Saturday, December 12, 2015

OER and Open Textbooks part of solution to the current Higher Education crisis

Principal Investigator Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams reflects on recent upheavals in higher education centring around costs and access to educational opportunities. With the ROER4D project entering the final 18 months of OER research, she considers how OER and Open Textbooks might be part of the solution to what is an impending higher education crisis.
Around the world students are or have been engaged in protests against the current state of higher education in their respective countries. Recent protests in countries in the so-called Global North (e.g. United Kingdom, Germany, Spain) and the Global South (e.g. Bangladesh, India and South Africa) indicate widespread discontent with the current provision and financial models in higher education. This deep unhappiness about the lack of affordable access to relevant higher education has centred around issues such as the imposition of tuition fees (e.g. Germany), high tuition fees (e.g. South Africa), cuts to education spending (e.g. Spain), the imposition of tax on tuition fees (e.g. Bangladesh), the discontinuation of scholarships (e.g. India), transformation or ‘decolonisation’ of universities (e.g.South Africa) and full education reform (e.g. Chile).
The emergence of the ‘Open Education’ movement has been hailed as a part of a workable response to some of these genuine challenges in higher education. Open Education embraces fairly new forms of web-enabled activities such as Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Textbooks, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). OER and Open Textbooks are being promoted as a response to the demand for affordable and current learning materials for students (and lecturers), and MOOCs as a way of providing expert and cost-effective tuition.
In countries in the Global North great strides are being taken at the moment to harness the cost-savings of OER and Open Textbooks in particular. In the past week the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that they would be proposing a new regulation that would require “all copyrightable intellectual property created with Department grant funds to have an open license”. Apart from potential cost savings OER also allow for the contribution of perspectives alternate to the dominant views expressed in traditional textbooks, offering lecturers and students the opportunity to share their particular curricula standpoints. While the cost benefits of Open Textbooks are already being explored in a number of US institutions (e.g. University of Maryland University College), they are yet to be established in the educational institutions in the Global South. The potential of OER to challenge the prevailing perspectives and offer different interpretations is yet to be fully realised.
Responding to the challenges for more accessible, affordable and relevant in specific contexts in the Global South, the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) Project has as its main aim the provision of evidence-based research from a number of countries in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia on the use and impact of OER. Amongst others it includes studies on the cost-effectiveness and quality of OER in the Philippines, factors influencing the adoption of OER in higher education in Mongolia, academics’ perceptions of OER contribution in India and South Africaacademics’ practices in creating MOOCs as OER in South Africa, teacher educators’ co-creation of learning and teaching materials in India and Colombiateacher educators’ localisation of existing OER in India and Malaysia, teachers changing beliefs and practices with sustained OER engagement in East Africa, teachers’ engagement with an OER library in Afghanistan,student teachers’ use of OER in Sri Lanka as well as students’ use of OER in Chile. All these projects aim to better understand how open education  can make the cost of educational materials more readily available, more economical and more pertinent to the needs of students and teachers.
Investigating how learning materials can be more obtainable, cheaper and suitable to students is part of the complex higher education ‘ecosystem’ that needs to be unravelled to address the growing discontent. While this situation affecting higher education is not new, it is deepening as a result of a range of confounding issues including controversial government or institutional stances on higher education provision within the global economic downturn and is needing more thoughtful responses than ever before. The ROER4D Project will provide some insights into how OER in particular are being used and under what circumstances OER are having an impact on some of the concerns raised by students and educators such as affordable and relevant higher education.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Use research expertise to drive entrepreneurial growth

Universities must use their research expertise to drive entrepreneurial growth through creation of businesses for the country, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Winneba, Prof. Jophus Anamuah-Mensah, has said.

As seedbeds for scientific research breakthroughs and technological innovation, he said universities should create an environment that encourage and promote university start-ups.

 “Universities in Ghana could play a greater role in economic development of the country if they can transfer research knowledge into economic growth and employment generation, he stated.
Prof. Anamuah-Mensah was addressing the 12th congregation of the Ghana Technology University College (GTUC) last Saturday, in Accra.

The ceremony was on the theme “Techno-Entrepreneurship: The Gateway to National Development”.
Out of the 1,132 students that graduated, 205 were awarded postgraduate degrees and 927 diploma and undergraduate degrees.

A new model
According to Prof. Anamuah-Mensah the old training model of universities that prepared people to automatically enter into the world of work, once they held a paper certificate did not specify their competencies and skills, and also was no more.

He said, that was rapidly being replaced by a model that emphasised on disciplinary competencies, creative, critical and innovative skills, communication and problem-based skills.

He said there was, therefore, a mismatch between skill-sets required in the world of work and those experienced by graduates in their training.
“As a result, the country is confronted with increasing number of graduates who hold certificates but are unemployed,” Prof Anamuah-Mensah said.

