Unwrapping the OER package in 2012

#oeru In one of the highlights of 2011 for me, I had the privilege of attending a two-day meeting at Otego Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand to participate in formalizing plans for implementation of the Open Education Resource University (OERu). The meeting was attended by representatives of 13 tertiary educational institutions from around the world and 2 non-teaching institutions, together known as Anchor Partners. The Canadian partners attending were Athabasca University and Thompson Rivers University (where I work).

In addition, there were 148 registered virtual participants from 41 countries participating through live video feeds and microblogs, as well as others who were unregistered. Planned by the OERu Foundation in New Zealand and BC Campus in Canada, and sponsored by the Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO, Pacific States, the goal of the meeting was to outline the first steps in the implementation of an OERu concept that had been incubating in various forms over the past few years. An earlier meeting in February 2011 had established the foundational concepts and “logic model” for the OERu, with preceding public discussions and consultations with the higher education community worldwide including open seminars conducted on BC Campus’s SCOPE site (SCOPE, 2011). The underlying reason for the establishment of the OERu was the expanding world of open educational resources (OER). The Open Education Resource University (OERu) foundation, a not-for-profit entity, was established to assemble a consortium of universities that could support and accredit learning undertaken through OER courses. That is, they determined to make low-cost education and credentials available to learners worldwide by contributing their own OER courses as well as repurposing other OER. This “parallel learning universe” (from Jim Taylor, 2007) was established on a logic model based on collaboration among partner universities; i.e., the provision of education institution services and support infrastructures.

The establishment of the OERu signifies a shift in the focus of OER from only content to include processes, both in the repurposing of OER as well as in the support mechanisms undergirding the learners’ engagement with the OER. While many OER are in essence publishing initiatives (although this is beginning to change, e.g. MIT), the OERu is focused on the multiple processes associated with online learning at the university level. The processes include curriculum planning, course design and development, pedagogy, student support, assessment and credentialing. Supporting these processes are community service by institutions and volunteers, new business models for OER education, technology infrastructure and student administration.

The OERu is not in itself a university. Rather, the intent is to build collaboratively, among the Anchor Partner institutions and others, a system of access to free open educational resources in the form of courses and programs offered through the university network, alongside possible user-pay optional services provided by the institutions including tutoring, accreditation and assessment of learning, and credible credentials. The OERu Foundation is structured not to provide courses or develop and administer educational policies. Instead, out of consideration for institutional autonomy, the OERu facilitates the collaboration of Anchor Partners and other participants in contributing their own open education resources as well as other available OERs, along with the application of their own internal educational policies in their interactions with the partnership and participating students who engage with their own universities. Thus it acquired the mantra of a “parallel learning universe” in that it was intended not to replace any of the functions of the partners, but rather to form a collaboration that would work alongside them and in which they can each engage to the extent and in the manner that works best for the individual institutions (Wikieducator, 2011). The seminal parallel learning universe concept was outlined in a paper by Jim Taylor (2007), citing recent studies that indicated a massive growth in the need for higher education worldwide, to the extent that two new universities a week would be needed just to satisfy the need in India alone. The increasing availability of free courseware online worldwide was seen as a vital key to improved access to higher education worldwide.

What does the new year hold for OERu? How will it play out? The model is still emergent and it could go many different ways. I for one am keen to see how this plays out and will provide updates here.

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