UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER Report

A guest post from Joe Wilson, reporting on the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER in Malta.  

OER CosnultationsIt was a great privilege to be invited as one of 70 participants from 25 countries gathered in Malta  to contribute to the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on Open Educational Resources in Malta. This to shape the inputs for the 2nd World OER Congress to be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia 18th-20th September 2017.  I hope the remaining regional consultations  for the Middle East/North Africa, Africa , Americas and the Pacific Region are as productive as our gathering. The consultation events are ably supported by the Commonwealth of Learning and funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. You too can take part in the consultation by completing the survey here:  http://rcoer.col.org/surveys.html

The theme of the World OER Congress is OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education; From Commitment to Action. This to move the global education system on from the Paris Declaration of 2012 calling on all governments to make a commitment to OER. The aim to use OER policies and practice to meet the United Nations aims of achieving a set of sustainable development goals for Education by  2030.

We were tasked with :

1. Reviewing the progress of OER in Europe since the World OER Congress 2012
2. To identify strategies for maintaining OER
3. Agreeing  a set of action points to be presented at the next Congress in September

Our outputs providing strategies, examples and models for the creation of a sustainable open educational infrastructure and mainstreaming open educational resources will be fed into the Congress but will be published here as they are pulled together and there will be a collection of interviews from the consultation events published here.

I was invited as Co-Founder of Open Scotland and I carefully prepared our inputs with Lorna Campbell my co-conspirator and  Scottish colleagues from the Association of Learning Technology before setting off.

I’ll share the key parts of my report here and some reflections from the group I worked with who were tasked to  focus on the barriers to the creation, sharing, use and re-purposing of Open Educational Resources at a national level.

In terms of Scottish approaches,  the formation of Open Scotland and the creation of the Open Scotland Declaration has positioned Scottish Education as thought leaders in building both grass roots support for open educational practice and for encouraging policy shifts at national and institutional level and this is still garnering Scotland and Scottish education with global recognition.

The OEPS project has produced some open assets that could do much to drive open practice across Scotland https://oepscotland.org/resources/open-courses/ While the Open University’s broader offering for learners http://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/ offers them access to a rich set of online courses and allows providers the opportunity to build their own courses on the OU  platform.

There are some other green shoots around the UK. The continued healthy support across the community for conferences like #OER17 , the FELTAG coalition supporting  blended learning and the sharing of developments. Some set backs too,  it is hard as yet to see the new Jisc Content and App Store as a serviceable replacement for JORUM.

However, while Scottish Government investment has been made in the Open University led OEPS project and some large global institutions like Edinburgh University have taken up the challenge to embed both open educational resources and a broader set of open educational practices across their operations for the public good and some others notably Glasgow Caledonian University are forging ahead with policies that will support OER, momentum is slow.

Why is the case – these are my own thoughts on Scottish Landscape and updates the last review of Scottish activity from October 2016.

Some of the global arguments for the adoption of open educational practices and resources do not have the same traction in Scotland. Scottish Education is not a text book driven system in Universities, Colleges or Schools – so the economic case for the adoption of Open Textbooks or more open practice around the development and sharing of resources does not have the resonance it might have in other countries where national administration’s buy text books.

The levers in Scotland have to be around our life long learning system, our belief in education as a social good, open to all and around the social benefits of OER to all in the system.

Universities continue to conflate OER with lots of other policy initiatives and developments – We have a MOOC so we must be making and sharing OER ( rarely the case). We have an open research policy and we have policies and practices around open data. ( no realisation that OER is different). There are few formal staff development programmes around the creation, use and repurposing of OER and only a few policy levers to encourage their consideration.

Colleges – Recently regionalised and finding their feet have forgotten traditions of developing learning materials collaboratively and when they remember they tend to do this in closed communities as content clubs. If you do a dig into the public contracts Scotland you can see a growing trend over last six months for Colleges to buy large collections of commercial content. They are trying to make more courses available on line and playing catch up,  by buying in the learning content. The entry level and CPD standards for lecturing staff are due to be refreshed but the current standards are weak around developing skills around embedding digital practice and make no mention of OER.

Schools – No real recognition that sharing learning materials is a good thing and to a degree still struggling with the notion that teachers create  learning materials. In Scotland we have a superb platform in GLOW a Scottish Schools Intranet with excellent set of tools to support learning but it lacks a learning object repository it is hard to find materials inside GLOW and there is no coherent approach to adopting standard open licencing like Creative Commons. In terms of development there is the recently published Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy this encourages the development of digital skills in both initial teacher training and in teacher CPD for continued registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland but it tends to focus on the use and deployment of technology and makes no mention of content creation or open educational resources.

Third sector and libraries – perhaps most progress is being made here. Libraries and museums are digitising their resources and releasing these into the public domain with open licences. Trade unions and third sector organisations realise that a sharing economy is the most effective way to support their stakeholders. Good signs here that the methods and approaches of the wikimedia foundation are being adopted.

