New OER: E-Marketing Textbook

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Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams

In today’s student newspaper at the University of Cape Town, Varsity, Zerene Haddad reports that a new free online marketing text book is now available to South Africans. The book, which is an entry level guide for 3rd year management studies, was launched last week. According to Rob Stokes, the CEO of Quirk, the downloadable eMarketing textbook, “is Quirk’s contribution to Open Education because education is something we are passionate about – especially in South Africa where skilled people are needed so desperately. The more we can get this knowledge out there the better. We felt it was our responsibility to make this happen” 1.
This marketing ebook download illustrates Quirk eMarketing's commitment to the Open Education Declaration which aims to make educational resources available to all students. Students wanting to download the free emarketing ebook will have to decide whether to do it chapter by chapter or to download a complete version of the book in one go.

Stokes comments that individual acknowledgment is not as important as the team effort that it took to develop the book. He is keen to that instead of being concerned about who wrote the book that effort is place on “thinking of new ideas to get this book into the hands of more people” He notes that at Quirk eMarketing they are “currently working on an opportunity with the social development department of a blue chip corporate to co-brand and print several thousand copies of the book to get it into the hands of students in South Africa’s disadvantaged areas. That’s the beauty of Creative Commons, we will make no money out of it, but I think you will agree that everyone wins. I’d love to hear your and your readers’ thoughts as to how we can better get the book out there…?”1

Thanks to David Horwitz for the heads-up on this article!


Launch Of WorldWideScience

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Federated research technology powers new global science gateway.

Last week – on the 12 June 2008 to be exact - the U.S. Department of Energy announced the establishment of a multi-lateral alliance to govern the rapidly growing online gateway to international scientific research information - Officials from organizations representing 38 countries formalized their commitment in Seoul, Korea, by signing a WorldWideScience Alliance agreement to sustain and build upon joint efforts to provide a single, sophisticated point of access for diverse scientific resources and expertise from nations around the world.

Of importance to South Africa is that founding members include African Journals OnLine and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

A user-friendly interactive map is the face to this global science gateway which allows for federated searching of 32 national and international scientific databases and portals from 44 countries. The typical user query searches 200 million pages of science and technology information not typically accessible through popular search engines.

This federated search technology enables searching of what has become known as the Deep Web, which is estimated to be about 500 times the size of what is referred to as the Surface Web. So if you have been struggling to find research reports, white papers, presentations, published news, and workshop reports you may just find it with this new federated research tool. Other federated research tools include the Science Accelerator and .

Thanks to OpeningScholarship researcher, Michelle Willmers, for the heads-up on this information.


New Open Education Blog

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Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams 

What Peter Suber’s Open Access News is doing for the open access movement, is what newly launched Open Education News plans to do for the open education movement. Read Jennifer Maddrell’s inspirational introductory post or 16 June.

As OpeningScholarship is also researching Open Access and has been raising the issue of the need for UCT to start setting aside funds to support researchers to publish in open access journals, we were very interested to read BioMed Central’s blog this week calling for institutions to set up central open access funds. They provide a link to four case studies where institutions have established central open access funds at Nottingham University in the UK, at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Imperial College in London and Griffith University in Australia. Quite compelling!

Council Of Europe Endorses E-Learning And OER

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From Eve Gray and Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe endorsed a recommendation to promote e-learning on 29 May 2008. 

The really good news is that the recommendation contains specific reference to the importance of promoting open source software and open educational resources (OER), as proposed by the United Nations University. Here is the direct quotation: 

“E-learning can be a powerful means of creating open educational resources accessible to everybody thus counteracting a divided knowledge society. In this regard, the Assembly calls on member parliaments to support the so-called “open source” movement in software development and initiatives for open educational resources – freely accessible on the Internet, and to adopt measures to combat the digital divide in order to close the gap between those who have access to ICT and the acquisition of ICT skills and those who do not, thus ensuring digital literacy for all.” 

They later go on to make specific reference to the adoption of open source LMSs such as Moodle. Pity that they don't mention Sakai - the software platform on which UCT's Vula is built. 

This is a truly important development for Europe (and maybe for South Africa and UCT). See for the full recommendation.

Inaugural Teaching With Sakai Innovation Award

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Congratulations to Dr. Salim Nakhjavani and his team for achieving a well earned second place in the international Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award. The intent of this award is to highlight examples of educational applications of Sakai which fall into this innovative or transformative category. This is the first award offered and is sponsored by IBM. We are delighted that UCT’s Department of Public Law's international law course, Inkundla yeHlabathi / World Forum, has been given the international recognition that it truly deserves.

