Connections/EdTech News, July 2014 (Vol.19, No.2)

Reading Time: 45 min read


Consultations Held with COL Focal Points

As part of the wide consultation process in the development of COL’s next strategic plan (from 1 July 2015), regional meetings with COL’s in-country Focal Points are held. Two of the four took place earlier this year. The Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training hosted the Caribbean gathering in March, and the Mauritius Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science, Research and Technology hosted the Mediterranean and African representatives in May.

Focal Points discussed their national priorities and how these fit with COL’s mission and mandate. The meetings are also an opportunity to recall COL’s identity, purpose and programmes and to present the achievements in each country so far. “Sustainable learning for development” emerged as an important theme at both meetings.


Participants at the Africa and Mediterranean Focal Points meeting focused on COL’s assistance in programmes addressing gender mainstreaming, lifelong learning and improving the livelihoods of marginalised groups.

The Focal Points also suggested that COL could help in the mainstreaming and institutionalisation of open and distance learning at all levels of education, with an emphasis on capacity building for human resource development.

Also discussed were the roles of the two COL-supported regional agencies in Africa: the Regional Training and Research Institute for Distance and Open Learning (RETRIDOL), hosted at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), and the Southern African Development Community – Centre for Distance Education (SADC-CDE), hosted at the Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning.


The Caribbean Focal Points meeting demonstrated that there is strong support for regionally co-ordinated development activities in the Caribbean. Meeting participants also placed emphasis on the unique regional challenge of boys’ underachievement and on crime and violence. There were discussions on how existing COL initiatives such as open schooling, teacher education and skills development could be tailored to address these issues in the region.

Focal Points also suggested that COL could help the region in developing programmes that would encourage “soft skills”, such as team work, anger management, respect, health and family life, in both formal and informal education. Sustainable tourism development was also seen as a priority.


COL also held a regional stakeholders’ meeting in conjunction with the Focal Points meeting in Port-of-Spain. Seventeen organisations were represented, and COL’s consultants who are evaluating COL’s impact over the past nine years also attended.

The purpose of this meeting was to identify COL’s role in addressing the significant needs in the region.

Stakeholders noted their appreciation for COL’s assistance in extending their student base using a variety of technology and learning models in both formal and non-formal education. They sought further assistance in the areas of curriculum reform and critical thinking, and in problem-solving areas such as materials development and capacity building. They also supported COL’s leading role in promoting open educational resources (OER).


Meeting reports and country presentations are available on COL’s website.

Pacific Island Ministers Call for ICT and OER

In her keynote address to the annual meeting of Pacific Island Ministers of Education, COL President and C.E.O., Professor Asha Kanwar, provided insights into global trends in education development, with particular focus on developing countries. She discussed issues of enrolment and access, disparities and inequities in education, and the focus of internationally agreed goals such as the MDGs and EFA.

In their reflections on the President’s keynote address, ministers agreed on the importance of information communications technology (ICT) for supporting actions towards improved access, quality and inclusion in education across the region. Ministers shared their countries’ experiences, visions and objectives in terms of ICT in education not as an outcome, but as a tool to support education development. Ministers also called on regional and international organisations to explore opportunities related to ICT in education, such as virtual universities and open educational resources (OER).

New Pacific Regional Centre

COL and the University of the South Pacific (USP) are preparing for the launch of the Pacific Centre for Flexible & Open Learning for Development (PACFOLD) in conjunction with COL’s regional Focal Points meeting, to be held in Samoa in September.

The establishment of PACFOLD was announced by COL President and C.E.O., Professor Asha Kanwar, at the annual meeting of Pacific Island Ministers of Education, hosted by the Government of the Cook Islands, earlier this year, under the aegis of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Professor Kanwar also delivered the keynote address and provided updates on COL’s work in the region, which includes co-ordinating the activities of the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) and other initiatives that help provide flexible options in open schooling and technical/vocational education.

Professor Kanwar assured ministers that COL will help them to address their concerns and will increase its work in the region with the help of the new regional centre that COL is establishing, in partnership with the USP, to raise the profile of and support collaboration in open and distance learning.

“Key stakeholders met in Vanuatu last year to identify the role of the new regional centre for advocacy and capacity building, and there will be an ongoing regional advisory council to provide overall direction. We are very grateful to USP and Vice Chancellor Professor Rajesh Chandra for providing personnel and space. COL will provide capacity building support,” said Professor Kanwar.

