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Think OER Globally, Adopt/Adapt/ Create OER Locally: The UNESCO OER Recommendation

1620 words, one image
A description of UNESCO's beautiful OER Recommendation and the way it can help advance OER globally.
Originally appeared as a post in the OER & Beyond blog; please see this attribution note.

variant by Jonathan Poritz of the UNESCO OER logo

["variant of UNESCO OER logo" by Jonathan Poritz is licensed under CC BY 4.0; it is a derivative by Jonathan Poritz of Global OER Logo by Jonathas Mello, which was licensed CC BY; this version adds a hand which is writing on one page of the OER and another which is interacting with a touchscreen on a laptop. ]

In my first post as the 2022 OER & Beyond Contributing Editor. I'd like to talk about some really amazing work being done on a global stage to bring the open education movement - particularly issues around OER - to life across all of the member states of UNESCO.

Like many faculty, I suspect, I first stumbled into adopting/adapting/creating [1] ... aacing OER out of a fairly equal combination of an empathetic desire to get cheaper textbooks for my struggling students and an arrogant insistence that I needed complete control over the resources I use in my teaching. Maybe there's also a little selflessness in the desire to have the pedagogical control to do things like add a social justice theme to a math class, or to give my students a voice in the materials they use in my classes.

After these first steps of practical empathy and the assertion of pedagogical academic freedom, into the world of open education, I think many open education practitioners fairly quickly come to believe in a powerful cultural norm favoring radical openness. This ethic of openness goes something like this: challenges facing education in many settings around the world are mostly likely to be resolved by an approach which centers values of openness and sharing.

I think this point of view is actually very natural to folks in the academic world, which values sharing of knowledge and acknowledges the importance of multiple viewpoints and thoughtful, impartial critical thinkers (such as peer reviewers) in the advancement of scholarship. An open educator who shares their work in editable form and with a very open license is simply acknowledging that openness may be uncomfortable but is the most likely approach for their work to have beneficial uses and to form part of the future of their discipline's pedagogy.

Having adopted this perspective and practices which support it, it seems to me only natural that open education practitioners will aac OER locally (and develop policies and structures to support their open work within their local organizations) but will always be thinking about OER globally.

At which point, we might stop and wonder: what is happening on a global scale to support open education and OER? The answer is that there is a very exciting global effort underway, around the 2019 UNESCO OER Recommendation, to share widely knowledge of open education and particular open tools and resources, and to forster policies and structures which will lead to greater aacing of OER and a sustainable, equitable environment for those doing the aacing.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, was founded in 1945 and has 193 member states, including all UN members except the United States of America, Israel, and Lichtenstein [2]. There have been relatively few official Recommendations in the history of UNESCO, as they require careful negotiation of all member states.

The OER Recommendation was adopted unanimously on November 25, 2019. It built on a rather remarkable history of international activity in open education, including:

One of the first benefits which the Recommendation provides is a canonical version of a definition of the term OER itself! There have been various versions, due to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Creative Commons, and many others - but if 193 diplomats were able to agree on the version in the Recommendation, it is the text we should use going forward! This helps if you are ever trying to write an institutional policy or law [3], or clearly define terms in a scholarly paper researching OER practices.

The text UNESCO ended up on was

  1. Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.
  2. Open license refers to a license that respects the intellectual property rights of the copyright owner and provides permissions granting the public the rights to access, re-use, repurpose, adapt and redistribute educational materials.

Parsing these definitions carefully and mapping them to the Creative Commons suite of licenses and public domain tools, we can finally put to rest the definition of OER - while acknowledging that some groups and communities will continue to use other, related terms like Open Access and Free Cultural Works - and settle on the diagram: A spectrum of copyright license going from the Least Freedom being All-Rights-Reserved copyright, to CC BY-NC-ND, CC BY-ND, CC BY-NC-SA, CC BY-NC, CC SA, and CC BY, in turn, then to CC0 and the CC Public Domain Mark both being Most Freedom, with ARR ©, CC BY-NC-ND, and CC-BY-ND shown as Not OER and the others being OER.  Also shown are the public domain tools, CC BY, and CC BY-SA as Free Cultural Works and all statuses except ARR © as Open Access.