In this innovative tutorial simulation, students learn to apply the rules and methods of international law through a series of African case studies from the 1960s to the present day by simulating the work of legal advisers to ten African States. The importance of this course resides in the fact that, although many of the cases before the International Court concern Africa, African voices tend to be absent from the textbooks and commentaries on international law.

The course is delivered through a combination of formal, doctrinal lectures, small-group tutorials and the Inkundla yeHlabathi simulation. A compilation of cases and materials, the e-casebook, is made available to students both online and on CD-ROM for offline use. This online tutorial simulation is made available through the Learning Management System, Vula, which is UCT’s adaptation of Sakai, an open source software platform. According to Dr Nakhjavani’s submission to the TWSIA committee: “Inkundla yeHlabathi / World Forum equips students to work comfortably with electronic materials. As effective legal research now depends more on databases than on libraries, and as international organisations and law firms alike switch to fully digitized working environments, Sakai helps our students build essential transferable skills”.

Vula also provides the space for using social networking and participatory forums as a teaching tool. The participatory nature of the course means that students are drawn not only into engaging with the issues, but also into developing their own materials. Grappling with primary texts, students find themselves forced to evaluate what they are reading and form their own opinions, while participation in an online forum provides a space in which ideas are challenged and hammered out. Most importantly, such online forums – student discussion spaces with lecturer support – seem to contribute to higher success rates. However, they are very demanding of the lecturers concerned and require active facilitation.

In terms of opening access Dr Nakhjavani's vision is to gradually engage other African universities in parts of the simulation, deployed through Sakai and hosted by the University. This, it is hoped, would lead to the development of more teaching materials on international law that have an African perspective, as well as making these materials broadly and freely available. The University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa) plans to join one component of the simulation in late 2008.

This course provides an exemplar of the unfolding nature of open education and highlights some of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to make this simulation open to all. These challenges include copyright clearance and long-term sustainability models. While many of the cases that the students use, from the International Criminal Court in particular, are in the public domain, many commentaries on these and other cases that they need to refer to are not.

Then there is the question of the time and money that it takes to set up a course such as this and to deal with the issues that have to be addressed if it is to become open beyond the originating university. This course has been made possible through the award of two "Teaching with Technology" grants, allocated by UCT’s University's Centre for Educational Technology, currently sponsored by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. This allowed the teaching team to hire a Research and Development Assistant - a postgraduate law student with strong technical skills and interest in the subject - to compile, digitize and upload resources, develop initial wikis and research background material for course content. However, a long term sustainability model needs to be developed to support the maintenance and continued development of the course.

Open Medical Education University Of Michigan Launches Open Health Education Programme With UCT

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From Eve Gray

In my Gray Area blog of 14 April  on the UCT signing of the Cape Town Declaration, I mentioned the visit of a University of Michigan led by university President Mary Sue Coleman,  who were visiting UCT to sign a renewal of the partnership agreement between Michigan and UCT.  One of the collaborative ventures announced was for the creation of Open Education Resources in the Schools of Medicine at the two universities.

I learned today from Peter Suber's Open Access blog that this venture has now received funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as is ready to get under way. The Press Release on the Open.Michigan site spells out the details:

The U-M Medical School is leading this project and working with U-M health science schools and partner institutions in Africa – the University of Cape Town and the University of Ghana. A key part of this effort will be converting existing educational materials into Open Educational Resources, which will be available online to anyone. The Medical School and the schools of Public Health and Dentistry will provide materials for the pilot. Other U-M health science schools and the School of Information also are supporting the OER program.

The focus in this programme is strongly on the developing world, but the U-M Medical School perceives this as a two-way transformative intervention, impacting also on in its own medical school:

As we participate in this effort to help improve medical education in developing countries, we are transforming our health curriculum to provide students with richer learning experiences and strengthening their ability to practice in a global health context.”

It is also seen as as a conscious response to the health crisis in Africa and a contribution 'to collaboratively solve the human resource crisis in Africa.'