The new centre will be a “network of networks” to facilitate flexible and open learning for sustainable development in the Pacific through advocacy, communication, innovation and research. The centre will be housed at USP’s Centre for Vocational & Continuing Education, under the directorship of Mr. Hasmukh Lal.

The annual meeting of Pacific Island Ministers of Education, where COL President and C.E.O., Professor Asha Kanwar, announced the establishment of a new Pacific Centre for Flexible & Open Learning for Development (PACFOLD), updated ministers on COL’s work in the region and delivered the keynote address.


Antigua & Barbuda Produces “Open Textbooks”

Following the development of a national ICT in Education and open educational resources (OER) policy in Antigua & Barbuda and the endorsement of COL’s “Open Textbooks” initiative by ministers of education of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), COL and the Antigua & Barbuda Ministry of Education, Science and Technology worked together to pilot the implementation of COL’s Open Textbooks prototype. The pilot was successfully completed in April with the development of course materials for secondary mathematics.

The prototype includes over 500 mathematics OER from 72 different service providers. These OER were assessed for quality by a specialist mathematics educator, then collected, tagged and stored within a repository and aligned to learning objectives of the Caribbean Secondary Education Curriculum (CSEC) mathematics syllabus.

The prototype is powered by a Drupal content repository that is linked to the Canvas learning management system (LMS). By integrating these two tools, an online mathematics “textbook” was created entirely from available, free, high-quality OER.

While this can be used as a traditional static textbook, its real power lies in providing students and educators with the tools to manipulate, customise and update their resources. In addition, because it uses a sophisticated LMS as the delivery platform, students and teachers have access to integrated multimedia and a range of tools available within the LMS. The prototype also includes automatically marked quizzes and tests, which can be adapted to suit local needs.

Additional curriculum taxonomies can be added and mapped against the existing taxonomy to enable linkages to appropriate OER already in the database. It is anticipated that, in time, as the “textbook” is used elsewhere, this mapping exercise will allow staff and students to access globally the same OER for similar purposes.

Training on uploading and tagging new resources – e.g., supplying required metadata, assigning the correct Creative Commons licence – was provided to teachers and IT personnel. A few specialised personnel were also trained in refining the taxonomy so that it better reflects the way the curriculum is structured in Antigua & Barbuda. Technical training was also provided for the maintenance of the Canvas LMS.

Teachers were given an orientation to both the repository and the LMS, with training on how to use and manipulate the OER Open Textbooks prototype. They had opportunities to create new modules, to add and remove resources in the LMS and to change the sequence of the OER. There was also discussion about how best to deploy the prototype within their teaching.

Photo: Andrew Moore (andryn2006 on Flickr)

Gender Guidelines for Open Schools

Gender Equality in Open Schooling: A Guide to Integrating Gender Equity and Equality was developed by COL to provide a simple approach for the non-gender specialist to address the issue of gender equality in key aspects of open school planning, management and service provision.

Girls still continue to comprise the majority of out-of-school children, and women the majority of the world’s adult illiterates. However, achieving gender parity is only a first step. The challenge today is to go beyond parity and to broaden the focus to include both gender equity and gender equality in open schooling. The purpose of the new guide is to facilitate a more equitable approach to open schooling, to ensure that girls and women can avail themselves equally of the learning opportunities that an open approach to learning offers.

Through COL support and the leadership of each open school, pilot testing of the guide took place in Belize (Gwen Lizarraga High School), India (National Institute of Open Schooling), Tanzania (Institute of Adult Education) and Tonga (University of the South Pacific, Tonga). The pilot testing identified specific recommendations for improvement of the guide, including context-specific gender issues and solutions, for its use on a wider scale.

A series of workshops were conducted that covered the guide’s three main focus areas: strategic planning, management systems and learner support services. Key stakeholders, such as students, parents, staff, management, community organisations, non-governmental organisations and governmental organisations, all participated.

COL Offers Programme Management Course for UNHCR

In May, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) issued an initial two-year contract to COL, through its eLearning for International Organisations (eLIO) team, to deliver a new e-course on Advanced Programme Management (PM2) for its staff. The course aims to help UNHCR programme officers to implement results-based management when developing programmes for refugees in the field. Currently, 60 senior managers are enrolled in a pilot phase under the mentorship of six experienced management experts.

