WSIS Education, academia and research taskforce

Suggested theme for the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum:
Defining and fostering Open Educational Ressources (OER) on line, around issues of interoperability, access, public infrastructure, in the context of Internet and digital learning technologies.

a. A concise formulation for the proposed theme:

The open educational Resources concept belongs to the larger open access to knowledge movement in the Sciences and the Humanities that promotes free and unrestricted access to knowledge. An OER site provides open access to the primary teaching materials for courses taught at educational non-profit institutions.


OER initiatives and outputs in higher education relate to 3 major areas of activity: the creation of software and development tools, the creation of open course content, the development of standards and licensing tools. These resources, enabled by ICTs, and more specifically the distributed networks of research around the world via internet, are put at the disposal for consultation, use and adaptation by communities of users around the world, in a commercial-free environment. The term and the philosophy has been adopted by Unesco, one of the institutions in charge of moderating the e-learning action-line.

b. A brief description of why it is important:

OER offers the advantage of ready access to the materials of a course but also all the surrounding data (syllabus, calendar, assignments, projects, tutorials, or even video demonstrations…). It also presents the advantage of promoting long distance training, as it is often without barriers of entry (no password) and without barriers of geography. It is therefore a major step for sharing teaching materials, methods and tools, in the tradition of academia and research. It is also the object of new research models and should benefit not just the teaching world but also the research world.

It is not always developed around systems that offer a lot of interoperability and issues of bandwidth also arise in developing countries. It is not always free from Intellectual Property Impediments, and the teaching institution usually has to make decisions about the materials available for open use, without infringing others’ copy rights.

Other issues have been identified as problematic by the community of OER developers and users:
Technology:
-poor infrastructure
-lack of confidence or familiarity with the technology and the networks
- So the development of support structures for potential users is key.
Access:
-OER materials are hard to find via regular search engines. They need to be tagged and metadata attached to them to allow for more directive searchers (by resource, type of course,…)
- So identifying, tagging and organizing resources for easy retrieval and re-use is key.
Language:
-OER materials have to be produced from the South as well, not just translated from the North. Seeking for a global balance in production and use of OER is important.
- So producing and facilitation multilingual platforms, with interoperable systems, is key.

To sum up, barriers are related to inadequate infrastructure, funding constraints, technical inadequacies, lack of training and support, linguistic differences, different OER models and support systems. Building instructional design capacity worldwide is the challenge.

The education, academia and research taskforce thinks that though there is not yet a business model for OER in general, such an approach can generate huge savings in the long run for the governments and states and allow developing countries to explore some solutions to bridge the digital divide at a minimal cost, especially with the possibility of creating mirror sites with lower bandwidth, for better transfer to developing countries.

- All these issues are both political and economic (rights, access, curricula, design, etc.). Even if it is going to be a difficult and protracted process, discussing and resolving them rapidly is essential for capacity-building and e-learning and the IGF is one of the appropriate forums to think up global solutions.

c. How it is in conformity with the Tunis Agenda of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS):

The WSIS Declaration of Principles assert “… our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life…”

- The earlier mentioned issues of identifying OER’s crucial role in education, capacity-building and e-learning, using the Internet as a global resource falls within these overall ideals agreed at the WSIS.

Para 31 of the Tunis Agenda further declares : “We recognise that Internet governance, carried out according to the Geneva principles, is an essential element for a people-centred, inclusive, development oriented and non-discriminatory Information Society.”

- OER strives for development, shared knowledge, distributed networks of intelligence. The limitations and needs its users and promoters have identified (infrastructure, funding, constraints, technical inadequacies, training and support, linguistic differences, local OER support systems, etc.) all aim at a creating a more inclusive, people-centred global academia.

d. How it fits within the mandate of the IGF as detailed in para 72:

The issues regarding OER need to be discussed in order to develop guiding principles for laying down a public policy framework on IG, that takes into account the central role of training and educating people. The taskforce believes that OER,—especially in the larger understanding of internet governance—is crucial for education and research development, and symmetrically, education and research are crucial to the development of Internet and attendant technologies itself. There is a co-dependence between a country’s capacity to provide basic literacy and training via OER and its capacity to create learning economies and facilitating cultures for knowledge and employment.

