“Imagine a world in which human knowledge is shared more equitably, without barriers of cost, time, or national borders.
“Just think of what could be achieved by organizing the latest groundbreaking research and delivering research-led, challenge-focused education at scale, as part of a global effort to tackle—and solve—the biggest challenges facing our planet.
“This change is desperately needed and long overdue. Now is the time for action, not just words.”
These are the words of the Knowledge Equity Network, a principle that echoes the ideals of Gino Fransman, leader of the Open Education Influencers project at Nelson Mandela University.
“Too often, the signatures of those who commit to statements remain on the page with no actionable follow-up. We want to change that. Open education should be a focal point in universities as it is such a huge area and cannot stand apart from other dedicated portfolios. It requires the energy of a full-time entity,” says Fransman.
Access to resources underpins the practicality of open education. With the high cost of textbooks hindering progress and motivation around learning, access is a top priority.
Open Educational Resources (OER) for Teaching and Learning are freely available online resources that students can immediately access. OERs are scalable and can be distributed to students at no cost to the student or institution when shared.
UNESCO defines open educational resources (OER) as “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are protected by copyright that have been published under an open license, that allow access without cost, reuse, reuse, adaptation and redistribution by others”.
An open license, such as the Creative Commons license, allows for the legal exchange of information with attribution to the original source and the creator. This license allows you to copy or redistribute material in any medium or format and to remix, transform and develop it for various purposes, in accordance with the conditions established in each license.
Open education is also about building skills and empowering people to be ready for the workplace using OER, as a feature of the OpenEdInfluencers project. The free access BOEI (Becoming an Open Education Influencer) course is that vehicle.
OpenEdInfluencers, or OEIs, are ambassadors who raise awareness of open educational resources and open education practices. OEIs facilitate the adoption, creation, and licensing of OER. #OpenEdInfluencers strongly advocates for the use of open textbooks across all purposes, colleges and schools.
Online open textbooks also make the learning process more affordable and easier to access. With the cost of textbooks eliminated, students learn for free without worrying about additional financial constraints.
“There is a zero cost element. Students have access on mobile phones without the need for data access and this provides an open conduit to interact with the material, but this is only possible with the support of the private sector or data service provider networks,” says Fransman. .
“Because of Covid, we had to move to online learning, and it took the learning management systems at universities to reposition the information to get the systems online. Access to good information makes the learning effort go further.”
Fransman points out that free education is often associated with lower quality, but this is a serious misrepresentation.
“Courses at MIT and Johns Hopkins, and the lauded institutions where professionals study, are available free of charge. It is the accreditation that you have to pay for, but access is free”.
Says Fransman, “The goal of the #OpenEdInfluencers project is to empower others to activate personal, community, or professional development goals related to [UN’s] sustainable development goals (SDGs), for making something about getting it done. The philosophy behind it is professional change through action.
“The university aims to recruit students as influencers to empower them to enter the workplace with practical knowledge and experience, allowing them to start working immediately. It will not be necessary to spend time understanding industry terminology, as this will be acquired in prior learning.”
Employment and opportunities to participate
In four years, the university has trained 10 OEIs, nine of whom have found employment in the sector. This program has supported and trained young professionals to enter the world of work with professional skills.
The OpenEdInfluencers project at Nelson Mandela University is in the process of recruiting for another four OEIs.
In addition, opportunities for staff to get involved include the Open Textbook Fellowship: creating a free open textbook for your context and situation, and UNESCO’s Open Education for a Better World programme: OE4BW is looking for course authors and mentors for a global mentoring initiative. engage the SDGs in hubs based on different continents.
Fransman represented the continent at the Knowledge Exchange Network Global Summit at the University of Leeds on November 17 with a perspective from the global south. The event was attended by governments, NGOs, higher education institutions and the private sector.
“At the UK convention, attendees may have expected the global south to come with a begging bowl. That was not the case. We had something to offer and lead,” adds Fransman.