PM2 has a blended design, with eight self-study learning modules supplemented by two online forums and a synchronous webinar delivered through the UNHCR Learn & Connect learning management system (LMS).

Good management principles and managerial tools are taught through interactive online materials developed by the Global Learning Centre (GLC) of UNHCR. Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) situate the learning in real life, where programme officers manage complex and large-scale activities in various countries. TMAs are detailed, discursive and developmental, with individualised and customised teaching and learning taking place between learners and tutors. The group forums, conducted online “virtually”, establish communities of practice amongst programme officers who have traditionally had to work in isolation due to being located in remote or war-torn regions of the world. The online discussions enable sharing and cross-fertilisation of good practices and lessons learned in managing teams, budgets, activities and results.

The COL lead for PM2 is Ms. Angela Kwan, Learning Manager. Her team comprises Ms. Claire Carigi (Learning Coordinator) and Mr. Aaron To (Learning Assistant). The distance tutors who support the adult professional learners are: Mr. Danic Ostiguy (also appointed as the course advisor), Mr. Georges Gracieuse, Dr. Catherine Dunlop, Dr. Barry Carbol, Dr. Jess Gao and Dr. Robert Aucoin. They are based in Montreal, Vancouver, Beijing and Victoria.

eLIO will be working closely with GLC in Budapest, Hungary throughout this seven-month course. GLC will host a face-to-face workshop in November 2014 for learners who have successfully completed the distance learning portion of the course. Learners will meet subject experts at the workshop and receive intensive training on several of the key topics introduced in the self-study phase.

COL’s eLIO initiative responds to the capacity en-hancement needs of international organisations through fee-for-service arrangements.

eLIO customises eLearning solutions to address the specific challenges of international organisations. These solutions use open, distance and technology-mediated learning methodologies to provide equitable and quality professional development opportunities for women and men working in headquarters, field and country offices.

Flexible TVET at the “Heart” of the Caribbean

Caribbean technical/vocational education and training (TVET) institutions in The Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines have been expanding their skills and practice in flexible approaches to programme delivery.

COL is working with the College of The Bahamas to develop institutional policies and plans for flexible skills training.


The Government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines is currently providing laptop computers to all secondary and tertiary students. In preparation, and with the goal of increasing access, the staff at St. Vincent & the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) has been working with COL over the past two years to build capacity in eLearning and strengthen the ICT infrastructure at the college. They have established an eCollege team to further this initiative and support the teachers. COL has provided professional guidance on managing flexible learning, blended online learning and Moodle administration and has helped to train a cadre of eLearning Master Teachers. New eLearning courses are in development across all departments.


In Jamaica, a new partnership has been formed between COL and HEART Trust/NTA to support a strategic commitment to create a flexible TVET system that will make TVET more accessible for existing and new target learners at member institutions. COL is providing capacity building in instructional design and eLearning, as well as manager development for flexible TVET systems and quality assurance. Most of the structural elements for a flexible technical/vocational training system are now in place, and more than 40 new eLearning courses are in development.


The Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies (FELS) at the University of Technology, Jamaica, in collaboration with COL, facilitated three workshops on strategies to strengthening capacity in blended and online teaching and learning. The blended approach is beneficial because it delivers a flexible and dynamic experience that supports students’ learning by engaging them inside and outside the classroom and by allowing them to learn at their own pace. This approach provides increased access as well as an active, flexible and dynamic experience that allows students more options.

The workshops have served to strengthen the capacity of FELS lecturers to plan for, develop and engage in teaching and learning online. The capacity building has returned positive results, as there are now almost 200 modules online. One course of study has been completed for full online delivery.

Flexible TVET Teacher Training

Expanding the cadre of trained technical/vocational education and training (TVET) teachers is a challenge many Commonwealth countries face. TVET and skills training are increasing in prominence in national development plans, and teacher shortages are becoming more apparent. Over the years, COL has worked with partners to improve TVET teacher training programmes such as the one developed with Caribbean partners, which can be found on the COL website (

COL is currently working with partners in Jamaica, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Zambia and the Pacific to develop new distance and flexible TVET teacher training programmes. At the University of Vocational Technology, in Sri Lanka, the existing pre-service programme is being reworked for eLearning delivery and to upgrade serving teachers. At the University of the South Pacific, the Centre for Vocational & Continuing Education is developing a new certificate programme for in-service training, to be offered across the Pacific. The Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies at the University of Technology, Jamaica is now offering a fully online TVET training programme for teachers in Monserrat. COL’s INVEST Africa partners at the Technical and Vocational Teachers’ College, in Zambia, offer TVET teacher training through print-based distance learning and are currently in training to advance their learning materials design.

