Monday, May 24, 2010

5.*: OERs - a 'global south' perspective

Kanwar, A., Kodhandaraman, B., and Umar, A. (2010). Toward sustainable Open Education Resources: A perspective from the global south. American Journal of Distance Education 24(2), 65-80.

There has been much interest in the promise of OERs in education. In this article, the authors (all associated with the Commonwealth of Learning) report on the inconclusive experience to date and the uncertain future for various OER initiatives (such as the MIT Open Courseware initiative and the Open University's OpenLearn courses). There are three core issues:
  1. The benefits of OERs are not yet substantiated.
  2. The flow of OERs goes from developed to developing countries (from North to South).
  3. OER initiatives to date are reliant on donor support (yes, these things still cost money).
The authors report on a "we built it but they did not come" scenario whereby forty-six modules of OER material relating to school teacher education were made available in Zimbabwe. The problem: buy-in by education providers. Assocaited issues were to do with the generic nature of the materials themselves and the difficulties of finding suitable resources among the plethora available. Other implementations have been more successful, however the reasons for success have to do with clear provider partnerships... so, while the resources might have been used in these circumstances (where they might have been 'made to order'), it is uncertain as to whether the resources were re-used (the real benefit of OERs).

The authors report on another project linking international providers together to collaborate on developing an OER set of courseware... the project was not completed. The key lesson: governance and quality standards are required for such initiatives... the classic mix of project management and quality assurance, which costs money.

Design of OERs is expensive and takes time. We should certainly applaud those who participate in it, and who apply themselves to developing the OER economy. However we should also be realistic about the challenges and costs of OER development, and be realistic about the level of uptake. Sustainability is a real issue, and the significance of the change management required before OERs are seriously used in formal education should also be squarely faced. Ultimately it is educators themselves who need to be convinced of the vaue of OERs. Until OER use becomes truly convenient and flexible, and perhaps to some extent comprehensive in coverage, the barriers to use may well outstrip the benefits. It seems that there has been little real theoretical progress in OERs since Littlejohn's (2004) book Reusing online resources.