Developing Guidelines on Open Educational Resources for UNESCO and COL

In early 2011, UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) initiated a process to develop a set of guidelines for policy-makers on Open Educational Resources (OER). Team members of Saide's OER Africa Initiative are honoured to have been invited to participate in the process. Neil Butcher reports.

Over the past decade, international organizations such as UNESCO and COL, some Ministries of Education, leading higher education institutions, and a growing number of funding bodies have engaged extensively in raising awareness about, and supporting the use of, open approaches to sharing intellectual capital in higher education. Since the term OER was first coined in 2002, its use has gained currency in debates and discussions in higher education around the world. It is one specialized term being used in a broader dialogue about the concept of openness, dialogue that has been prompted by the increasing ease with which digitized content can be copied, shared and accessed online.

In higher education, the issue of openness and open licensing of intellectual property has been debated widely both in terms of its role in research (under the rubric of ‘open access') and, via OER discussions, its role in teaching and learning. While the issue of openness and open licensing is worthy of consideration across all aspects of higher education endeavour, the Guidelines are intended to focus specifically on the subset of OER. Its aim is to provide governments, higher education providers, teaching staff, and quality assurance, accreditation and recognition bodies with an overview of key issues to consider regarding the integration of OER into the particular aspects of learning and teaching for which they bear responsibility. In addition, it seeks to provide higher education stakeholders guidelines on how OER can support improved teaching and learning environments across the global higher education landscape.

The process of developing the Guidelines is being driven by a series of consultative exercises. Saide's OER Africa Initiative was requested to support this process by developing a first draft of the Guidelines, facilitating some of the consultative activities, and helping to integrate feedback into the document as a final version is prepared by UNESCO and COL. The consultative process to date has been as follows:

  • After the first draft of the document was prepared, the drafting team from Saide's OER Africa Initiative, UNESCO and COL distributed it to a small group of advisers, who read the document and provided invaluable input that was used to improve the document significantly.
  • The document was then subjected to intensive review in various parallel processes:
    • A workshop session held by OER Africa in Nairobi, Kenya;
    • A one-day workshop on the Guidelines held at e-Learning Africa in Dar es Salaam;
    • Circulation of the Guidelines to a much wider group of stakeholders to receive further written inputs.

Based on this, a revised draft was prepared. Using this revised and substantially shortened draft, UNESCO and COL then organized a meeting of key stakeholders in Paris in early July, during which the document was comprehensively reviewed and improved.

Using this process, a succinct – yet comprehensive – set of guidelines has been produced. To ensure the robustness of the document, it will go through a further phase of consultation between now and October, when it will be finalized. This will again comprise written responses to the new draft.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the development process is welcome to request a draft of the Guidelines from Neil Butcher at .

The Guidelines are intended as a companion to a more detailed Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources , which were prepared separately for COL and UNESCO. That Guide comprises three sections. The first – a summary of the key issues – is presented in the form of a set of ‘Frequently Asked Questions'. Its purpose is to provide readers with a quick and user-friendly introduction to Open Educational Resources (OER) and some of the key issues to think about when exploring how to use OER most effectively.

The second section is a more comprehensive analysis of these issues, presented in the form of a traditional research paper. For those who have a deeper interest in OER, this section will assist with making the case for OER more substantively.

The third section is a set of appendices, containing more detailed information about specific areas of relevance to OER. These are aimed at people who are looking for substantive information regarding a specific area of interest.