Government, while the government has usefully made a significant investment in the OEPS Project, which it references in any enquiry about the progress of OER in Scotland, it still appears to view activity in this area as peripheral in meeting sectorial objectives.

The broad view of the administration seems to be  that policy around open educational practices is not required as initiatives in this space are being driven out by Universities fulfilling their charitable and philanthropic traditions  and that there is a lack of an evidence base around the benefits to learners that justifies a policy intervention.

The growing evidence base from other countries and global initiatives is counter to this view. A healthy open educational resource driven system needs both top down and bottom up support. The papers from this consultation and from the World Congress should allow an informed reappraisal of this position.

UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER, Malta, February 2017

A further report on the Consultation is available from UNESCO here: Ministers, experts urge inclusive access and quality education through open educational resources

European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning

cover_3073_enCEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, has recently issued the second edition of the  European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal LearningThese guidelines set out how validation of informal and non-formal learning could increase the visibility and value of learning that takes place outwith formal education, and support the transferability of skills across Europe. This work is particularly relevant at this point in time given increased migration and social inclusion challenges across Europe, where the recognition of informal and non-formal learning could support transitions into employment and other positive pathways for those without formal qualifications.  According to the guidelines: 

Validation can help combat unemployment by improving skills matching and social cohesion, and supporting the unemployed or those at risk of losing their jobs by enabling citizens to communicate the value of their skills and experiences to potential employers or when returning to formal education. Validation can also form part of the response to the current refugee crisis through identification and certification of migrants’ previous experiences, to support quicker and smoother integration into host countries.  It can also play a major role in combating youth unemployment by making skills acquired through voluntary work, or during leisure, visible to employers.

A key objective of the earlier edition of these guidelines, issued in 2012, is that EU Member States work together towards national arrangements for validation by 2018.

What is particularly interesting about these new guidelines is that they place special emphasis on validation arrangements for education and training facilitated by open educational resources, and in addition, make specific reference to the use of badges with OER.  For reference, the section that relates to OER is included below in its entirety.

One thing to note is that the guidelines’ broad definition of OER includes both MOOCs and open courseware and it is possible that this may point the way to developing a solution to address accreditation and validation for MOOCs. Furthermore, there could be an opportunity to build on the Scottish Open Education Declaration as a basis for developing validation policies within Scotland, given that it already promotes the development of a culture of openness around education and assessment. 

With thanks to Grainne Hamilton of DigitalMe for summarising these guidelines and for highlighting the link to OER and the Scottish Open Education Declaration. 


4.1.1. Validation and open education resources

The recommendation states that the knowledge skills and competences acquired through open educational resources should be addressed by validation arrangements: ‘The arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning [which] enable individuals to have knowledge, skills and competences which have been acquired through non-formal and informal learning validated, including, where applicable, through open educational resources’ (Council of EU, 2012, p. 3, point 1).

The reference to open educational resources (OERs) in the recommendation reflects the rapid expansion of online learning opportunities, particularly promoted by higher education institutions. OERs are defined in the recommendation as ‘digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research; it includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licences; OER also refers to accumulated digital assets that can be adjusted and which provide benefits without restricting the possibilities for others to enjoy them’ (Council of EU, 2012, p. 5, point d). OER may include ‘…full courses, course modules, syllabuses, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world’ (7). Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open courseware are examples of OERs.

OERs are seen as important supplements to traditional education and training programmes, reducing overall cost, increasing accessibility and allowing individuals to follow their own learning pace. MOOCs are seen as a way to deliver high quality (world- class) teaching to a broad group of learners.

For all these reasons it is important to consider how the outcomes of this learning can be appropriately documented and assessed and how current practices on validation can take them into account. Box 4 indicates some issues to be considered when linking validation and OERs.

Possible requirements for validation of OERs:

  • Learning carried out through OER must be described in the form of learning outcomes.
  • Where the OER brings with it some form of internal credit, for example badges, these must explained and documented in a transparent way encouraging trust.
  • Standards and/or reference points underpinning credits or badges must be clearly explained.
  • Arrangements for quality assurance underpinning OERs must be transparently presented.
  • Methods for assessment/testing must be transparently explained.

The outcomes of online learning have to be treated with the same care and degree of scrutiny as any other learning outcomes. Given the inevitable variation in quality of OERs, along with the varying success of learners to adapt to online learning, attention has to be given – at national, European and international level – to documenting, assessing and certifying the outcomes OERs. For them to be considered in validation, transparency is crucial. The learning experienced through OERs needs to be described through learning outcomes. The status of standards and testing arrangements, if these exist, need to be clear and available to aid validation. Web-based platforms that allow for recognition and assessment of specific skills require careful consideration and need to be compared to existing systems of validation to promote adequate quality assurance and allow for rationalisation of efforts.

Key questions regarding on educational resources

The following questions are important when addressing open educational resources:

  • Are methods for validating learning outcomes acquired through OERs the same as for learning outcomes acquired in a different way?
  • How are internal credits (e.g. badges) considered by validation?

European Guidelines for the Validation of Non-Formal and Informal Learning
http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/publications/3073