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OER: From Commitment to Action (Asha Kanwar)

Professor Asha Kanwar, President & Chief Executive Officer 

Globally, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the potential for open educational resources (OER) in higher education (HE) to increase access, reduce costs and enhance educational quality. This was evident during the World OER Congress organised jointly by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and UNESCO in Paris, in June 2012. The outcome was the Paris OER Declaration, which makes ten recommendations relating to the need for advocacy, policy development, capacity-building and research. COL's interest and experience in OER cover all these aspects and go beyond HE to cover secondary education, teacher training and non-formal education. COL focuses on the importance of OER to promote and accelerate the achievement of internationally agreed goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Education For All goals, wherein learning is seen as the key to development. This is inevitably leading us to pay closer attention to OER in the developing Commonwealth, and to the challenges of OER awareness, development, adaptation and reuse.

In partnership with OER-Asia, the Wawasan Open University (WOU) and with support from IDRC, Canada, COL has brought out a publication on Open Education Resources: An Asian Perspective edited by Gajaraj Dhanarajan and David Porter (Vancouver, 2013). As part of COL's Perspectives series, this book brings together ten country reports and ten case studies on OER in the Asian region that highlight the typical situations that obtain in each context. Asia is a continent full of contrasts. It is home to the largest number of the ultra-poor people in the world; it can also claim some of the richest economies with the most advanced ICT infrastructures. However, in South Asia and the Mekong region, there are vast areas that are among the least connected in the world. Even against this backdrop of sharp contrasts, this book demonstrates that OER development is thriving in Asia, in different economies, among different types of stakeholders, and with varied approaches to open licensing. The diversity of the different contexts and approaches provides valuable insights and information that makes this publication an important advocacy tool for promoting the use of OER.

What clearly emerges, is that three Asian countries have published a substantial quantity of OER in HE. China has its very large National Core Courses project (Jingpinke). The Virtual University of Pakistan (VUP) has placed nearly 6000 hours of course material on You Tube. India's National Project for Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) has uploaded over 260 courses on the Web in text and video formats. Both the Pakistani and Indian initiatives have explicitly adopted an open licensing framework and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) licences, as well as noncommercial forms of the Creative Commons (CC) licences.

Indonesia is making significant progress in OER matters under the leadership of the Universitas Terbuka (UT). In the Philippines, the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) is in the process of developing an OER policy. An OER initiative at WOU, Malaysia, has already led to the delivery of a full course built entirely on OER. Because of limited connectivity, Vietnam has created local online access to MIT's OER (namely, the OCW) resources which serve a large number of its universities. The high income economies of Japan and South Korea have been the early innovators and adopters of OER. Japan was a pioneer in enabling university faculty to exchange digital learning materials as early as 1997. The Japan OCW consortium now leads the OER movement with a large membership of HE institutions. Korea has formed its own OCW consortium and is harnessing its very advanced ICT infrastructure to further improve the quality of its teaching and learning.

The survey results presented in this book indicate that teachers in their classrooms are at the forefront of OER use in Asian HE. This in itself is a great strength and augurs well for the future of OER in Asia, where institutions and governments will require more time to adopt open licensing approaches. What this book illustrates is the pressing need to foster faculty commitment to OER, while encouraging the gradual evolution of institutional policies.

COL promotes 'learning for development' and focuses on harnessing the use of OER and appropriate technologies such as mobile phones and community radio for non-formal education (NFE). The two case studies, one from the Philippines and the other from India, focusing on the NFE sector demonstrate the viability of OER use in different linguistic, social and educational contexts. The book can be downloaded free from COL's publications page.

In the past decade, the OER community have focused primarily on advocacy, OER development and seeking the commitment of policy-makers. This book clearly indicates, that as more and more governments are able to provide computers and connectivity in the classroom, the time is now ripe to move beyond commitment to action.

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