That word 'collaboratively' is an important one. I am encouraged by the fact that this project is being led by the University of Michigan, which was a leading partner in the establishment of the Sakai consortium. In her speech at UCT, President Coleman specifically referred to her pride in the university's role in Sakai and the open source values of knowledge sharing that it enshrines. UCT was the first non-USA university to join Sakai and the experience of our team in CET is that this has been a community experience, in which there is equality in in the ways in which the universities in the North and the South collaborate. This bodes well for the collaboration on opening educational resources – it is to be hoped that UCT's role in this venture will be a significant one and that the developing world perspective on medical education that UCT can offer will impact on the global health context.

Added to this, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of this venture, is its forward-looking and democratic approach to the development of OERs, which draws strongly on the contribution of students. It is well worth visiting the web page that explains dScribe, and other projects at Open.Michigan.  dScribe is the publishing system that will underpin the project:

The dScribe project is a student-centric OER publishing system. It leverages the existing student-faculty relationship to gather, vet, and publish course material on an OER website. The dScribe project establishes a powerful new participatory paradigm in higher education by involving students in an active teaching and learning process. This process is being developed to be portable and adaptable, and could offer institutions worldwide with a set of tools to sustain a grassroots OER effort.

And this is more than just content online. Another project, the Encore competency based medical student programme, for example, 'will combine continuous, formative and summative assessment of higher order educational outcomes with flexible learning paths for achievement in nine defined competency domains. Competency standards will be set explicitly, and a comprehensive and valid set of existing and new assessment tools will measure learner achievement of these outcomes. Students will select flexible learning paths, made up of curricular elements derived from existing and new learning experiences that are mapped directly to specific clinical patient presentations.'

I am looking forward to seeing this programme roll out at UCT, too and very interested to learn more about what UCT's specific roles will be.

Tracking Research Impact - The Impact Of ICT Systems And A Case Study From The University Of Sydney (Part 2)

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Apologies - the end part of this blog, so carefully crafted by Eve Gray - did not make it to the first post! So here is the rest (Cheryl)

The national policy for the reward of scholarly publication pays substantial sums of money for publication in ‘accredited’ publications. This means that the emphasis is on authorship of individual articles, linked to what is largely a pre-determined list of publications. In this system it is where something is published that counts, rather than what is published.

We thus learned the perhaps obvious lesson that what is recorded and what is tracked in university systems reflects the (financial) value systems enshrined in national policy.  Support for publication activities does not attract immediate financial rewards and so is not tracked, although in conversation, the realisation dawned that the lack of support for South African journals and presses was having a prejudicial effect on the ability of authors to get published professionally and speedily in South African publications and for locally-focused research to find sufficient outlets, particularly when it came to new fields of knowledge.

The second set of questions had to do with the social responsiveness of the university’s research activities. We knew, from our own contacts and enquiries that UCT has a rich record of socially research projects that provide considerable social and economic benefits. We also know that the national government is calling on universities to demonstrate the impact of publicly-funded research efforts on national development targets – economic growth, human resource development, employment, public health, and education, to name but a few. Here the financial rewards are indirect: as Martin Hall put it, bluntly:

The incentive for the university is survival.  Governments everywhere are reducing unconditional support for higher education institutions, promoting responses that range from near privatization (through escalating fees) to marketization (requiring an ever-increasing emphasis on directly marketable research outputs).[1]

In these circumstances, as Hall insists, it is wise for universities to ensure that their research is effectively disseminated and its impact demonstrated.

We found here, too, that there was no comprehensive record of the research output that could deliver social impact. In this case, though, UCT, in the context of its transformation agendas, has started to build up records of research projects and innovations that are having development impact, through the recent creation of a Social Responsiveness website (see also the UCT  Transformation blog) However, this kind of research output is not is not yet reflected in the IRMA database. Thus, if one asks the question, ‘What is UCT doing, by way of development-related research?’ there can be an answer, drawn from the new website, but as yet this reflects only a fraction of what is being done.

All of this obviously raised questions about the relationship between a university’s mission and how well this is articulated through its administrative records. From this perspective we realised the potential importance of a system like IRMA and the political sensitivity of the way such a system is used.

Once at the IRMA workshop, it became clear that a descriptive case study can be worth many pages of policy documents and so I listened with great interest to the account by Merrill Bouckley, the Reports, Systems and Data Manager in the  Research Office of the  University of Sydney of how research records are kept there.