Beyond definitional clarity, the Recommendation lays out very concrete priorities for action in the areas [this is a quote from the Recommendation, used by fair use]:

  1. Capacity building: developing the capacity of all key education stakeholders to create, access, re-use, re-purpose, adapt, and redistribute OER, as well as to use and apply open licenses in a manner consistent with national copyright legislation and international obligations;
  2. Developing supportive policy: encouraging governments, and education authorities and institutions to adopt regulatory frameworks to support open licensing of publicly funded educational and research materials, develop strategies to enable the use and adaptation of OER in support of high quality, inclusive education and lifelong learning for all, supported by relevant research in the area;
  3. Effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER: supporting the adoption of strategies and programmes including through relevant technology solutions that ensure OER in any medium are shared in open formats and standards to maximize equitable access, co-creation, curation, and searchability, including for those from vulnerable groups and persons with disabilities;
  4. Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER: supporting and encouraging the creation of sustainability models for OER at national, regional and institutional levels, and the planning and pilot testing of new sustainable forms of education and learning;
  5. Fostering and facilitating international cooperation: supporting international cooperation between stakeholders to minimize unnecessary duplication in OER development investments and to develop a global pool of culturally diverse, locally relevant, gender-sensitive, accessible, educational materials in multiple languages and formats.

Unsurprisingly, the first four of these action items are the kinds of things many of us in the open education movement have been doing in our institutions, regions, and national governments as we try to build and solidify open ed success - which is not to say that these are easy things: rather the opposite! Use and application of open licensing has a learning curve [4]. Supportive policies based on research results are hard - think of the different approaches and false starts we all know about [5]. Enabling "equitable access, co-creation, curation, and searchability, including for those from vulnerable groups" is a high priority for many OER teams, but of course this is only because we are well aware of how the community has work to do in this area. And how to sustain OER creation is one of the great open problems in even the most successful regional or institutional projects today, and one for which we often get together to talk and brainstorm solutions.

Of course all of the work and insightful approaches being developed for these action items at particular institutions and in regions and nations face an extraordinary test when we think about generalizing them to different cultures, legal/governmental/education systems, levels and types of commonly available technology, etc., across the globe. But perhaps we should return to the article of faith I mentioned at the beginning of this post, that openness and sharing provide our best hope of solving the hard problems of education - including open education - or, as we used to say in the FLOSS movement, "With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow." So, based on our faith in openness, the openness of action item 5 from the Recommendation promises to bring all the eyes of the world cooperatively to work together and (try) to debug education in many nations at the same time.

There is an amazing group of NGOs contributing their expertise and experience to this global effort, in a sort of Network of Open Orgs [6] that includes

working to bring the Recommendation to fruition. There will be an opportunity for interested individuals to contribute to this work, to help others by sharing their knowledge and expertise, and to learn from others in the same way.

I can say that personally, one of the moments I cherish the most in my experience as an OER author is when I learned that a resource of mine was the main, required text at a university in a country I've never visited on a distant continent. As nations work to realize the vision of the UNESCO OER Recommendation, maybe these incidents of global sharing will become much more common - and I, for one, am happy to work to help bring about that happy future.

 
 

Notes:

  1. Since we use this three-way split so often in the OER community, I think we need a new verb: "to aac," meaning "to adopt/adapt/create" and pronounced, I suggest, the same way as the word "ace."
  2. Israel and the US, under President Trump, have had issues with Palestine's membership; I don't know what's up with Lichtenstein.
  3. I spent weeks explaining some important details in the definition of OER to legislators, their aides, committee staff, bill writers, etc., over and over, when helping the Colorado General Assembly's Joint Budget Committee craft an extension to a prior bill supporting OER work in the state!
  4. With which the quite non-trivial Creative Commons Certificate Course can help, as can local librarians and the libguides and workshops they create and run.
  5. And some of which are chronicled on the SPARC OER State Tracker.
  6. Just think of the acronym!

This post by Jonathan Poritz originally appeared in the OER & Beyond blog on 6 April 2022, where it was licensed CC BY 4.0.
If TASL attribution to this post is necessary, please use this OER&Beyond URL as the Source.