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Report on UNESCO/COL World Congress on Open Educational Resources

Report on the UNESCO/COL World Congress on Open Educational Resources

Rory McGreal


June 22, 2012

 The highlight of the World Congress was the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, which was passed by the participating countries, encouraging and supporting the OER movement. See:

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 The conference brought attention to the rapid progress being made in other countries in support of Open Educational Resources (OER). John Daniel, the former CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) lead the proceedings by stressing that for the first time the vision of educational idealists for increasing accessibility to learning and the practical pragmatism of the accountants comes together with OER. The adoption of OER, not only increases accessibility to learning, but also significantly reduces costs to government while maintaining and even improving quality.

 Lawrence Lessig, the MIT law professor and Creative Commons (CC) founder, gave an excellent presentation pointing out that Creative Commons supports copyright, recognizing that there is a need for creators to receive compensation but also recognizing that educators are already compensated by the public. He suggested that both needed to be accommodated.  Creative Commons allows creators to maintain their copyright and choose the license restrictions according to their particular needs. For educators, this is important because with a CC license, they can maintain ownership while facilitating wider dissemination.

 The USA, with its $2 billion community college initiative through the Department of Labour is leading in supporting OER development and promoting open access to publicly funded content in the USA and internationally.  The US Ambassador to UNESCO invited me along with other presenters to a special reception in support of OER. With their $2 billion OER for Community Colleges, the EdX program and other initiatives, OER is one area where the USA is a world leader. At the state level, Washington State is a world leader in establishing a legal framework for supporting OER in the schools and colleges. California has also begun initiatives supporting OER as a way of addressing their funding crisis while opening accessibility.

 Major OER initiatives from the US government and in separate states, the Netherlands with WikiWijs, Poland, Brazil and some Arab states were highlighted. Most initiatives in other countries have been led by institutions and engaged individuals through specific projects.

 It was eye opening to see the leadership in OER of Africa, particularly in tertiary education, with the African Virtual University (AVU) and separate institutions like the University of the Western Cape, or organizations like the Namibian Open Learning Network Trust (NOLNET). On the other hand, Zambia has developed most of its school level materials as OER. Excellent case studies on how to implement OER in institutions was provided by Kwame Nkrumah University and the University of Ghana

 Another OER world-leading country is Brazil where Sao Paulo state and city have established OER policies for their school systems and there is considerable activity among universities. The federal ministry hosts the Bank for International Educational Objects (BIOE). Other countries, including Caribbean nations, have smaller initiatives.

 In Asia, OER programmes, some with the support of the IDRC, are being implemented in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines. The Chinese Open University is also implementing OER at the national level.

 New Zealand is an international leader in OER, with the NZ-based OER Foundation hosting the OERu initiative with five participating NZ institutions out of the 15 international members.    The NZ government has funded the OERNZ project to develop an OER commons for the school sector. Australia is converting its National Digital Learning Resource Network into an OER model. South Australia is also developing open resources.

 Many small countries are making significant savings while improving quality by adopting OER approaches to textbook acquisition for schools and colleges, keeping books up-to-date, introducing multimedia and increasing accessibility. This includes Poland and Slovenia as well as Lithuania and Holland.

 When David Porter of BC Campus gave his report on OER in Canada, the only major initiatives that he could mention were the BC Campus initiative and Athabasca University’s open access press and open courseware initiatives, and the partnership with the University of Ottawa to create Creative Commons Canada. The Chair Dr. Banerjee expressed his surprise that Canada was not doing more to support OER, given its previous reputation as a leader in online learning. Canada’s OER role was conspicuous by its relative absence in comparison with what was happening worldwide. Canada along with other participating countries has supported the Paris Declaration on OER, I hope that this will be an encouragement to our governments to be pro-active in developing OER policies and actions.

 I presented with my partner UNESCO OER Chair, Prof. Fred Mulder of the Dutch Open University and with Susan D’Antoni, one of the earliest founders of the OER movement. We reported on our work in setting up a network for OER researchers and particularly for doctoral level students. Susan showed development in the mapping of OER supporting institutions and I introduced the OER Knowledge Cloud , which is a repository of more than 300 scholarly articles, reports and monographs on OER related issues. I also reported on research work for SSHRC in the assessment and accreditation of informal learning and on the OERu initiative. I also mentioned the Chair’s work on the POERUP EuroProject to identify OER policies in Canada and other countries.

 I also had private discussions with a wide range of participants from Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Japan, UK, France, Russia, Hungary, France, Lithuania, and Brazil. I met with a new UNESCO OER Chair applicant from Brazil, who I have partnered with (along with another from New Zealand), whose applications should be approved in the Fall.

 In the last session of the conference, I presented, with other partners, a paper on the OER university initiative, which is a consortium of 15 post secondary institutions, and two organizations on four continents who agree to assess and accredit students who learn using OER. Canadian partners include Athabasca University, Thompson Rivers University and BCcampus.

Susan D’Antoni, one of the founders of the OER movement at UNESCO was invited to give a short commentary at the end of the Congress along with another colleague, Cable Green from Creative Commons.  She revisited the survey she undertook of members of the UNESCO IIEP OER Community in 2007 at mid-point in the decade of OER development to identify priorities to advance the movement.  She noted the continuing importance of awareness raising as the first priority and the significant change in the now high priority of policies.  In concluding she noted that although education is often criticized for being slow to change, the progress in the OER movement in only one decade is outstanding

More information on this initiative is available at

 More information about the OER Congress is available at

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