Welcome to the World of OER!

Posted by Michael Paskevicius | 1 Apr, 2009

A New Culture of Openness

The University of Cape Town has embarked on the journey of creating and nurturing a new culture of openness.  What ever do we mean by openness? 

 In the realm of higher learning we have seen a number of leading universities offering high quality academic materials to the world at large.  Have you heard of MIT's OpenCourseWare or the Open University's Openlearn?  These are websites which are offering these prestigious institution's course material for free.  Thats correct!  You can view them and download them absolutely free.  Academics can use them in their own lesson plans, and students can use them as supplimentary material for their own projects or assigments.  

Why are they doing this?

The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement is driven by the "...simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the World Wide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use and reuse knowledge." (Bissell, Doyle 2007)  

We are approaching a pinncale time in the information age in relation to higher edcuation as generations of techies are replacing traditional academics in the classroom.  This not only influences teaching styles but also content delivery and networking.   "The entry into the teaching community of ‘digital natives’-used to using, remixing and sharing digital content-will have impacts on education we have not yet begun to grasp."  (Bissell, Doyle 2007) 

Are we talking about a revolution?

Definitly not, but certainly a new culture has emerged which enable us to rip, mix, and share digital content in new ways.  Consider how much Facebook has changed our lives, brought us closer together, and captivated us.  Now consider that people are hard at work doing the same innovative things on the higher education landscape.  

"Open resources are the path to humility. They are an invitation to experimentation and collaboration. The more open the resource, the less one is committed to a single pedagogical path or theory, and the more one can profit from the insights of strangers, or collaborate with people one has never met."  (Bissell, Doyle)

Our Project

In the next few months we will be documenting our progress as we attempt to build a repository of UCT open resources.  We are trying to encourage faculty and students to contribute to our repository buy adopting Creative Commons licences which enables content to be easily shared.  

Certainly a number of concerns have been raised.  In our first stages of exploration the following questions came to my mind when considering this relatively new concept?

What is a Creative Commons Licence and how does it enable us to create and share content?

How can quality and a degree of organization be ensured when resources have no distinct owner?

Doesn’t offering our teaching resources online defeat the purpose of a working university?  

Will registered students decrease when resources are made available for free?

Will qualifications be awarded based on the successful completion of assessments after using an OER resource?

Many universities are following the trend in making an OER site available.  Ususally we find this being offered in their own domain as a branded OER site, for instance MIT OpenCourseWare.  Does this not defeat the purpose of the OER movement?  Should we not be meeting on more of a collaborative plane?  For instance a system such as Wikipedia where multiple experts, or in our environment academics, are contributing towards a single resource of course materials. 

This site is intended to document our work throughout this process and allow others to comment and contribute to our progress. We hope to answer these questions as we go, and we certainly are discovering more as we go along.  


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