Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

e-learning Africa -First Pan African Forum on Open Educational Resources

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

At the AICC conference center in Accra, talking about MERLOT in an African context. Catriona Savage from UNESCO Education Sector, Paris, France presented first on Open Educational Resources. Open educational resources are educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute. Open educational resources include:

  • Learning content: full courses, course materials, content modules, learning objects, collections, and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the creation, delivery, use and improvement of open learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design-principles, and localization of content.

She spoke about the UNESCO perspective on the international OER movement. The OER movement began in 1998 with the term ‘open content’ coined by David Wylie. In 2001, MIT Open Courseware became the first large OER project. She talked about Rice University Connexions intiatives that provide a response to the limitations of traditional textbooks and the University of the Western Cape Free Courseware Project. Health OER is a project between South Africa, Ghana and the University of Michigan dealing with Health education resources.

UNESCO themes include Education for All-Building knowlege societies. With Hewlett Foundation support, the OER movement has been growing as has the availability of free educational content worldwide. Ms. Savage addressed the priorities of the UNESCO OER community. In Africa, some of the priority issues are:

  • Awareness raising
  • Communities
  • Capacity Development
  • Sustainabilty
  • Quality Assurance
  • Copyright
  • Learning support services

Raising awareness through community building and network development are highest priorities.

The OER Wiki

Dr. Bakary Diallo, rector, talked next about the African Virtual University, (AVU) begun in Washington, DC at the World Bank and now based in Nairobi, Kenya. The topic was to increase access to high quality higher education in Africa. Barriers:

  • Limited classrooms
  • Outdated curricula
  • Teaching and Learning Methods
  • Research capacity
  • Access to OER
  • Bandwidth

The AVU seeks collaborative partnerships for the creation, design and dissemination and utilization of OERs. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing the issues surrounding working in an African historical, philosophical, psychological and cultural context. AVU is establishing collaborative partnerships with MERLOT and the MERLOT African Network. There is a plan to release 73 AVU Math and Science modules as OER.

Dr. Moustapha Diack continued with a talk about “Open Solutions” to increase the availability of OER, to promote free access to scientific literature through Open Access and to adapt open source solutions for learning design and community building. Global and regional policies need to be aligned in this movement to promote truly open access. Diack promoted MERLOT as a premier e-learning community and the MERLOT Africa Network as a means of facilitating networked partnership between US and African institutions affiliated with MERLOT. Open Access resources he mentioned included:

  1. Directory of Open Access Journals
  2. The Hinari Program
  3. The Agora Initiative

I came all the way to Ghana to hear Vikram Savkar, the Publishing Director of Nature Publishing Group, who also happens to be the son of my dear colleague at NOVA, Reva Savkar, Professor of Chemistry at the Annandale Campus.  He spoke about the importance of tertiary science education in Africa. Without access to current quality science research, it is a challenge to provide good education and build capacity. Among solutions to the challenges alluded to by all speakers were: Open (Me-learning) & print materials, centers of excellence and private and public partnerships. Vikram Savkar hasworks on the Nature Science Education library of searchable, reusable digital content, a community of teachers and learners who can collaborate online and tools to permit the community to interact with each other and the content. The key theme in all of these presentations today, including Vikram’s is partnerships- academic, industrial and government partnerships.

Questions and Answers followed: What is the best opportunity to promote OER? Catriona Savage mentioned “talking about OER , telling the story of what works and what does not.” Gerry Hanley of MERLOT talked about “planning for action”. He encouraged the forum participants to have dialogues in their countries after experiencing MERLOT firsthand at the afternoon workshop. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing different needs and different perspectives.

A question from the audience was about interpretation and translation needs of the OER movement as well as training material about how to effectively use ICTs for teaching and learning. How will we adapt materials for different cultures? Panelists all recognized the needs for multilingual solutions.

Another question raised was about how we will keep track of quality in ICTs? Community built around the content, peer review and user comments, as in MERLOT, were all promoted as means of making decisions about quality.

All speakers talked about the critical need for faculty development in the area of teaching well online. The participants were encouraged to join MERLOT and start making use of the free and open library.

This afternoon, participants in the forum will attend our MERLOT hands-on workshop and get a chance to start to build their own personalcollections of learning objects.

May 28, 2008 - Posted by | e-learning |


  1. Thanks for this detailed description, Chloe, which gives me a nice lead-in to a panel session I am part of tomorrow at eLearning Africa – on how we ensure quality in the use of ICT in education.

    Comment by John Connell | May 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. This is to say that the blog is good to promote awareness about and use of OER in Africa. It helps to avoid reinventing the wheel. However, there is always a need to localize to meet the context on the ground. Use of OER is not something to be taken off-the-shelf and be used immediately (not like plug-and-play). Specially, at University level the local curriculum may vary somewhat from the curriculum where the OER is originally developed. Educators in Africa need to be trained how to adopt the available OER to their own needs.

    Comment by Zelalem Hailu | June 28, 2008 | Reply

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