger RetroidRaving:

 I just had to comment onthis function: I had ignored what I thought was a boilerplateinvitation, only to be told sternly that they really did want to seeme I went, and I was glad I did.
Prawns.  Seriousthree-corner jobs and hot sauce.  Fruit kebabs.  Sataychicken.  A more-than-passable Merlot/Cab blend....
Oh, and folk from theShuttleworth Foundation, a public signing of the Declaration- and some very interesting conversation with folk that I onlyever meet at occasions like this....
I was very glad to discoverthat the penetration of computer technology in to education at UCThas come a long way since the old M(M)EG days, of which Martin Hallreminded us - and that WebCT, which I found so clunky I never gotinto it, despite trying hard - is completely superseded by Vula.

The reference here to Vula(the UCT version of Sakai)is apposite: in his speech, Martin Hall tracked the impetus for UCT'ssigning  of the Declaration back to  the decision made afew years ago to establish the Centre for Educational Technology as aunit within the Centre for Higher Education Development - thusidentifying it as part of the university's development initiative -and the decision to invest in becoming the first SAKAI partneroutside the USA.

The link between Sakai and OERs was endorsed afew weeks ago at UCT by President Mary Sue Coleman of MichiganUniversity when a Michigan delegation visited UCT to renew thepartnership agreement between the two institutions. President Colemanannouncedthe launch of a joint programme to develop open educationresources in the Faculty of Medicine at UCT: 


Our final area of growing partnershipis knowledge sharing. Of course, everything we have discussed withuniversity leaders this week involves the exchange of ideas andconcepts. This specific initiative combines the dissemination ofknowledge with the immediacy and accessibility of globalcommunication. 

Medical education and research is socritical in today’s world, and we want to collaborate with SouthAfrican institutions to develop and provide open Internet access toeducational materials in medicine, public health and the healthsciences.The soul ofscholarship is research. From the current to the ancient,universities must make all information accessible to faculty,students, and the public.

A point of pridefor us is the creation of Sakai, the first global consortium ofhigher education institutions using the concepts and technologies ofOpen Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources encompass arange of information – such as textbooks, course materials,software and more – that can be accessed and re-used at no charge,and already, more than 150 universities around the world draw uponSakai’s resources. 

We want to createthe same level of exchange between the University of Michigan’shealth sciences schools – medicine, nursing, public health anddentistry – and medical students and faculty throughout Africa, sothey can access materials to supplement their medical educations. 

Speaking atthe signing of the Declaration, Martin Hall said that the freedoms of the internet mustbe protected, or else knowledge will become a heavily-pricedcommodity. 'Universities are not Mickey Mouse', he said, expanding onthe role of big corporates in the extension of copyright protection.'The commercialisation of intellectual property presents difficultchallenges for a university', he argued. 'Universities thrive onmaking knowledge freely available and the Cape Town Open EducationDeclaration establishes important principles for ensuring that thishappens.'

 The function was a useful moment to step back and take stockof how far open approaches are taking hold at UCT. A gratifyingnumber of senior academics and administrators expressed support;attendance from the academic staff included a number of new faces,rather than only the usual suspects; and most gratifying, there wasenthusiastic support from the students. SHAWCO,the long-established student-run NGO, that offers health,educational  and welfare services, signed as an organisation andSHAWCO leaders want to engage further with the potential offered bythe Declaration. 

Given thisimpetus, it will be interesting to see where open education will beat UCT in another year's time.  

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Apropos of Open Education, I am lately enmired in trying to get permissions to use other folk's published graphic material on my teaching Web pages...and it can get VERY hairy. Which is why I often (badly) draw my own. But no more! I have just discovered Wikip(a)edia's graphics resources - which are effectively free-to-air, as long as you don't want to make money out of them. A REALLY good resource - and one to be added to.