72 a of Tunis Agenda: Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet Governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.

- Such discussions will lay the guiding principles for, and help clarify, possible policy responses to public internet infrastructure, metadata and tagging, open repositories of knowledge, retrieval, interoperability, global balance of production and use,…

72 g: Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.

- OER remains to be identified by governments as a major issue, and yet supporting it would facilitate development and capacity-building. The general public is not aware of its potential either, nor the whole community of internet producers and users. All would benefit from access and use of OER.

A series of recommendations could be made by the IGF. They could deal with helping create a coherent body of standards and formats, for exchange across currently existing websites. It would help reduce costs while expanding the network of distributed intelligence worldwide, by the pooling of human and physical resources. The recommendation could also push further the open publishing concept, by setting procedures to explain and enhance it (the teachers as others remaining responsible for content). This would promote sustainability at the local and regional level while encouraging exchanges of materials around the world, in the spirit of pluralism and cultural diversity.

Such recommendations could thus address some of the major issues of WSIS, regarding Intellectual Property, patents and licensing, open publishing processes, teacher continuous training, end-user support, interoperability, transferability, and evaluation. A variety of models, contents and teaching methods could thus be made available for shared knowledge societies. It would also allow for research to expand, as other activities could develop from the promotion of OER, like research programmes, policy dialogues, etc.

72 i: Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet Governance processes.

- In many ways, OER has been made possible by Internet governance processes, especially exchange of data, joint-publication and joint-development of tools, international collaboration via distance networks, etc.

- The education taskforce also believes that more efforts have to be made to push for public awareness on Internet governance and citizenship. Every citizen is a potential netizen and he/she should rightly understand how the Internet works since it is generating our knowledge environment. Much of the substance of OER is an ideal opportunity to expand this view into a general practice. To establish a viable and dynamic information literate society, people have to understand concretely and pragmatically how it benefits them directly. OER systems and the debate around their establishment could be a very practical and positive solution to publicize the principles of internet governance and actually touch the public.

e. Who the main actors in the field are, who could be encouraged to participate in the thematic session:

All stakeholders, from governments, civil society, business and multi-lateral organizations to those organizations currently involved with IG, should participate. More specifically, the developers and users of OER, the research community, the educators, the non-profit educational institutions, and IGOs like Unesco, whose role is to moderate in the actions lines of e-learning and education. The stress has to be laid on the participation of developing countries.

f. Last but not least, why should this issue should be addressed in the first annual meeting of the Forum rather than in subsequent ones:
In the post-WSIS phase, we need to move fast into scaling up of already existing resources that work. The IGF should focus on trying to solve the current scaling up issues, as many initiatives exist, but they are poorly coordinated, with bad or non-extent linkages among a variety of actors (institutional, private sector, international, grassroots, etc.). While recognizing the promise of multi-cultural contexts for knowledge exchange and creation, the taskforce perceives the lack of interest in OER as a real threat to the access of all citizens in the new international economy of culture and knowledge societies.

For global public policy purposes, whatever the developments of Internet and further ICTs, it is essential to keep open formats, interoperability and to promote actively the openness of the system at both ends, especially for education and research purposes. In order to make it a plural, balanced and diverse Internet, the creation and development of a legitimate and nurtured OER backbone is necessary.

OER, which developed independently from WSIS, would benefit from the support of WSIS principles and priority action lines and the focus on the Millennium Development Goals. Global public policy response in the form of clearly establishing the importance of OER is urgent in order to reach the MDGs and to fulfil the mandate of the IGF.

Contact: divina.

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