Open educational resources have gone global and may help make learning more accessible, equitable and inclusive around the world.
So says the new Educause Horizon report, which identifies technologies and trends that are changing higher education.
This year’s forecast was created by nearly five dozen higher education experts, a third of them from institutions outside of the U.S. OER was one of six “emerging technologies and practices” the panelists highlighted as most likely to significantly influence postsecondary teaching and learning in the future.
“It is moving up the adoption ladder,” says Susan Grajek, vice president of communities and research for Educause, of OER. “It is no longer a niche solution that people are dabbling in, and it’s really moving from being something that people are piloting and experimenting to something people are hoping and expecting to be able to use as a mainstream technology.”
With that transition comes higher standards, Grajek adds—something that higher powers are starting to consider. At the October 2019 UNESCO General Conference meeting, multiple governments agreed to adopt a set of legal and technical standards for OER materials so that they can be better shared across borders.
“The way we need to be able to harness all the diversity, all the variety, of these multitudinous resources is to have this layer of standards,” Grajek says.
The report identifies Canada, Western Europe, and parts of South America and the Middle East as leading the international effort to create and disseminate OER. It also explores how open educational resources may have varying effects in different countries.
For example, students in Egypt generally lack access to high-quality textbooks, and those that are available are usually expensive and written in English, not Arabic. If Eyptian and Arab universities invested in creating OER materials in Arabic, or translating existing ones, they’d be better able to offer “locally relevant content to the least-advantaged learners/educators,” writes Maha Bali, associate professor of practice at American University in Cairo.
These are the kinds of efforts the report describes as helping OER spread in the U.S. and abroad:
Before open materials can be used in the classroom, someone has to make them. That’s where incubators come in. These programs encourage and sometimes incentivize faculty to spend the time and effort it takes to create OER texts, tools and lesson plans. In Germany, there’s #OERcamp, a series of informal meetups for educators that’s been running since 2012. Universities in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the West Bank have opened Innovation Centres for Open Education through the OpenMed project. In the U.S., the Open Pedagogy Incubator at North Carolina State University brings together a cohort of instructors for a semester of learning about OER practices.
Organizing all the open resources that are being created across the world is a daunting task. But some institutions are up for the challenge. The Open Textbook Network has curated the Open Textbook Library, which links to nearly 700 titles. Other entities that either host, collect or index open digital materials include Runestone Academy, EdTech Books, OER Commons, MERLOT, and HathiTrust.
Even with collections, it can be difficult for instructors to find the right resources for their courses. So some institutions have created “crawlers” that enable users to search across digital multiple repositories. George Mason University has developed the Mason OER Metafinder, known as MOM, which runs a real-time, simultaneous search across 21 OER collections.
What if you could earn an entire college degree without ever having to pay for a textbook? That’s the idea behind Z-Degrees, a concept that’s catching on at community colleges across the U.S. So far, philanthropic grants and state funding has helped to launch these more-affordable associate degree pathways.