Sydney is one of the 'Group of 8” - the leading Australian universities. These institutions are fiercely competitive (like UCT) when it comes to their ability to attract research funding for their publications and the international profile they attract from their research outputs. Thus far, this sounds very like the South African situation, in which the pressure to produce publications that qualify for Department of Education subsidy and attract citations and international rankings is a key competitive driver in university research departments. However, Merrill's description of how the University of Sydney implements the Australian Research Quality Framework[2] reveals key differences both in policy approach, philosophy and the implementation processes. In particular, the system relies less on the prior identification of 'accredited' publications and more on a qualitative judgement on the value of the particular publication output. 

As Merrill described the system, the university research office records all outputs – not only journal articles, conference proceedings and books, but also research reports, media articles, posters, presentations, creative works and computer programmes. In the first instance, they are not interested primarily in what is accredited but want to capture as much as possible of what is being disseminated. They do this progressively throughout the year and scan and store the publications in their D-Space repository. This information is then available to be used to profile the university and its individual researchers and to enable it to respond to changes in national policy (given a recent change in government – something not lacking in relevance to South Africans, given the current state of ANC politics).

The way the system of research rewards works in Australia is different to South Africa in significant ways. First of all, the emphasis is – beyond metrics and numerical counts - on the qualitative value of what is published, and not on the vehicle through which it is published. In other words, it is what is published that is important, more than where it is published. It is up to the university to tag and then sift through the output of books, book chapters, journal articles and conference proceedings to evaluate what it regards as outputs that are of sufficient quality to qualify for government subsidy. Because Sydney records publications progressively throughout the year, it can blind-review where it feels this is necessary as soon as publications are recorded on the system. If this review process rejects an output as not being of sufficient value (and this can happen even in the case of publication in prestigious international journals) then there is an appeal system that goes to a committee whose judgement is final. If a journal is not of well-established quality, then the article will inevitably go off to review. And if something that emerges as being of exceptional research value, but is published in a non-peer-reviewed publication, then the university has the option of reviewing it and including it in the accredited list.

There is a risk value to all this: the university submits a very brief  report to the Department of Education, Science and  Technology (DEST), simply enumerating the publications proposed for accreditation in a very brief report and DEST then carries out a rolling audit through the different universities from year to year. (There is, by the way, no need to send container-loads of paper copies to the government office, as everything is accessible online in the institutional repository.) If there is a variance of more than 10% between the university’s evaluation of its publications and the government’s, the university suffers a proportional cut in its research funding (where the publication component is not, as in South Africa, per publication, but is proportional across a number of funding fields).  

The value allocated to different kinds of publication, by the way, is also weighted differently to South Africa: journal articles and conference proceedings get 1 point, books 5 points and chapters in books is a complicated computation.

While this system does seem to mean a lot of work for the university in entering and evaluation publications, it does seem to have significant advantages. First of all, the university has control over what it considers to be valuable research. This means that locally-relevant research can be valued, as can new fields of knowledge development. There seems to be a better chance of their being consistent and appropriate values applied to research output. The system enables extensive tracking and analysis of trends in research output and also enables the institution to leverage this information to promote and position the university’s reputation. For example, the kind of question I suggested above, about socially responsive research, could be answered at the push of a button (as the system potentially has fine granularity and can break down what kind of research has been done, with what kinds of socio-economic implications).

Jean-Claude Guedon sums up his positive evaluation of the Australian system in a recent article:

One country, Australia, has found an interesting and intelligent way of promoting the creation of open archives in its universities and getting them to fill up effectively through coupling the creation of these archives with the national procedures for the evaluation of research (the Research Quality Framework, or RQF). The fundamental idea is to base the evaluation of university research uniquely on what is to be found in the institutional repository (and these in turn determine the level of financial support to the university in question), because, it is argued, efficiency requires that one relies on digital documents that are easily accessible. The complementary idea is to make available a substantial budget to help the universities to set up institutional repositories rapidly…: this is the Australian Scheme for Higher Education Repositories, or ASHER. This system arose, in fact, out of an earlier study designed to demonstrate the importance of research for the Australian economy: Public Support for Science and Technology.[3] 


I suspect that there are some lessons to be learned here for South African institutions and national policy-makers.

[1] Freeing the Knowledge Resources of Public Universities. KM Africa – Knowledge to Address Africa’s Development Challenges

March 2005

[2] Now being replaced by Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) by the new government. 

[3] Jean-Claude Guédon. 2008. Access libre, archives ouvertes et Etats-nations: les strategies du possible. Ametist Numero 2AMETIST.

