Thursday, November 17, 2011

OERu anchor partner and stakeholder meeting; prototype courses in 2012

Inaugural open planning meeting of the founding anchor partners and stakeholders of OER Tertiary Education Network (OERTen) for OER university was held at the Council Room of the Open Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand on 9th and 10th November, 2011. There was also global virtual participation (both synchronous and asynchronous) supported by online streaming (funded by UNESCO), ether pad (provided by BCcampus - Canada) and back channels like and twitter.

There were 22 face to face participants at the Council Room, who represented University of South Africa, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology - New Zealand, Southern New Hampshire University - USA, Commonwealth of Learning (Intergovernmental organization) - Canada, Otago Polytechnic - New Zealand, University of Canterbury - New Zealand, Thompson Rivers University - Canada, OER Foundation (International Organization) - New Zealand, Athabasca University - Canada, Empire State College (SUNY) - USA, Thompson Rivers University - Canada, Acharya Narendra Dev College - India, University of Southern Queensland - Australia, University of Canterbury - New Zealand, NorthTec - New Zealand, University of Wollongong - Australia and Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. More than 100 persons from 41 countries were registered as virtual participants and majority of them participated at the various sessions of the two-day open planning meeting depending on their interest and time-zone conveniences.

The statements made by the Anchor Partners of OERu at the beginning of the meeting revealed their commitment in nurturing the OERu system by contributing development support, content, credential services, and courses. Subsequently the participants (both face to face as well as virtual) actively engaged in group discussions on crucial topics such as:

  1.  Inaugural OERu credential
  2.  Quality assurance and cross-border articulation
  3.  OERu course prototype to be developed in 2012
  4.  Next Generation Learning Challenge
  5.  Open management of OERu system and its financial sustainability
The general set up of OERu courses would likely to be such that the courses would be developed individually or collaboratively by the participating institutions and added to a general course repository (most probably on WikiEducator). Apart from this the participating institutions would use their own Learning Management Systems for online delivery and remote management of courses.

The most prominent among the inputs came before the anchor partners in respect of the inaugural qualification was the recommendations of the SCoPE online seminar on ‘Designing OERu credential’ organized by BCcanpus, as a preparatory work for OERu open planning meeting. It has recommended following categories of credentials;

  1. Diploma of Arts
  2. Associate of Science
  3. Bachelor of General Studies
  4. Bachelor of Education & Bachelor of Nursing
  5. Masters of Education
The meeting has discussed above suggestions as well as other suggestions came up during the meeting.
OERTen partners would retain institutional autonomy for core services including assessment and credentialing within the institution's accepted quality frameworks for OERu courses as well.  Therefore OERu would also likely to require verify the identity of students verified in study centres etc. Such arrangements would also be required for final examinations. However a Transnational Qualifications Framework would be required for the purpose and the Commonwealth of Learning can effectively contribute for this. COL and UNESCO are particularly interested in implementing the OERu programme for African and Asian students on priority basis.

The OERTen network will provide first-year level courses during the foundation phase of the OERu. It would carry credit for a "pre-degree" exit credential (for example the Diploma of Arts at the University of Southern Queensland), carry credit towards an existing credential "on the books" of the relevant anchor partners, and would be a ladder towards an Associate or Bachelor Degree of General Studies / Trans-disciplinary studies for those partner institutions who offer this type of credential. professional bodies will not be considered during the foundation phases. 

The financial sustainability of the system would be maintained using the fee for credential services and by maximising return on investment by reusing and integrating OERu OERs for use in "on-campus" mainstream courses. The open planning meeting has discussed the possibilities of using Academic Volunteers International in course development, review and student support activities. The services of students, academicians, retired teachers etc can be  used as a reliable source of volunteer service.

The meeting expressed hope that in five years time the model OERu project  would achieve 5000 student enrolments. The yearly cost for the students shall not exceed 5000  US Dollar . The OERu would adopt  open,and transparent governance model. It was also decided to constitute Project Learning Group with representatives from anchor partners to network with the wider world and workout strategies for the implementation of OERu prototype  by February, 2012. The OERu is expected to be formally operational from 2013 onwards.

I also see tremendous scope for OERu, in the years to come, in facilitating knowledge transfer for alternative environment friendly technologies as being  seen in various accords of UNFCCC etc. Another potential area is lifelong learning as being demanded by the knowledge economies. Only  open and flexible systems like OERu would be able to promptly respond to the demands of the labour markets in knowledge economies. Moreover, when we would become 10 billion strong people in the current century itself, what else can ensure higher education for all?

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