Lifelong Learning For Farmers


L3F pioneer Ms. Lakshmi Lokhande is a local celebrity in Mhaswad, in southwest India. She is a mentor working with two L3F partners, the Mann Deshi Foundation and the Mann Deshi Women’s Co-operative Bank. For a living, she hand-makes brooms and, with her husband, sells them in different villages on a bicycle cart.

She has become a magnificent inspiration to many women in her hometown, all of whom celebrated her recently receiving an entrepreneurship for women award from the FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO).

Travelling out of Mhaswad for the first time, on a flight, was an out-of-the-world experience for Lakshmi Tai! You can feel both the pride and the simplicity in her voice. “I only saw airplanes in the sky before, but I wasn’t scared to be on the flight. I felt like I was comfortably sitting at home.”

Her face lights up when she sees her picture on Mann Deshi’s brochure. She enquires about the pictures of FICCI’s award function, as she cannot wait to share these with her children. She says her grandchildren are really proud of her.

This, however, was not her first profession. She started out making ropes in a local agency, but it shut down due to water shortage and other issues. She had observed women making brooms and quietly learned from them. Exposed to the L3F programme in her community and motivated to succeed, she trained at Mann Deshi and took out loans to start her business; she proudly says she repaid all of the loans on time.

She is a regular listener to community radio, as well as being an L3F resource person for Financial Literacy and other programmes. Her eloquent advice is aired on Mann Deshi radio frequently. Lakshmi Lokhande is one of the many award-winning entrepreneurs whom Mann Deshi has helped to grow.

Life was not very easy for Lakshmi Tai, but she never lost hope and courageously moved ahead. The award celebrates this courage that will inspire more such women to break the barriers of poverty and reject the traditional, feeble identity associated with the rural women of India.


During May 2014, two workshops were held with the Rural Agricultural Development Association (RADA) and local farmers in Jamaica to expand and strengthen the L3F initiative in the country. First, a workshop with RADA introduced staff to how mobile phone-based learning is working in other countries. COL’s consultant Mr. Daniel Ninsiima also led a workshop with local farmers in Mandeville, Jamaica on the use of open and distance learning (ODL) for extension.

This workshop gave famers the opportunity to design and create their own text messages based on an extension topic of their choice. The finished products were shared amongst the group, and two messages were sent to participants as an example of how mobile phone-based learning could be used for extension.

Participants were enthusiastic about the possibility of using ICTs for knowledge sharing in their communities, and the increased opportunities that this kind of learning could bring about.

Farmers and extension workers in Jamaica learning about mobile phone-based ODL


The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD)-sponsored Lifelong Learning for Farmers (L3F) initiative in Tanzania is up and running and already making a difference in the lives of local participants.

Launched in November 2013, L3F aims not only to affect the lives of people in terms of skills, knowledge, empowerment and livelihoods, but also to act as a reference for stakeholders, such as governments, development agencies and the private sector, in strengthening education and the human resource development process.

To achieve these objectives, COL has partnered with a number of local organisations, which have been working to engage and mobilise local self-help groups and co-operatives. The Akowelimile-Bulinda Group, in Tanzania, is one community self-help group that has embraced the L3F programme and is seeing results in the way of improved learning and networking opportunities.

Established in 2012 with five members (four female and one male), the group endeavours to improve the livelihoods of its members through agricultural farming and small-business activities undertaken in the spirit of co-operation and mutual support. The group currently manages a number of small-scale enterprises, including table banking as well as sweet potato, banana, cassava, maize, bean and, most recently, sunflower cultivation.

After enrolling with COL partner Matuamini Mapya (a Tanzanian women’s and children’s empowerment NGO), one group member of Akowelimile-Bulinda underwent training to become a local resource person for the community. Through the horizontal transfer of knowledge and the use of distance-learning methods, group members have learned about best-practice sunflower production, as well as how to access loans from banks and financial institutions.