Tracking Research Impact - The Impact Of ICT Systems And A Case Study From The University Of Sydney

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An unexpected series of events led to two of us from the OpeningScholarship team attending an inter-university workshop on IRMA, the technical platform that UCT uses to manage the records of its research outputs. Australian developers and representatives of Australian and South African universities using the system met to discuss a range of issues, including research publication record-keeping. This bureaucratic environment does not sound like our usual milieu. How did we get there?

Because the OpeningScholarship project is exploring from a variety of perspectives the impact of ICT on university communications, we have found ourselves asking questions that, as simple as they might seem to us, are revelatory of the sometimes hidden ways in which national policy is responded to by the university administration and in how this in turn impacts on what knowledge about its operations the university makes available. Implicitly this provides further insights into what is valued in the university systems and hierarchies. It also makes clear the extent to which money is the major driver.  

The OpeningScholarship project has been investigating communications between scholars; between lecturers and students; and between the university and the community. These are, after all, the three central planks of the university’s mission – although it would appear that they are not necessarily valued equally when it comes to knowledge management. The project is also looking at new models of scholarly publishing and how that could operate at UCT.

And so Cheryl found herself in the Research Office asking where we could find information on what was being published on campus, by departments, research units and individuals. The answer that interested the Research Office’s records manager as much as it did us, is that there is no record of who is editing, publishing or serving on editorial boards, as important as these might seem in the university context.%

Open Access Gains Traction

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This is the full article of the abbreviated version that appeared in the University of Cape Town's Faculty of Health Science's Faculty Newsletter today, 4 February 2008. It includes hyperlinks to the various studies referred to in the print version. 

Open access (OA), the idea of providing free online access to information including full-text, peer-reviewed journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research, is a growing phenomenon in the Health Science field around the world. Apart from the higher visibility of their research and the value of disseminating health-related publications in a timelier manner, the main reason authors seem to make their articles openly accessible, is to maximize their research citation impact. In 2001 Lawrence first reported the OA citation impact advantage finding that articles in computer science that were openly accessible on the Web were cited substantially more than those that were not. Hajjem, Harnad and Gingras’ study in 2005 compared OA and non-OA articles in the same journal/year, and found that OA articles have consistently more citations, the advantage varying from 36%-172% by discipline and year[1]. A 2006 study by Eysenbach found that OA articles compared to non-OA articles remained twice as likely to be cited in the first 4–10 months after publication, with the odds ratio increasing to 2.9 10–16 months after publication[1].

Peter Suber[1] reports that in the USA, the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Public Access Policy until now voluntary, is set to become mandatory following President Bush's approval on Dec 26th 2007 of the latest NIH appropriations bill. This bill requires scientists funded by the NIH to submit copies of their peer-reviewed journal manuscripts to NIH’s online archive, PubMed Central, in order to the article to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication. The NIH is the world’s largest funder of non-classified scientific research with a budget of $28 billion. Research findings are published in about 65 000 peer-reviewed journal articles every year.

In South Africa, we have no such Open Access policy as yet. Does this mean that our research published in non-OA articles is less likely to be read than the more publicly available American research?



Lawrence, S, (2001) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (2001) (6837): 521. Available online:

Hajjem, C., Harnad, S. and Gingras, Y. (2005) Ten-Year Cross-Disciplinary Comparison of the Growth of Open Access and How it Increases Research Citation Impact. IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin, 28 (4). pp. 39-47. Available online:

Eysenbach G (2006) Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLoS Biol 4(5): 157. Available online:

Peter Suber and



Cape Town Open Education Declaration

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Cape Town, January 22nd, 2008 - A coalition of educators, foundations, and internet pioneers today urged governments and publishers to make publicly-funded educational materials available freely over the internet.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, launched today, is part of a dynamic effort to make learning and teaching materials available to everyone online, regardless of income or geographic location. It encourages teachers and students around the world to join a growing movement and use the web to share, remix and translate classroom materials to make education more accessible, effective, and flexible.

"Open education allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the web," said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Wikia and one of the authors of the Declaration. "Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn."

According to the Declaration, teachers, students and communities would benefit if publishers and governments made publicly-funded educational materials freely available online. This will give students unlimited access to high quality, constantly improving course materials, just as Wikipedia has done in the world of reference materials.

Open education makes the link between teaching, learning and the collaborative culture of the Internet. It includes creating and sharing materials used in teaching as well as new approaches to learning where people create and shape knowledge together. These new practices promise to provide students with educational materials that are individually tailored to their learning style.  There are already over 100,000 such open educational resources available on the Internet.

