Access2OER:Issues

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The original OERWIKI seems to be offline (December 2012). The Access2OER discussion pages are preserved here for reference! The final report in pdf is available here: Access2OER_Report,


The report:
Contents
Introduction
Introduction to the report
Part 1 - Issues
What is access?
Issues and classification
SuperOER
Part 2 - Solutions
Solutions
Solutions criteria
Stories and solutions
Case studies
Part 3 - Proposals
Proposals
Conclusion
Conclusion and next steps
Appendix
Links
Blogs
Additional sections:
Introduction
Welcome
Invitation
Solutions
Stories 1
Stories 2
Stories 3
Case studies v1
Access initiatives v1
Proposals
OER Training proposal
Open Educational Resource Centres
OER exchange infrastructure
OER exchange infrastructure diagrams
Additional materials
Access2OER:Additional Considerations
HowTos
Index
Wiki only
Contents
Welcome
Invitation
Some technical notes
Discussion Log and Quotes:
Contents
Contents
Discussion Week 1
Issues
Classification
Comments on SuperOER
Overview of week 1 activities
Discussion Week 2
Discussion related to solutions put forward
Snippets from the general discussion
Overview of week 2 activities
Discussion Week 3
general discussion
OER training discussion
resource centre discussion
oer exchange discussion
stories discussion
All discussion on one page.
Additional pages
OER
Glossary
For authors:

[Edit][Edit][Edit]

Template:
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This page presents a large range of 'clippings' from the mailing list discussion, so that interested readers can follow the discussion. The items are grouped according to a classification that was developed at a later stage, but has been applied to the discussion items to offer some structure. Discussion around classification can be found here Classification.

1 Identification of access issues

Susan introduced the discussion as follows:

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Although our initial interaction on the issue started with the consideration of limited or no connectivity, lack of electricity was identified as an even more basic barrier to access to OER. However, there are many other potential barriers or constraints and it will be useful to identify the range of them, for there are emerging solutions or approaches that would mitigate the problems. Developers of OER will benefit from having these in mind – donors and other agencies may be able to contribute to addressing them.

Firstly, in a general sense, if content is not made available as Open content, then it cannot be freely used:

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I think that making  the content available (OPEN) to all is the first barrier to use.

Then there are some issues that are somehow more important (‘primary’ if you like), while others are ‘secondary’. For instance, if a resource does not have a suitable OER license, other things may not matter so much. Similarly, ‘localisation’ is important, but if you cannot get hold of the content in the first place, then the ability (or skill) to localise is irrelevant: If you have no books at all, you might be quite happy to get hold of a book, even if that’s not properly localised (or you don’t speak the language very well):

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Where (either in developing countries or in our own North American countries ) the cost of educational materials such as textbooks or videos  blocks access to a knowledge base, having access is a more primary issue than the ability to localize.

So what does this “having access” mean? “Access” isn’t just yes or no, but really shades of accessibility, and has different dimesions. From the discussion so far, the following issues were raised:

2 The range of access issues

Overall, these issues have been mentioned so far:

  • Awareness, Policy, attitude, cultural:
    • Access in terms of awareness. (Lack of awareness is a barrier to OER.)
    • Access in terms of local policy / attitude. (Do attitudes or policies pose barriers to using OER?)
    • Access in terms of languages. (How well does the user speak the language of the OER?)
  • Legal
    • Access in terms of licensing. (Is the licensing suitable / CC?)
  • Technical: Provision of OER
    • Access in terms of file formats. (Are the file formats accessible?)
    • Access in terms of disability. (Does the OER meet WAI accessibility criteria?)
  • Technical: Receiving OER
    • Access in terms of infrastructure (Lack of power/computers makes access hard.)
    • Access in terms of internet connectivity / bandwidth (Slow connections pose a barrier to access.)
    • Access in terms of discovery. (If the OER is hidden, not searchable, not indexed, it's hard to find.)
    • Access in terms of ability and skills. (Does the end user have the right skills to access?)

For more thoughts on classification, see [[../Classification]].

3 Access issues to do with: Awareness, policy, attitude, cultural

3.1 Access in terms of awareness

There may not be enough awareness of OERs.

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Many people ignore that they have the opportunity to improve their knowledge freely through OER. They look very astonished when you ask them what they know about OER. I would like you to take ignorance as a serious barrier to OER, without forgeting the limition of access to internet.

and

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Lack of awareness on the existence of OER made access virtually impossible


3.2 Access in terms of language

Particularly minority languages. Speaking of a University in a non-English-speaking country:

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English Language is a barrier as well. 90% people can not read, write or speak English.

