Wednesday, 27 June 2012

UNESCO speaks (draft declaration looking pretty good)

There was a big meeting at UNESCO in Paris last week which spawned a daft declaration about OER and celebrated/reflected on the ten years since UNESCO started its OER activity. I was not there, but did a short(ish) unsolicited personal take for the OER-DISCUSS mailing list.

As Gabi Witthaus has asked to and because the declaration is a PDF (so not easy for Scoops) here is the gist. It is not informed by the ins/outs and cut/thrust of discussion. So if you were there so if you have comments/insights please share.

The declaration has been warmly welcomed and is clearly well-honed and both positive and inclusive. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the link. Or this is my 'take'. The declaration:

  1. Locates OER within a wider range of aspirations about education by reminding of a number of international declarations with relevance to OER or which it supports, e.g.:'The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26.1), which states that: “Everyone has the right to education' and note that OER promotes the aims of these international statements.
  2. Emphasises use of the UNESCO 2002 definition: 'teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work'. I find this quite long as a definition and it reminds me of the reusable learning object IEEE definition (so anything used for education/research in the public domain or with an open license). I presume it has not shortened on this occasion as, ten years on, some people still won't know what open licensing is.
  3. Specifically recalls existing Declarations and Guidelines on Open Educational Resources such as the 2007 Cape Town Open Education Declaration, 2009 Dakar Declaration on OER and the 2011 Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO Guidelines on OER in HE.
  4. Recommends that 'States':

    a) Foster awareness and use of OER to widen access, improve cost-efficiencies and quality of teaching/learning outcomes. (If I were wishing for the world here I would ask that we consider that OER also helps with creativity, something for teachers to warm to).

    b) Facilitate enabling environments for use of ICT. This is a very wide-ranging aspiration from improving 'media and information literacy' to reliable power supplies and broadband. Mobile activity is specifically mentioned.

    c) Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER. This one (frankly) worries me a little. It talks of 'Promoting the development of specific policies for the production and use of OER within wider strategies for advancing education'. Fine if these are enabling, but could they also be (unintentionally) restricting?

    d) Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks 'while respecting the rights of any copyright holder'. I'd be happier with 'respecting copyright' not sure what the distinction is between this and 'the rights of any copyright holder' is and concerned that not every rights holder is entirely rational (my experience), but I am happy that its 'rights' and not 'wishes'.

    e) Support capacity building for sustainable development of quality learning materials. Personally I like this one a lot as its about developing staff 'taking into account local needs and the full diversity of learners' however it also reaches into the trickier areas of promoting quality assurance/peer review and into assessment/creditation. So very ambitious and directly reflecting current community concerns (I feel).

    f) Foster strategic alliances for OER

    g) Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts. Note that this talks of favouring production/use of OER in local languages.

    h) Encourage research on OER. No surprises here about the areas and all good (my opinion). Like specifically that one area is 're-contextualisation of OER'. Initiatives like Bridge2Success is one project that currently points at this even within English language resources reused UK to US, as does previous work in sharing RLOs. Re-contextualisation is not that easy to do (see also item e.).

    i) Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER. Open standards and user-friendly tools as you would expect.

    j) Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds. Yes! As with e) this one is one which I am particularly happy to see. But I note that the phrasing is much gentler (more informercial than a) to i): 'Governments/competent authorities can create substantial benefits for their citizens by ensuring that educational materials developed with public funds be made available under open licenses (with any restrictions they deem necessary) in order to maximize the impact of the investment.'
So all good and sound and no unwelcome surprises. This is the DRAFT, so it may change but it seems to all good (to me) and I hope will be listened to. The full version is at:

What will come out of this?