WSIS – Comments for Action line C7 – e-learning

By the WSIS civil society “education, academia and research” taskforce.

Action line C7 starts with stating: “Everyone should have the necessary skills to benefit fully from the Information Society”. However, the civil society education, academia and research taskforce underlines that in order to achieve this aim it is of key importance, in addition to ensure multi-stakeholder participation, to define clear and concrete measures which can be incorporated in both national and global strategies.

1) One such key measure is:

*Defining and fostering Open Educational Resources (OER) on line, around issues of interoperability, access, public infrastructure, in the context of Internet and digital learning technologies.

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.

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:
-poor infrastructure
-lack of confidence or familiarity with the technology and the networks
-concern by trade unions that it will destroy independence and labour standards of teachers
? So the development of support structures and labour standards for potential developers/users is key.

-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.

-OER materials have to be produced from the South and from emerging countries as well, not just translated from the North. Currently most of the material is in English and comes from English-speaking countries (with clear US lead). Seeking for a global balance in production and use of OER is important.
? So production and facilitation multilingual platforms, with interoperable systems, is key.

-lack of public research agenda on OER
-need to look at the end user, i.e. the learner, and so in coordination with the content producer, i.e. the teacher or tutor. Several areas need to be covered: the pedagogy around collaborative authoring, motivation, interactivity, simulation, learner profiles, evaluation and self-evaluation, follow-up on learner production, …
- need to look at 5 main Issues regarding the way OERs are Created (iterative processes, translation, quality assurance, the social software phenomenon,..) , the way OERs are Organized (the FLOSS communities, IPR and licensing isues, storage and portal mechanisms, tagging, searchability, human ressources,…), the way OERs are Disseminated (scalability of delivery, marketing if any, decentralization vs. centralization or combination of both, ..), the way OERs are Utilized (Mechanisms for accessing and updating OER collections, using/re-using content, re-authoring/re-purposing of content, accreditation of materials used in educational settings, sustainability/business modeling for OERs use and re-use, human resource capacity development…), issues relating to OER Interventions (failure, success, new features needed, learner support, people and roles, collaboration, best practices, learning patterns and scenarios, …).

? So a comprehensive research design for OER is key. It needs to be learner-centered and not technology-centered, with a systematic analysis of thought processes and learning processes and how they can be enhanced by the OER offer and conversely.

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. Going regional, within the different continental poles, for instance, is probably one of the most coherent and efficient ways to progress.

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 in the Information Society.

2) In addition to the OER, the “education, academia and research” taskforce also holds that:

*A study should be conducted on Intellectual Property and how current legislation on digital rights, market dominance, and digital rights management (DRM) technology prevents the exercise of the right to education including fair use and an extended public domain of knowledge.

-All the previous OER items cannot expand, produce growth, be diffused unless there is a reduction of the present disconnect between the cost of cultural and educational products and the duration of copyright and Intellectual Property Rights and patents.
-Public domain documents are not visible and easily accessible, with no special indexes and metadata.
-Governments do not develop policies to help users, inform them about their rights and responsibilities and clarify the access to these metadata and administrative processes.
-The current management of the rights of access is so complicated so far that they produce chilling effects to use and development of materials.
-These obstacles are a severe impediment to the development of valid teaching materials and reference documents that would be otherwise facilitators of scaling up modalities, like replicability, modularity and sustainability for education, training and research.

? So clarification of the categories that belong to public domain and those that don’t is key. A harmonized exception to IP for educational purposes is crucial.

3) Other enhancing measures :
*The UNESCO on-line contribution platform should be maintained as a common platform for future multistakeholder involvement and best practice exchange on the relevant action lines.
For OER, 3 portals are suggested:
-1 portal for courses, in modular format;
-1 portal for tutorials, adapted to local situations, in as many languages as possible;
-1 portal for accreditation criteria and all combinations of co-devolution of degrees and diplomas or certificates

*Partnerships between the private sector (via foundations, trusts and other independent and education-aimed entities), civil society, local government, academia, libraries and research organizations should be promoted at all levels to provide local access and content.

*Public-private partnerships for ICT development should be subject to public interest regulation.




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