3.3 Cultural barriers to access

Canada:

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I would add one additional barrier that is a variant on language: understanding and feeling comfortable with the mental models, terminology, idioms and contextual examples of the OER. This could be referred to as a cultural barrier.

A 2nd quote, from the Philippines:

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  • Cultural obstacles against sharing resources that are developed by other teachers. There is lack of openness to foster openness. In my view, this is more driven by the fear of the unknown
  • Attitude towards and readiness to implement OER which is rooted from lack of awareness.
  • Even when people are aware, there is no institutional or national champion to drive the initiative.

This sparked off a number of replies, including this one from Australia,

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  • 1 Fear of the unknown: although OERs are now well-documented and frequently used, a large government department may not be prepared to change the ways of working that have so far worked well locally, in terms of huge goernment expenditure on Microsoft software. There is a lack of willingness to train people in differing ways of working when this is seen to require extensive professional development; it's quite possible that small-scale local use of OER is already in train, but only where large benefits can be seen will the management agree to change. Also, of course, help desk staff are not trained (yet) in OER support.
  • 2 Fear of losing financial gain: in recent decades, there has been (as there is in most developed countries) fierce competition for the decreasing education dollar. In some states, some educational areas were supposed to finance themselves from the money they made - in most cases, delusional. So there is extreme unwillingness to share anything that might be financially rewarding - at least on the part of the managers.
  • 3 Fear of not being "good enough": if you share what you have done, your contribution may not be worthwhile; you may be exposed as being less experienced and/or less "educationally sound" than other contributors. This is a more minor motivation than the two above, but I believe it is a real disincentive where competition between providers means they are all spruiking themselves as being "world class" etc.

Followed by this one from Pakistan

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Taking celilia points further I would also say that similar situation also exists for the mountain communities in central Asia,South Asia and particularly the mountain communities of northern Pakistan where OER has a value but many constraints to make it available for common people and eagerness of people to adopt.

3.4 Lack of localisation

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After having just reviewed a set of learning objects created in Ontario (originally designed for the Grade 8 curriculum here) to assess their suitability for translation and reuse in Sergipe Brazil it struck me again how the learning objects are tied to the local culture. Illustrative examples and exercises in topics such as math and science are based on an assumption that the learner is familiar with our subway system, our popular culture, our local food, our winter based sports, and especially our idioms, metaphors and similes. Translation is going to take far more than translating the words and sentences. The learning objects will need to be localized as well.

This access barrier would not be cultural in the use of the term in your summary - barriers in the organizational culture that make participation difficult - it would also not be covered by language. Perhaps we can call it lack of localization.

3.5 Access in terms of local (e-)policy / attitude

OERs may not be used as widely as possible (say within a University), because there is no policy to try to use OER when possible, or there may be certain attitudes that make it hard to use OERs.

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Development of competencies of information literacy for all users (faculty, students, administrators, others)

About the attitude to sharing in general:

Quote image There is no doubt that the technical issue is a barrier to the up-take of OER in developing countries (I am from South Africa and am doing some work in Uganda and Mozambique at the moment). However, in my experience so far it would seem that the key enabler of using and producing is a social one in short the willingness to share in a society where the opposite has become the norm. It would seem to me that the critical change is a change in vision – an alternative view to the entrenched view of withholding resources for economic or reputational gain. In this sense the pivotal disruptive change is a social one, not only a technical, financial or legal one (although these can be barriers). This notion of sharing is often at odds with the current systems in higher education that have been undergoing a form of commercialisation where teaching materials are considered as an institution’s ‘competitive edge’.

and

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There are not many public institutions in developing countries (if compared to the number of private institutions) and they seem to be an island unto themselves in their bureaucracy. Inside these few, many do not have the means and attitude (awareness, expertise, organization, personnel, salaries, etc) to promote/produce/ open up content so most initiatives depend on outside funding. Once funding is over, the project stops (some are stillborn and the money trickles somewhere else).

Private institutions, on the other hand, hire people (very often from the public institutions) to create and validate content, which is locked up so it can reproduced a million times for "return over investment". Certificates are emitted, which society validates and increasingly demands. The public, "commons" ground is almost non existing (the main difference between a developed and a developing country).

3.6 Access in terms of national government e-policy

There may be internet site (such as youtube) that are may be banned in various institutions or even countries. Youtube for instance does have educational content, but it also does have content that may be undesirable in certain contexts, causing the site to be banned.

4 Access: Legal issues and Access in terms of licensing

This was recognised as a barrier early-on, and now you’d be very suspcious of something that called itself “open” but was “All rights resrved”.