Universities should commercialise
Therefore, for universities to contribute to job creation and wealth, Prof. Anamuah-Mensah said universities needed to set up their own commercial ventures and emphasise on product development.

“Countries are prospering because of the university’s role on the impact of technology on businesses. One university that has transformed its locality and nation is Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” Prof. Anamuah-Mensah stated.

By encouraging faculty members to pursue private venture outside the research lab, he said the institute start-up companies generated $240 billion worth of sales per year and provided an additional 1.1 million new jobs for the US economy.

Therefore, to encourage techno-entrepreneurship in the universities, Prof. Anamuah-Mensah said there was the need to adjust university programmes to include techno-entrepreneurship.

The President of the GTUC, Dr Osei K. Darkwa in his address, said the increased student numbers for access to tertiary education put a lot of pressure on public universities hence the need for private participation.

To compliment governments efforts, GTUC has established network campuses in five out of the 10 regions in Ghana with sub-regional learning centres in Togo and Gabon.
Considering the role of professionals in the country’s development, he said the college was committed to ensuring that graduates were adequately prepared for the job.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Reflecting on Graduation from High School

It has been 30 years since I walked out of the gates of high school at Kafue Secondary School in December 1985. Then I was a young teen at 17 years old. With so much hope for the future in terms of education and all! I had dreams of pursuing a career in Science but through God’s providence my career path was in Education after I went to do a Bachelors degree in Education at the University of Zambia, majoring in Mathematics and doing a minor in Computer Studies. So then what are my thoughts of my days at secondary school that culminated in my graduation from Kafue Secondary School with a motto: “Citizens of Two Kingdoms”?

Firstly, my entry into form 1 at Kafue Secondary School in 1981 was marked with some anxiety. For the first time, I would have to spend at least three months away from my parents and siblings. Would I cope? Mind you in those days, mockery at boarding schools was a given. Would I be mocked and bullied in such a way that I would fail to stay on at boarding school? Thankfully, a form 2 by the name of Musonda Kabemba liked me and became my protector! He was a cadet and so the other form 2’s could not mess around with me. Off course, I had to show appreciation, so when my dad brought me some supplies such as well prepared beef and chicken I shared with him :-). I quickly settled into the routines of boarding life. Cleaning hostels (inside and outside) including classrooms. Interestingly, most boys did not like to be assigned to clean the toilets. They used them but didn’t want to clean them. Mmm. 

Secondly, the positive influence of religion at Kafue Boys cannot be missed. Our school being a mission school run by the United Church of Zambia, we had to have bible readings and prayers daily except Saturday’s. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays these were held in  the School Chapel. On Tuesdays we had devotions in our respective classes. On Fridays we had them in our various houses.  In addition, Religious Education (RE) was compulsory in all classes. One of my close friends, Christian became a Christian after our Bible Knowledge teacher, Carol Eathorne, made an appeal to students to not only acquire head knowledge of the Bible but give their lives to Christ. I became a Christian after listening to a visiting preacher Joe Imakando preach on the necessity of Being Born Again from John 3. To God be the glory. Clubs such as Scripture Union (which I was actively involved in), School Choir, Preachers Club, Sunday School played a useful role in developing religious disciplines. 

Thirdly, a culture of hard work was embedded into our lives at school. I have mentioned earlier on how we had to clean our respective spaces in the hostels and classes. Students also were active at the school farm which had lots of vegetables and wheat! The culture of hard work also extended to academic work. For some time Kafue Secondary School was one of the top performing schools in Zambia. I recall in 1985 when we were about to sit for our School Certificate exams and being asked by one of our teachers if we would do very well. Our response was that doing very well was guaranteed. Beating Roma Girls in Lusaka was our goal. And that goal was achieved! Kafue Boys had among the best teachers in Zambia with a balanced combination of local and international teachers mostly from church missionary organisations. The teachers were committed to their jobs and us as pupils inside and outside the classroom. Whether they were performing the role of teacher, house parent, form teacher, preacher etc they put in their best. They ensured we were adequately prepared for our examinations and in a spiritual sense for the Final Examination! Some of the teachers I recall who had a positive influence on me were: Mr. David Grogan, Mr. Tom Marshall, Miss Junza Siafwa, Mrs. Carol Eathorne, Mr Stephen Winter, Mr. Derryck Orridge, Mrs. Siluyele to mention just a few.

30 years on! Kafue Secondary School, opened in 1966 as a Secondary School, is still standing and contributing to the Education Agenda in Zambia. I thank God for enabling me pass through the doors of that school. I thank God for the many lessons I learnt there. The friends I made: Christian, Johnson, Barnabas etc. For the knowledge I gained there. But most important of all for the salvation I found in Christ there. 

Festival of eLearning Conference kicks off

The Festival of e-Learning officially started yesterday. The Festival of eLearning is an opportunity to deepen the network of e-Learning ex...