This week is Open Education Week, a global initiative led by the Open Education Consortium to raise awareness about free and open educational opportunities.
This year it is particularly important for Higher Education as 2017 marked the anniversary of several groundbreaking initiatives that laid the foundations for what we now recognise as the open education movement. 2017 saw the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and the release of the first Creative Commons licence, the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration, the 5th anniversary of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration, and it was also the year that the new UNESCO OER Action Plan was launched.
Open and inclusive education
In the Association for Learning Technology’s (ALT) recent policy paper we define Open Education in broad inclusive terms: “Open Education encompasses resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted in the digital environment”. And we situate Open Education in relation to associated open initiatives such as MOOCs, open textbooks, Open Access to scholarly works, and open data.
Open education can expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, widen participation, and create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners, preparing them to become fully engaged digital citizens. Open Education can also promote knowledge transfer while enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.
In the current climate of funding scarcity, regulatory change and Brexit uncertainty there are multiple compelling reasons to promote the benefits of openness in education. However, for many policy makers and sector leaders, Open Education it is simply not on their radar. Instead of building on the UK’s leading thinking and research in Open Education, we have a vacuum with regards to policy making and strategic implementation. Other nations may benefit from our experience and implement our ideas, but we are far from the forefront of these developments.
Where is the national framework?
The UK needs to make a strategic response to the 2017 Ljubljana OER Action Plan set out by UNESCO. We would benefit from a national framework to ensure that we “improve the learning experience for all and help to develop the skills and capacity of all those individuals and institutions creating publicly funded educational resources”. Such a framework would also help bridge the learning experience between primary, secondary, further and higher education and close the divide between academic and vocational learning.
The benefits of national policies in this area would stretch far beyond Higher Education. The increased use of open licences for cultural heritage collections would enable galleries, libraries, archives, museums and other public bodies to open up their collections and make a greater contribution to both the education sector and the cultural commons.
Open Education policies also have the potential to support informal learners in the community or in work-based learning scenarios. Action here will directly support formal and informal learning and indirectly support existing policies on digital and information literacy.
There are costs associated with investing in Open Education policy, but there is also the potential to make better and more cost effective use of the learning resources that exist across the public sector and to establish a more sustainable system.
One of ALT’s three strategic aims is to increase the impact of Learning Technology for the wider community and we are issuing this call to action for policy makers to work towards publicly funded educational resources being released under open licence to ensure that they reside in the public domain and are freely and openly available to all.
ALT will continue to advocate for action to support openness in education in the UK. We are holding an international conference OER18: Open to All – part of a series that goes back to 2010 – that will specifically focus on policy making and implementation of OER policies and practice.