Today it’s a chat, yesteryear it was a letter. And before then, a telegram. Wait, Telegram is an app. It is 2019. – Primera M.
Education is fundamentally about sharing knowledge and ideas. Open education, when properly leveraged, can help anyone, anywhere in the world access free, effective, open learning materials for a marginal cost. In addition, Open Educational Resources (OER) are defined as teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others.
The instant-always-on-sharing capabilities made possible by 21st century digital technology are in tension with the sharing restrictions embedded within copyright laws around the world. Copyright, by law, regulates the way human created products are used – like books, academic research articles, music, and art. The creator, or author, gets a set of exclusive rights so that they can prevent others from copying and adapting their work (for a limited time). The internet gives the opportunity to access, share, and collaborate on all human creations at an unprecedented rate (and scale). Technology makes it possible for online (and offline) content to be consumed by millions of people at once – it can be copied, shared, and remixed with speed and ease. How does this affect open education?
Open education means designing content and practices that ensure everyone can actively participate and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. OERs are made possible on these 2 fundamentals: first that open education resources are (mostly) born digital and digital resources can be stored, copied, and distributed for near zero cost, and second, that the internet makes it simple for the public to share digital content (even in jurisdictions when laws have been made to limit access and use of the internet).
Openness in education means more than just access or legal certainty over what you are able to use, modify, and share with your learners. We already know that Creative Commons licenses make it simple and legal to retain copyright and legally share creativity products. They also apply to education resources.
Why Do I Care About This?
As a social activist, I have to face the question of Digital equity – ensuring equitable access and use of technology. I believe that digital inequalities exist in how internet and access to it supports education and learning, especially in developing countries. There are minority learner communities we could reach better with advancements such as text to speech. But because we would have to deliver learning content over the internet, these communities are excluded.
In lower education, learners who will not interact with technology are left with a singular opportunity of experiencing technology-enhanced education at higher levels. In the global south, a typical higher education institution is expected to develop students’ digital awareness, and ensuring mastery of responsible and appropriate use of 21st century ICTs, including online communication etiquette and digital and online rights and responsibilities. Blended and online learning become the first of many steps towards digital literacy.
How might educators better share information and collaborate with other educators in learning institutions?
For learner and educational resources to qualify as an open education resource, educators and authors should ensure these five conditions must be met:
- Retain – The resource must be licensed to permit making, owning and controlling copies of the content. However, the fact that this content is primarily born digital, learners must have access to technology that would support this e.g., disk space, flash memory, access to terminals and to the internet.
- Reuse – OERs must permit learners to use learning content in a wide range of ways, such as in class, in a study group, via a website, or in a video; and as such the technology must be able to support multiple formats, including offline access.
- Revise – OERs must permit learners and users to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (such as translating the content into another language) and this would require appropriate digital tools (software and hardware) to support modifications.
- Remix – OERs give permission to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new. This requires tools that allow content formats to change.
- Redistribute – A cornerstone permission for OERs is to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others. Access to digital tools that support sharing, and embedding of appropriately compatible licenses in the shared versions is important here.
What Must Happen?
We have to ask, what would enable the effective use of open education? Is there a chance that public education systems can invest in and have strategic goals to support internet-enabled learning?
In much of the global south, many learners will never enjoy the financial benefits of OERs, because the cost of education starts effectively with the prohibitive cost of access to technology. We must speak in concert to the inequality of access to technology in the learning space.
If your institution is not using technology to advance access and support the immersion of open educational resources among faculty, you may be missing out on increasing the magnitude of your technology investments that have a profound and beneficial outcome when compared to the traditional IT operations and risk management.
We may be increasingly networked and the cost may be dropping, but we are still far from where learners use the internet for education. Let us purpose to invest in unrelenting use of technology enabled learning -the use of open educational practices to develop, use and maintain open educational resources. We cannot continue to ignore the digital literacy skills and knowledge required to partake in the global economy.
There will be challenges, such as how to access educational resources using new-age software licenses (perpetual and subscription access models) that serve either on-premise, or cloud access only. These access models must err on the principles of the 5Rs or risk to operate in opposition to supporting the fundamentals of open education practices. There will also be a challenge for educators (and learners alike), to remain abreast, relevant and current when learning needs, educational software, and devices advance at an exponential rate. Cognizant of these limitations, let us not forget that technology can improve the quality of learning and education significantly, and that institutions must live with the reality that any tools selected in service of deepening learning outcomes must do so in ways that are measurable and must answer for their utilitarian value over time.