The Declaration is the result of a meeting of thirty open education leaders in Cape Town, South Africa, organized late last year by the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation. Participants identified key strategies for developing open education. They encourage others to join and sign the Declaration.

"Open sourcing education doesn't just make learning more accessible, it makes it more collaborative, flexible and locally relevant," said Linux Entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, who also recorded a video press briefing ( ).  "Linux is succeeding exactly because of this sort of adaptability.  The same kind of success is possible for open education."

Open education is of particular relevance in developing and emerging economies, creating the potential for affordable textbooks and learning materials. It opens the door to small scale, local content producers likely to create more diverse offerings than large multinational publishing houses.

"Cultural diversity and local knowledge are a critical part of open education," said Eve Gray of the Centre for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town. "Countries like South Africa need to start producing and sharing educational materials built on their own diverse cultural heritage. Open education promises to make this kind of diverse publishing possible."

The Declaration has already been translated into over a dozen languages and the growing list of signatories includes:  Jimmy Wales; Mark Shuttleworth; Peter Gabriel, musician and founder of Real World Studios; Sir John Daniel, President of Commonwealth of Learning; Thomas Alexander, former Director for Education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Paul N. Courant, University Librarian and former Provost, University of Michigan; Lawrence Lessig, founder and CEO of Creative Commons; Andrey Kortunov, President of the New Eurasia Foundation; and Yehuda Elkana, Rector of the Central European University. Organizations endorsing the Declaration include: Wikimedia Foundation; Public Library of Science; Commonwealth of Learning; Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition; Canonical Ltd.; Centre for Open and Sustainable Learning; Open Society Institute; and Shuttleworth Foundation.

To read or sign the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, please visit:

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration

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The preview of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration ( was made available today. The purpose of this meeting, held in Cape Town from 14-15 September 2007, was to accelerate the international effort to promote open resources, technology and teaching practices in education. The participants represented many points of view, many disciplines and many nations. All are involved in ongoing open education initiatives. The group is calling for comments, which can be sent to:


The 1st African Digital Curation Conference

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A notice has gone out for the 1st African Digital Curation Conference, to be held at the CSIR Convention Centre in Pretoria on 12 and 13 February 2008.  Forewarning of this conference was  given by Daisy Selematsela in her presentation on the Network for Data and Curation Centres (NeDICC) at the recent Open Data Workshop  (as reported in our previous blog), and looks like being an important move towards a more active, better resourced and open research communication system in South Africa.  The conference is being held under the auspices of the Department of Science and Technology and the Academy of Science of South Africa,, in collaboration with the National Research Foundation, the Human Science Research Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the University of Pretoria. In other words, it should carry a lot of weight.

From the conference announcement:

What is digital curation and management?

The advent of affordable global digital connectivity of unprecedented scale and scope has created opportunities not only for more effective and efficient research, but also for new, better, faster and previously impossible research. Curation and management, of research results, are seen as the active management and appraisal of digital content during the entire life-cycle of scholarly and scientific interest; and are paramount to reproducibility and re-use for periods longer than 20 years.

Internationally the pressure, to insist that publicly funded research results should be made available in public access repositories, is mounting. South Africa, for example, is a signatory to the OECD Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding and yet the infrastructure to provide such access is currently under developed.

Objective of the conference

The objective of this two day event is to surface the needs and requirements to ensure long term accessibility to African digital research output (data, information, models, graphics, etc.) – especially then when the research is funded through public resources. This is your opportunity to specify the infrastructure that will make your research/ your organisation’s research accessible to the international research community in the years to come. As a start we need to consider the following:

1.   National Government Departments and the Science Councils that provide them with R&D continually produce, at great expense, datasets and reports that are intended for a specific purpose, but could, if properly managed, be repeatedly re-used, in their original or aggregated format.

2.   This cannot happen if they are dispersed among a range of project and institutional repositories, many of which have no long-term preservation plan, and with no mechanism to make their existence known.

3.   Modern ICT provides us with the infrastructural means to capture, secure and share such valuable items of Intellectual Capital, but this will not happen unless we add consistent processes and behavioural disciplines.

4.   This has led to the creation of Digital Management and Curation systems in all the leading research countries, at least in the Anglophone ones.

5.   Africa and South Africa are lagging behind, but can profit by the willingness of the leaders to share their expertise and systems.

