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A movement whose time has come

Unisa launched the Commonwealth of Learning Chair: Open Education Practices/Resources (OER/OEP) on 10 March 2020. In her welcome address, Dr Marcia Socikwa, Vice-Principal of Operations and Facilities, who delivered an address on behalf of Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, affirmed that the time for the OER/OEP movement had come.

Making reference to the Cape Town OER Declaration, Socikwa explained that the cusp of the global revolution in teaching and learning was evolving and that educators had the responsibility to develop a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. This would create a world where each and every person on earth could access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. "I would suggest that those seeds are now bearing fruit, evidence of which we see here today."

"OER/OEP makes sense," emphasised Socikwa, adding that it was ironic that it took so long to reach a stage of generalised representation at strategically identified universities. "There is a massive amount of work to be done and there is a need for a cohort of OER/OEP champions to ensure that the university does not only keep the momentum going but that the institution accelerates it and broadens its scope and application."

In this context, Unisa is privileged to be home to the UNESCO/CoL Chair in OER/OEP under the capable leadership of Prof Mpine Makoe. She is a champion of OER/OEP and has travelled all over the world developing academics and shaping open distance learning (ODL) institutions. Open education expands access to higher education as the openness for openly available resources for teaching and learning is what makes OER/OEP important and necessary today.

In her address, Makoe explained that for many years knowledge had been closed and accessible only to a few. "OER opens up an opportunity for continuous teaching and learning, with many benefits. For example, teaching and learning material can be customised to suit the teachers and students. It allows for knowledge creation and sharing outside the bounds of the traditional class and campus setting," she added.

Prof Rory McGreal, UNESCO/OER Chair at Athabasca University in Canada, delivered a keynote address. He explained that the development and promotion of open educational resources is motivated by a desire to curb the commodification of knowledge and provide an alternate or enhanced educational paradigm. He argued that in many instances the costs of education have hindered development and access to knowledge. "OER can offer drastic savings in the cost of education. Some students, who otherwise cannot afford to buy expensive textbooks or other course materials, can have access to education through OER."

21st century technological developments will aid in the acceleration of OER/OEP. Education will soon make its way into people’s phones, for example. Most importantly, OER is capacitated to provide education for all. Other benefits include raising the standard of educational resources by gathering more contributors, showcasing research to the widest possible audience, and enhancing a university’s reputation as well as that of the teacher or researcher, among other things.

The role of the CoL Chair in this regard includes enhancing intellectual presence in the field of ODL, OER and technology-enhanced learning, and building capacity to develop learning resources and deliver courses and programmes.

In this regard, Unisa has the infrastructure, reach and capacity to ensure that Makoe, through her incumbency of the chair, will make a difference in the global OER/OEP movement.

* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/03/28

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