Open education can achieve justice – The Mail & Guardian – Mail and Guardian | Team Cansler

“Imagine a world where human knowledge is more equitably shared, unhindered by cost, time, or geographic limitations.

“Imagine what could be accomplished by bringing together the latest breakthrough research and delivering research-led, challenge-driven education at scale, as part of a global effort to address – and solve – the planet’s greatest challenges.

“This change is urgently needed and long overdue. Now is the time for action, not just talk.”

These are the words of the Knowledge Equity Network, a principle that reflects the ideals of Gino Fransman, leader of Nelson Mandela University’s Open Education Influencers project.

“All too often, signatures from those who commit to declarations remain on the page with no enforceable follow-up. We want to change that. Open education needs to be a focus in universities as it is such a vast area that cannot be kept on the fringes of other dedicated portfolios. It takes the energy of a full-time company,” says Fransman.

Access to resources underpins the practical aspect of open education. With the high cost of textbooks hampering progress and motivation in learning, access is a fundamental priority.

No costs

Open Educational Resources (OER) for teaching and learning are freely available online resources that are directly accessible to students. OERs are scalable and, when shared, can be distributed to students at no cost to the student or institution.

Unesco defines Open Educational Resources (OER) as “learning, teaching and research materials, in any format and medium, that are in the public domain or protected by copyright, that have been released under an open license that allows free access and reuse, repurposing, 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 author. This license allows you to copy or redistribute material in any medium or format, and to remix, transform, and build upon it for various purposes according to the terms set forth in each license.

Open education is also about capacity building and empowering people for workplace readiness using OER, as a feature of the OpenEdInfluencers project. The open 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 educational practices. OEIs facilitate the introduction, creation and licensing of OER. #OpenEdInfluencers are campaigning vigorously for the use of open textbooks across purposes, faculties and schools.

Online open textbooks also make the learning process more affordable and accessible. By eliminating the cost of textbooks, students learn for free without worrying about additional financial constraints.

“There is a zero cost element. Students have access to cell phones without having to access data, and this provides an open channel to engage with the material, but this is only possible with support from the private sector or data service provider networks,” says Fransman.

“Due to Covid we have had to transition to online learning and it has required learning management systems in universities to reposition information to allow systems to come online. Access to good information advances the learning project.”

Professional Competence

Fransman points out that free education is often associated with inferior quality, but this is a gross misrepresentation.

“MIT and Johns Hopkins courses, as well as reputable institutions where professionals study, are all available for free. It is the accreditation that you have to pay for, but access is free.”

Fransman says: “The goal of the #OpenEdInfluencers project is to empower others to activate personal, community or professional development goals related to the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by do something about achieving it. The underlying philosophy is professional change through action.

“The aim of the university is to attract students as influencers in order to enable them to enter the profession with practical knowledge and experience and to be able to start work immediately. No time needs to be spent understanding industry terminology as it is acquired through prior learning.”

employment and entry opportunities

In four years, the University has trained 10 OEIs, nine of whom have found employment in the sector. This program has supported and empowered young professionals to enter the workplace with professional skills.

Nelson Mandela University’s OpenEdInfluencers project is on a recruitment campaign for another four OEIs.

Employee engagement opportunities also include the Open Textbook Fellowship: creating a free open textbook for your context and situation, and the Unesco Open Education for a Better World program – OE4BW is seeking course authors and mentors for a global mentoring initiative dedicated to the SDGs in hubs on different continents.

Fransman represented the continent with a Global South perspective at the Knowledge Exchange Network Global Summit at Leeds University on 17 November. 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 arrive with a begging bowl. That was not the case. We had something to offer and something to lead,” adds Fransman.

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