On August 20-21, 2009 I attended a symposium organized by my University (IGNOU) on Open Education Resources (OER) for Network-Enabled Education. The meeting was attended by many educational leaders and technology experts who are engaged in developing educational materials using technology in Indian Universities, IITs and other civil society organizations. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Vijay Kumar of MIT, USA and supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The objective of the meeting was to take follow-up action on the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission on OER and Distance Education, and prioritize action areas for India in the area of OER. The Experts in the meeting deliberated on various issues surrounding OER in both the days through group work, plenary sessions and listing of ideas and voting for prioritization. While, a large number of issues and solutions were highlighted, the group more or less agreed on the following:
- There is a need to have a national level research and resource centre for Open Source Software in Education
- Educational content created through public funds be available freely for adoption and adaptation
- Metadata standards for OER be developed urgently
- Certification policies using OER be developed
- Join international movements on OER
That in a meeting on OER, the issue of certification became a major issue highlights the importance we place in degrees. While there are people who would like to de-link degrees from jobs, there are yet another section, who think that a framework should be in place to help institutions to provide certification to individuals who use OER and learn on their own. While, it would be a good idea to have a national certifying body for various levels and disciplines of education, based on national qualifications framework, the OERs are created for anyone to learn and promote self-learning and life long learning. Thus, it should be left to educational institutions to decide how they would certify individuals who learn on their own.
Moreover, the use of OER should not be tagged with qualifications, as we want OER to promote education, which is becoming costlier day by day due to raising costs of textbooks and other resources. Alongside this, there is a prevalent misconception about OER that it is equal to Open Access. While, Open Access is a necessary pre-condition for OER, it is not a sufficient condition. UNESCO in 2002 defined OER as “the provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes”. Thus, apart from free access the material should be free from Copyright to be adapted by another person of the community. This is also emphasized by the NKC, when it says that knowledge economy would progress through effective use of “quality Open Access (OA) materials and Open Educational Resources (OER) through broadband Internet connectivity”. However, many do not recognize this and consider the availability of video-based course of NPTEL as OER. It is possible to adopt the NPTEL courses by any institution for its academic programmes, but it is not possible to edit these videos and create something new out of existing materials. If the IITs and NPTEL would like to allow this, then probably they have to use something like Kaltura (a video wiki on the web).
The third aspect of OER, which is mis-understood by many, is quality. OER are created by the community and maintained by the community for the community. So, the quality is a concern of the community. But, Experts want to assure the quality of OERs or accredit the quality of OERs. This is not in the interest of OER development. The quality matrix should be developed by the community, and left to individual users (learners/institutions) to define their own quality in the context of the community matrix and use it for their specified purpose. After all quality is fitness for purpose. If we want to define quality upfront in a language developed by an agency or individual, then we are not going to support the development of the OER community. In the WikiEducator (in which I am involved), we make efforts to take decisions based on community consensus.
The technology platform for the OER should accommodate the quality matrix in its metadata scheme, and thus, make the OERs available, accessible and usable as per the user's choice. With Web 2.0 technologies, it is now possible to make OERs available in a variety of formats in an appropriate Creative Commons licensing. However, there is a need to provide incentive to the people engaged in OER creation and development. Those with substantial contribution to creation/authoring of OERs and/or community service as Editors may be credited for their work and due recognition given in terms of credit points in promotion and other forms of awards. This way, we can tap the large base of teachers in the Indian education system. However, I will again emphasize about the need of sustained training of teachers on OER (both concept and technology) to make the OER movement a reality. Let the OER movement grow in India, and national level institutions like IGNOU, NCERT and NIOS come out of the Copyright regime.