As a result of this training, the group has opted to undertake sunflower production and currently has a plot of land dedicated solely to the cultivation of this crop. Akowelimile-Bulinda has also become a source of knowledge in the local community; the group’s banana plot is used as a community “field school”, where other farmers go to learn about good farming practices and see first-hand demonstrations of how to improve their crops.

This knowledge-sharing not only facilitates learning – it also helps to strengthen social capital and increase networking opportunities for L3F participants and community members alike. Through the monthly savings, the group is able to loan money on a rotational basis to other members, who in turn invest this rotating loan in the enhancement of their enterprise. While the group is still in the early phases of developing its new sunflower agro-enterprise, members are enthusiastic about the future of their fledgling business and the opportunities to come.


COL’s Education Specialist for Open Schooling, Ms. Frances Ferreira, provided technical support and facilitated two workshops on open and distance learning (ODL) and open schooling for the Papua New Guinea Department of Education’s Flexible Open and Distance Education programme (FODE). COL, in collaboration with the World Bank, is helping to enhance FODE’s policies and services.

As a comprehensive student information system is key in the planning for quality and sustainable ODL, one important area is to revamp FODE’s student database over the next few months.

During the workshop on curriculum development planning, the team did a process review and confirmed that through this workshop, their practices were infused with new ideas. An issue highlighted during the workshop was quality. Since curriculum development is a multilayered process wherein individual team members contribute to the bigger picture, the teams introduced checklists in the planning process as one way of managing quality assurance.

The participants were also introduced to developmental testing (trialling) as an external mechanism of quality assurance. One of the participants noted that “at first, I was apprehensive to trial my materials because I thought it would be too costly and would take up a lot of my time; but after learning that there are several methods of trialling and that FODE can choose one or two of these methods and combine them, I felt confident that we can do it, too.”


National OER Policies Needed

With the increasingly prohibitive costs of textbooks, many educational institutions have now started to join the open educational resources (OER) movement and promote the development and use of open textbooks (e.g.,,,

The lead article in this issue of Connections describes an “Open Textbooks” pilot initiative in Antigua & Barbuda that has taken place after the development of a national ICT in Education and OER policy and the endorsement of COL’s Open Textbooks initiative by ministers of education of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

COL has also been supporting the development of national OER policies in other countries, especially small states such as Antigua & Barbuda and Seychelles, where the need is particularly felt.

In India, the call for use of OER was given in 2007 by the National Knowledge Commission in its recommendation to the Government of India. With the success of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) for engineering and basic science courses, in 2009, the Government of India established the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) to develop the country as a knowledge superpower. Since its inception, the mission has been active in the development of digital learning resources through a variety of projects for both graduate and post-graduate levels in a number of disciplines.

The NMEICT has now approved an open licence policy to bring all the content developed under the project as OER under CC BY-SA licences. This is a major boost for the OER movement and shows the commitment of the Government of India to sharing knowledge resources in the commons and to propelling further reuse, remixing and growth of knowledge.

It is expected that the content developed will be available so as to facilitate localisation and adaptation to local requirements all over the country and elsewhere. This policy announcement is also in line with the COL-UNESCO OER Paris Declaration (2012), which calls upon all governments to release as OER educational and research materials developed with public funds.

We congratulate the Government of India for making its resources available as OER, and we call upon other governments to join this growing trend for the good of all.


How ROYTEC Joined VUSSC, Embraced OER

By Nickisha Hamilton and John Lesperance

In August 2013, the School of Business and Applied Studies Limited (ROYTEC), at the University of the West Indies, signed a memorandum of understanding for a partnership with the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC). In doing so, ROYTEC agreed to embrace open educational resources (OER) as an operating strategy.

ROYTEC’s first VUSSC offering is a locally adapted version of the Bachelor in Business and Entrepreneurship.

Here is the back story…


VUSSC is a collaborative network of over 30 small states that was initiated by COL and is now led by an independent management committee, with support from COL.

Fourteen courses and programmes are now being delivered by nine institutions in eight Commonwealth small states. In 2013, the first group of VUSSC students graduated with a Diploma in Sustainable Agriculture for Small States from the National University of Samoa.

Primarily through online collaboration, VUSSC countries have chosen to focus on creating post-secondary, skills-related courses in areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, professional development, disaster management, the fisheries industry, port management, construction safety and agriculture. These non-proprietary

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