So while availability of suitable licenses isn't a current barrier, it was an important issue that needed to be solved, and is an inspirational story to reflect on.

There may be a barrier in terms of licensing for remixing, in that some licenses aren't compatible with others, see e.g. http://creativecommons.org.tw/licwiz/english.html

5 Access issues to do with technical issues on the provider/publisher side of OER

5.1 Access in terms of file formats

The following statement were made particularly with regard to adaptation/remixing, but they apply equally well to just using the content in the first place: Some formats are more accessible than others.

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I also second the proposal that more of the material be made "easily remixable". This is not only a matter of licenses, but of file formats, etc. Already, people who translate OERs into Chinese are complaining about receiving PDFs with graphs and illustrations - if they had access to the original PPTs, they could much more easily change the language, or reuse parts. In this regard, sites like WikiEducators, Connexions and Open University, that presents the material in HTML, XML, Wiki markup or other "structured" ways, are preferable - but of course, this must be weighed against the desire to make a lot of material available quickly.

5.2 Access in terms of disability

Diability can be an additional barrier, if the materials aren’t presented in an accessible way.

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Physical, emotional and learning difficulties provide a series of comple challenges in developed and developing world. The technology can over come barriers ( speaking web pages, Braille printers and so on). This requires good design and thought. In the UK Techdis http://www.techdis.ac.uk has done some really useful work.


6 Access: Technical issues on the "user side" / "client side"

6.1 Access issues in terms of poor infrastructure, poverty

Power, Computers, Transport:

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  • 1. distance to a telecenter (personal computer purchase and monthly cost of Internet not possible for most)
  • 2. time (low pay = aprox. 200 dollars monthly = need to take two or three full time jobs)
  • 3. opposition of family or friends (women told they should tend to cooking and cleaning when not at work teaching)

Also, distribution of OER on paper can pose additional barriers:

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Traditional resources (e. g. paper, traditional books etc,) are very expensive as compared to digital media (ebooks, audio and video material etc.).

And:

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[Poverty] ... is not the same as the technical access issues. In most developing countries, access is extremely expensive, and educators mostly have to use computers on their own time (and budget). In consequence, they have to make radical choices about how they use the internet: browsing and experimentation are often not options.
There is no easy solution, but this has to be taken into account, and become a focus for action.

6.2 Access in terms of discovery

It it’s hard to discover the resource (i.e. a search doesn’t return anything), then it’s hard to access the resources.

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A definition of a basic structure of metadata to foster indexing and searching of OER -to facilitate adoption.

Even if OERs have good metadata, there are differences in curricula:

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Also the differences in curriculum making it difficult to get the precise information you need, ...

6.3 Access in terms of ability and skills (available to the end user).

Another way of saying this is that there needs to be a match between the skills required to access the OER, and the skills that the user has at their disposal at a particular moment in time. This is relevant for use of the content as such (“Is the content easy to use? Is it in a obscure format, that makes it hard to use?), as well as for reuse:

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A lack of local skills and knowledge for adapting and revising OERs is a significant barrier. Without these skills, OER cannot be localized and made appropriate for use by the local community.

and

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  • Non existence of a critical mass of OER experts prevented the training of teaching staff on OER
  • Lack of OER skills on the part of staff limited access

and

Quote image I agree that in the least developed countries, lack of capacity to review and adapt OERs is a significant barrier, probably the most significant. The group needs to make clear to donor nations that resources to remedy that deficiency are an urgent and high priority.

6.4 Access in terms of design information provided with the resources

Of course the "ability and skills" the end user needs to have are (to some extent) mitigated by what information is provided with the resource.

That is to say: If only the (bare) OER itself is presented, it can be hard to figure out what to do with it. If additional information is shared (such as the learning design, perhaps production notes), then the resource is easier to use. Moreover, this additional information also offers a blue-print to create similar resources.

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We have found a lot of interest in using OER as a route to sharing the learning design (or should that be teaching design?) of how to structure online resources. Most materials do not explain how they are meant to work so someone who wants to reuse or change has to first be a learner. If there were an overview or consistent way to show designs then more reuse may take place.

and

Quote image It can also be a hard issue to address (again like meta-data) in that the resource can be perfectly usable without it and so it feels like an unnecessary cost in time and extra work, but means that the resource may not deliver its full potential. I know we are not on solutions at the moment but maybe part of the solution is to establish a recognised value for such designs and a reason for them to be seen as something worth sharing.

