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UNESCO/COL Chair Rory McGreal

UNESCO/COL Chair for Athabasca University announced at Government House

Athabasca University has recently been awarded the UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning  Chair in Open Educational Resources (OER) This Chair includes a team from Athabasca University that includes the Chairholder Rory McGreal, Susan D’Antoni, and the TEKRI team. As part of the Chair's responsibilities the team is promoting the use of OER institutionally, nationally and internationally with my partner at the Open University of the Netherlands, Fred Mulder.

This UNESCO Chair project consists of contacting, mapping and developing an international (and national in the Canadian context) of OER organizations and individuals to develop a community of practice from a community of interest. Activities will consist of surveying and mapping the field and contacting the participants through online meetings and workshops as well as face to face gatherings with the goal of establishing mutually beneficial links in promoting the use of OERS. As an essential element of these objectives, activities will also include promoting the increasing use of OERs at the institutional level.

The UNESCO Chair in OER will focus on strengthening networking, building capacity and promoting research related to the international Open Educational Resources movement. It will be supported by the strong commitment of Athabasca University – Canada’s Open University – to opening access to education and knowledge, and will build from the ongoing interaction and work of the OER Community.  This international group resulted from a Hewlett Foundation sponsored project at UNESCO to raise awareness of Open Educational Resources worldwide, and a UNESCO Chair, with its function as a think tank and a bridge builder, is the ideal base from which to ensure the sustainability of international interaction on the topic while maintaining a link to UNESCO and its priorities.  Broadly, the Chair in OER will promote action at the institutional, national and international level, and it will ensure information sharing within the institution and among Canadian institutions, as well as through the international OER Community and Network.  The Chair will also engage and work with other related UNESCO Chairs, while working closely with international partner organizations, such as, the Open CourseWare Consortium and the Open Education Resource Foundation,

The initial international focus will be to build on the OER Community and complement it with the formation of an international OER Network, essentially moving from a Community of Interest to develop a Community of Practice, as originally foreseen when the OER Community was formed.  Importantly, this action will hopefully engage the entire network of UNESCO Chairs. At the same time, specific activity will focus on the institutional and national level.  Outputs and outcomes will include sustaining the international OER Community; mapping OER initiatives worldwide, building an international OER Network; maintaining a significant online presence; and planning and launching a scholarly journal on OER for information sharing and dissemination.

Context

Higher education institutions worldwide continue to face significant challenges related to providing increased access to high quality education, while containing or reducing costs.  New developments in higher education all speak to the efforts on the part of the traditional higher education community, as well as more flexible providers such as open universities, to address these challenges.  Such developments have the potential to increase access and flexibility in higher education.  Basic education for all continues to be a goal that challenges – and will continue to challenge – many countries.  Furthermore, Canada, like other countries with significantly disadvantaged indigenous or other populations, has set specific national goals aimed at addressing their needs.  The current economic situation is likely to make these social goals more difficult as countries are faced with reduced budgets, as are donors.  New approaches and methods are needed to ensure that all children and adults have an opportunity to learn throughout their lives.

Open Educational Resources constitute an important resource with potential to facilitate the expansion of the offer of quality education and learning opportunities worldwide.  The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the primary donor in the OER movement, defines Open Educational Resources as: teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others.  OER refers to full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.  The free and open sharing of educational resources can serve to promote the building of knowledge societies and the reduction of the knowledge divide that separates nations, as well as the divide within societies themselves.