6.   This is a potentially beneficial effort but will require resources and will to make it happen.

DST Workshop On National Access To Research Data The South African Perspective

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The contributions and discussions from South African participants at the workshop on access to data convened by the Department of Science and Technology in late September raised some interesting perspectives on the practical and policy issues that would need to be addressed if the country were to have a coherent and powerful data management system at national level. I have blogged the findings and recommendations of the workshop in my Gray_Area blog, but here is further detail on South African contributions to the discussion.

Roy Page-Shipp, the consultant who undertook the drafting of a Position Paper on Access to Research Data in South Africa, reported that he had conducted around 50 interviews with stakeholders in to gather information on data management in South Africa. He found major data-sharing activities in some fields, notably spatially related data and bioinformatics, to global standards and globally networked.  However, data preservation in South Africa currently depends upon the passion and commitment of researchers, he argued. These researchers feel a sense of entitlement to their data and want the first go at analysing it, something that all too often leads to research data being locked up and unavailable to other researchers. There therefore needs to be an exclusivity period to allow for analysis and exploitation by the developer, the period differing according to received practice from discipline to discipline.

In South Africa a shortage of funding means that people will conform to the requirements of the funders and this can lead to conflicts as funders drive access requirements. There is still no major inducement for South African researchers to provide access and this is complicated by the diversity of sources for data.

In dealing with access, Page-Shipp warned that there might be unintended consequences arising from the Draft Bill on IPR for Publicly Funded Research and that a balance needed to be created between protection and access through the avoidance of sweeping rules and the provision of hierarchical access.

 A panel of local speakers addressed some of the blockages that might inhibit a vision for more open access to data.  Anthony Cooper of the CSIR Built Environment pointed out that the marginal costs of transmitting data in Africa are very high.  In particular, capacity and skills are needed.  Liz Gavin, from Statistics South Africa spelled out StatsSA’s open access approaches, but warned that bandwidth is a big problem, as well as cost. She said that charging for data has come to be seen as a mistake by StatsSA and more broadly by government. The major impediments are the culture around data and information management in government, where data management does not feature in government officials’ priorities. What is important, she said, is metadata, metadata, metadata ... cataloguing, discovery, utilisation. Michael Kahn of Knowledge Management at the HSRC, pointed to the publish and perish mentality of the South African academic reward system as an impediment, as it drove researchers to the production of journal articles rather than the development and curation of data. He said that because of a lack of adequate local research funding, much South African research was funded by international organisations, with the result that we became the data gatherers, but data analysis happened in the North. There are serious imbalances in global data systems and this needs to be addressed by more effective data development within the country. We are otherwise in danger of becoming the data collector for exploitation by the North, for example in clinical trials, he argued.

In discussion, speakers raised the question of Traditional Knowledge, which is being dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry, with a Bill being drafted which, it was reported, would advocate perpetual copyright and state ownership. There seemed to be agreement that the question of Indigenous Knowledge Systems would be wrestled with for some time. What is critical, some argued, is to build and maintain a climate of trust with the owners if IKS. Beatriz Torres reported that experiences in Latin America are beginning to impact in this field, making data available in such a way as to prevent patent pirating. In Peru, people are working with this with indigenous people in the Amazon.

Daisy Selematsela reported on the progress made in the establishment of a Network for Data and Curation Centres (NeDICC) , which is being worked on under the auspices of the DST. Its mandate is the formation of partnerships to ensure and enable the accumulation of data. It aims to provide infrastructure and training to build capacity and provide experience; the identification of datasets and the encouragement of the reuse of data and the development of a user community that can rely on proper datasets and reliable information. Curation is needed for a growing volume of and curation infrastructure needs to be driven by domains rather than the institutions. Government support and funding will be needed as well as support from domain structures and institutions. A conference on African digital data curation, under the auspices of the DST and the Academy of Science of South Africa is planned for 13 and 13 February 2008.

In discussion of policy and legislative issues around the copyright in data in South Africa, there was general agreement that South Africa did not want a Data Directive of the kind that has been promulgated in the EU.  Copyright does not protect databases well, Paul Ulhir argued, from the perspective of the numerical data in databases and the numerical constituents of a database under copyright law are essentially in the public domain.  A protection that can be invoked is trade secrecy. If something is patentable, then that protection applies, but in the commercial sector it is trade secrecy that is more frequently used. In the public sector there are periods of protection to allow researchers to publish on the basis of the data. The period differs and is defined by large research programmes or by normative approaches in different disciplines.