6.5 Access in terms of internet connectivity / bandwidth

The following comment from Rwanda makes an important point:

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One of the barriers of using OERs in central and southern african universities is the issue of BANDWIDTH. They must pay very expensive for that and they have no money or/and the national authorities do not understand enough the importance and benefits of OERs for their education and do not consider them as a national priority.

The good thing is that these universities use European languages and don't need translation in their native languages. OERs can just be adapted to the local environment without translating in african languages.

Citing a study on OER use in Africa (further details to follow):

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However, upon further probing on how often they used/accessed OERs, a significant 55.8% indicated that they had occasionally or never used OERs, this was largely attributed to the technological or/and infrastructural challenges that African academics face. And thus, it can be concluded that OERs are largely underutilized in Africa.

and

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The majority of people from third world countries do not have internet, because it is not widespread. In other respect, it is a to get a luxury to get a second hand computer, and the cost to internet connection is expensive for people of middle class. In my country for instance, it is only in the capital town that people connect on Internet.

A comment from the UK:

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It's true, as the contributor from Rwanda reminded us, that bandwidth is particularly expensive in Africa. African universities typically pay thousands of dollars a month for the same capacity connection as a US or UK user might pay $20 for. But whatever size connection you have (however much bandwidth you have) you need to manage it well. An unmanaged network of computers connected to the Internet will quickly become clogged with viruses, spam, peer-to-peer traffic and other useless traffic. This means there is no capacity left to access things like OERs.

For example, a few years ago, we were working in Ghana to improve the usability of a free journal access portal. In one research institution we realised that the main reason their network was performing so poorly was that it was flooded with viruses. Working with their staff to put some tools in place we were able to improve the speed of the connection by a factor of 15.

A 2006 African Tertiary Institution Survey found that almost 2/3 of universities practices little or no management of their connections. Universities have a hard time retaining skilled staff, there has been a lack of awareness among management and funders as to the need and means to build up good network administration and policy, less training than required and to some extent, tools are expensive and/or very difficult to use.

The flip side of the bandwidth problem is that OER resources are not often designed to work well over low bandwidth connections. Users sometimes give up after 'bandwidth heavy' sites (lots of images, flash and less than critical scripting) keep crashing or are prohibitively slow to load.

followed by a comment from Mexico:

Quote image we often restrict ourselves to think only about the "physical bandwidth" to a certain location, and neglect to think about all the other factors that can impede transfer speed.

I have similar experiences from a computer lab in a village in Mexico - I have never seen so many and fierce viruses in my life, busy spamming thousands of emails across the world, on a tenuous and expensive satellite link.

followed by a comment from the US (regarding Brazil):

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This is a crucial point! The expansion of education and the availability of good resources for "everyone" is an important part of the mission of lots of the OER projects available.

In Brazil, there is a huge project financed by the Federal Government to expand the bandwidth for 2 mega in all public school (primary to high school) until the end of 2010...they are also developing a program to build computer/Internet labs to all schools, so each school in Brazil would have, at least 10 computers.....

However, this is just beginning. Thus, if OER projects want to be helpful for developing countries....there is a crucial need to develop resources accessible in low bandwidth...and by low..I mean almost dial-up!

Also, the emergence of the use of cellphones can contribute...but this is the reality of just a handful of countries.

I hope OER developers keep this in mind....

and

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In response to Liz, I would like to enthusiastically embrace the idea of working harder on bandwidth management. The Aptivate guidelines are very useful and edifying, and more effort should go into making resources usable in low bandwidth environments (which is after all the target audience of this group).

and a response from Zimbabwe:

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Working in ICT at a developing world university/academic instituition comes with many challenges restricting access. It is always difficault to setup the right infrastructure and design the right and the best bandwidth utilisation plan.

I attended the INASP bandwidth management series and appreciate what is required but puting it in action was just difficult. Agreeing on the policy was an issue and it was viewed as if ICT was trying to curtail academic freedoms.

The resources, in terms of manpower and skill to sustain the process were also not there. Taking care of viruses is also one big challenge. The free and open antivirus tools proved inadequate, the ISP was not helpful either and we had little options for this was the only one with a point of presence.

A comment from Pakistan:

Quote image When ever I send the web sites of free available e-resources to our students, teachers and researchers they complains that they could not download the materials because of slow internet or some times non accessibility.

An IT/Computer teacher at a Zambian secondary school reports:

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Last time we participated on the identification of OER materials but what we faced was the toruble of having access to internet connectivity.

Sometime back some schools had internet connectivity with the local ISP but wht we discovered was that to maintain this connectivity was an issue and it became extremely expensive and at the moment some schools cannot even afford to continue to have this connectivity. Some have been disconected. With this era of technology it is very paramount to have internet connectivity for various reasons. It can help teachers to research and get information about their subject of specialisation and even help students/pupils to enhance their learning.

If by chance you go to an internet cafe here in Zambia, the time you log in and the time you start accessing the internet you will discover that you may spend a lot of money because some of the internet cafes connectivity is very slow. No wonder people can't afford to utilise the resources from the internet.

As a teacher, may i ask the OER community to give me some professional advice on what to do in order to have accessibility. Are there any ways of having a cheaper way of connecting to the internet?

In terms of teaching, What other OER materials can i use to teach my pupils on databases, Powerpoint presentation, word processing apart from Ubuntu (Open office writer, open office calc, open office maths).

Nigeria:

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There are institutions in developing nations which cannot afford dedicated bandwidth and have to share bandwidth to reduce costs; there are those that have to contract out their bandwidth and even website management. In situations like these, such institutions have no control over the bandwidth and thus cannot control the rate at which viruses attack not only their sites but through the sites their systems.

Sudan:

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... not to forget the issue of the bandwidth, which is much exagerated by the cost. It is quite often to loose connection in a University because of the high bill to be payed.

Guatemala:

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With reference to bandwidth, this is an ongoing issue for teaches in my project. They cannot download videos, or watch them, because the CTC where they go to use the Internet has measured service via satellite, and once the bytes are used in a month, service is shut down until the bill is paid. This is a major impediment and also affects regular attendance at the CTC because freedom of usage and availability is placed in doubt.

A comment from the US:

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In some informal research I did on bandwidth management in developing countries because there was an interest at my institution in establishing elearning classes with African institutions, I read a number of documents on difficulties in access due to low bandwidth. I was struck by the number of times it was mentioned that viruses, spam, etc took over the desktop because there weren't any technically trained administrators on board who knew how to repair and maintain the system. Another problem was that well-trained network administrators quickly left for better jobs. Funders did not seem to include ongoing training of network support in their workshops. Where funding is concerned, the result is that the investment will then look wasted, for reasons that could have been avoided.

Interestingly, in the US, these same issues can affect colleges and internet cafes (however few) in rural areas. In my experience, the dichotomy between 'developed' and 'developing' sometimes ignores similar problems in access and technology usage that can afflict both.

7 Various issues

Quoted with permission from "Philise N Rasugu (September 2006), Laying the foundations for Open Educational Resources in Higher Education in Africa: A Survey on Perceptions of African Academics, Project Report submitted to the University of Southern Queensland, Australia as the final assignment to fulfill the requirements for Master of Online Education."

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5.6.1 Challenges of OERs:

1. Accessibility: In Africa, access to the internet is still very limited and therefore not many people may get access to OERs. Even where internet connection is available, the bandwidth is too small and this makes downloads slow and expensive. In addition, availability of computers is very limited. For instance, a respondent from Namibia indicated that “there is low computer density in that Country, where only 3 computers are available to every 1000 people”. Another respondent pointed out that “access is limited to people with know‐how on information technology”. Coupled with this, electricity supply is very erratic and unreliable.

2. Computer Literacy: Majority of students and teachers are not computer literate and those who have the opportunity to use OERs have very low computer literacy levels. One respondent stated that “unfortunately the majority of students are not computer literate, the curriculum is country‐based and there is very little country‐based information available for the students. Mostly one gets information on how the developed countries are operating since our country is currently recovering from civil war.” And apparently, they live in remote rural areas where computers, like in many remote parts of Africa, are unheard of.

3. Infrastructure: Most of Africa suffers from poor infrastructure due to lack of physical facilities, electricity and transportation. To this end, a respondent from Nigeria stated the following, “in my university, there are infrastructural limitations; students often have to sit on windows or squat by doors to receive lectures. Furthermore, our public power supply is epileptic and there seems to be no solution for this at the moment”. There are also places where there are no roads to facilitate communication and telephones are a luxury to many. In addition, lack of ICT policies within governments make it difficult to supply bandwidth and connectivity. These infrastructural barriers therefore militate against advancements in accessing digital learning resources.

8 Meta-issues: Funding

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One key obstacle to African participation in OER has been the lack of funding. The most successful international OER projects have all received substantive grants, often in the Millions of US$, to create the infrastructure and capacity to publish educational resources openly. It is not possible for African universities, given the lack of capacity and resources mentioned by others, to fully participate in this movement without financial support.

and

Quote image ... ignore the elephant that is standing in the corner: lack of capacity

and bandwidth (as examples) are also related to lack of funding to pay for capacity and bandwidth.