Creative Commons licences use IP to allow for some protections – like attribution – and protect the minim rights that the developer want to retain by defining the use by others. Such licences work well, Uhlir suggested, but the problem with data is that copyright does not protect a lot of the numerical aspects and under copyright law this is essentially in the public domain. Since attribution is part of the scientific method and norms, there is in this regard a set of weak legal right with strong normative provisions.  This is not a legislative solution and the workshop agreed that legislation was not what was needed for the management of access to data. Rather, policy decisions had to be taken and an enabling policy environment created to create a normative context for data management. For example, the current reward system for research rewards publication and this needs to open out to include data. The ideal would be to provide financial rewards for the researcher, joked one participant, and give a medal to the university concerned.

There were concerns expressed throughout the workshop about global imbalances and ideological issues around knowledge ownership. Beatriz Torres argued that there need to be different approaches used to protect developing country knowledge. Technology has come to our rescue, she said, with more federated repositories. The national/international dividing line is now more fluid, she said and what comes into a federated database is recognised as South African if it comes from SA and the country gets the credit. What defines ownership?  Data comes with metadata and this identifies the author wherever the data goes to.

The conclusion of the workshop was that the government needs to develop policy for the development, management and curation of data; that the default position for access needs to be open access, particularly for publicly funded research, and that the importance of adequate funding for the development of data resources need to be acknowledged if South Africa is to take its place – as it wishes to – as a leading research country from the developing world. 

Problematising "Knowledge"

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In his post of 10 September 2007, Peter Suber alerted us to Jutta Haider's article, Of the rich and the poor and other curious minds: on open access and “development”, ASLIB Proceedings, 59, 4/5 (2007) pp. 449-461. While this article critiques the unproblematised use of "knowledge"  in relation to Open Access, and in particular in relation to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, I think that very similar arguments could be levelled at the more recent Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiatives. We can learn from Haider's comments and ensure that the possible declaration from the Cape Town meeting on OERs has a more nuanced use of "knowledge" in the document, acknowledging the provisionality of knowledge.

OER Meeting In Cape Town

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Eve and Cheryl participated in a meeting on Open Educational Resources (OER) in Cape Town on 14 and 15 September co-sponsored by the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and Open Society Institute. It was a real “meeting of minds” of those involved in the evolving OER movement from around the world. The purpose was to brainstorm ideas in order to develop a statement to rally support for the open education movement. The information gleaned from the many discussions was captured in a wiki and is intended to form the basis of a “declaration”, similar to that of the Budapest Open Access Initiative . Mark Surman and four others from the New South Wales Dept of Education, Creative Commons, Macquarie University and Utah's Centre for Open and Sustainable Learning will take this process further in the next month.

The process elicited a number of very creative ideas starting with each person writing activities in which they are involved – one on each piece of paper. These were then stuck on the window and captured electronically on the workshop wiki. We were then divided up into five groups to map, connect coherently and present visually what we saw as the patterns of the activities listed on the window. This exercise produced an unusual range of presentations, including a tag cloud, a pie chart, and a bar chart by Group 1 who decided to treat each card as if it were a webpage and tagged them in Group 2 used a concept map and Group 4 presented a mindmap.

The next exercise focused on the potential strategies to rally support and accelerate the development of the open education movement. The discussion from this was used by a smaller team to crystallize the key areas of strategic activity. This group identified three areas: Educators and learners sharing and adapting content to do more; Open content that is of good quality and is sustainable; and Policy that creates conditions in which learning thrives. Interestingly, these were very similar to the categories used in a recent report in the UK by Tom Franklin and Mark van Harmelen, entitled Web 2.0 for Content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

A key idea from the Educators and learners’ group was: Transforming teaching & learning through a culture of sharing & adaptation, which was later linked to one of the seven key marketing ideas (“marketing magnates”): Flexibility and inclusivity. A key idea from the Content group was collaborative development and interoperability. A key idea emanating from the Policy group was that publicly funded educational resources should be available for the public. Later on this was linked to a potential “marketing magnate”: My taxes my content.

Participants were also asked to suggest values that seem to underlie the OER movement. These were all captured and then each person was allowed eight votes.  The top five votes were for freedom, relevance, access, openness and collaboration.

One of the key issues we felt was important was to help the group keep a focus on diversity and not to assume that the content being made available was necessarily deemed to be valuable knowledge for people in all parts of the world. More about this in further postings.