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cc, by Jonathas Mello

UNESCO 2012 World Open Education Resources Congress

The 2012 OER (Open Educational Resources) world congress took place in Paris at UNESCO over three days 20th – 22nd June. The congress was combined with an OER seminar and exhibition highlighting some of the most important and successful projects and initiatives in OER from across the globe.

The event was organised around the 10 year anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO global forum, where the term OER was conceived, with the adoption and launch of the Paris Declaration, informed through a series of regional policy forums. The group one (Western Europe & North America) policy forum was hosted by SCORE (Support Centre for Open Resources in Education) and the OCWC (Open Courseware Consortium) at the Cambridge 2012 OER conference in April of this year.

The event attracted over 400 delegates from 95 countries in person with many more joining online via the live stream and following #oercongress through and Twitter.

What is OER?
Very briefly for those that have not heard of OER, Open Educational Resources are described by UNESCO (2002) as:

“… any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. “

Other subtle variations exist but in essence the nature of the “open” part of educational resources lies within the licensing. So whatever your definition of an educational resource is, to make it an open educational resource is to apply an open licence.  The open licensing system most commonly used and understood is Creative Commons. There are further links at the end of the article for those interested in finding out more.

The congress began with a very articulate and impressive keynote from Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University, defending copyright where it was linked to people’s livelihood but speaking about how inappropriate it was in situations where those producers were employed.  This was followed by setting the context for the Congress from Sir John Daniels.

OER Congress at UNESCO CC BY Willem van Valkenburg
OER Congress at UNESCO CC BY Willem van Valkenburg

The event as a whole was one of positive enforcement of OER policy and use as one would expect from people involved directly in the area. The delegates came from a broad spectrum of higher education institutes, Non Governmental Organisations and commercial companies. The one exception was the group that would be most likely to oppose, or at least present a more negative view of the movement, and that was the publishers.  The question was raised by Andrew Law of the Open University as to the presence of any publishers with a negative response. It was recognised, as it has been at other similar events, that a more positive and proactive engagement with the publishing industry would be appropriate and essential to help further the OER agenda.

It was also notable that there were similarities in projects from the non English speaking world in terms of contextualising OER. There has long been a bias towards English / western centric content on the internet in general and OER is a great driver to change this with licenses allowing users to take content and change it for their context.  There was also a lot of progress reported within the movement with a number of institutions reporting on the change of models from consuming OER to producing OER. This was highlighted by Mona El-Ayoubi from Hamdan Bin Mohammed eUniversity in Dubai around the “Arabisation” of content as well as Hikyoung Lee from Korea University presenting their move to crowd sourcing translation OER through a wiki. Interestingly the presentation from Korea University was one of the only ones that mentioned accessibility explicitly, which is an issue that in some areas has been seen as a possible barrier to engagement with production of OER as well as use.

We heard stories of Government engagement with OER from Igor Ostrowski,Vice-Minister, Ministry of Administration and Digitization, Poland, where there has been an investment of 13 million euros into the production of OER servicing the K-12 sector.  This is alongside a broader bill iterating that what is publicly funded should be publicly available.  It was the same story from the US where Cable Green from Creative Commons highlighted the move from Federal Government towards a position that if you receive public funding you must make your content open, if not then you will not receive funding. He also left us with the comment “the opposite of Open is not ‘closed’, the opposite of open is ‘broken’.”

Photo of Dr Cable Green CC BY Willem van Valkenburg
Cable Green CC BY Willem van Valkenburg

From the UK David Kernohan from JISC gave us an overview of the three years of funding for OER through the UKOER program enabling us to become a “World class centre for expertise in OER”. He also picked up on the theme that was running through the congress and that was one of mainstreaming OER practice, referred to as OEP (Open Educational Practice), to continue to increase the effectiveness of OER. The UK session continued with Andrew Law from the Open University (OU) showing how the OU engage learners through the use of OER and how they are now in the position that there would be a net loss of tangible benefits to the University if they were to stop.

Photo of David Kernohan and Andrew Law CC BY Willem van Valkenburg
David Kernohan and Andrew Law CC BY Willem van Valkenburg

The final sessions of the seminar saw Satoshi Yamawaki from Castalia, Japan in a parallel session with Anant Agarwal from MIT. Castalia, a commercial company, were speaking on “OER in bridging formal education and informal learning” with a case study from student support in the Tsunami disaster area. Learning about how commercial companies can use OER and work in the education system for social good has significant impact in promoting OER.  The big story though was the new initiative from MIT and Harvard, edX, and on which Anant was speaking, where students will receive a graded certificate for completion of free courses using OER. In comparison to the edX model, the last session was a joint presentation on the OER University (OER U). OER U is a global partnership of 15 accredited colleges, polytechnics and universities and two non-teaching partners (your institution can join too) that will offer credit for open learning.  Each partner has a slightly different model for offering credit, from completely open to a percentage of content which has to come from the awarding institution.

The three days were rounded off with a successful adoption of the declaration, very active participation in the seminar sessions and a great event for networking with global colleagues to further the OER movement. There was great progress shown in the movement from “why should we do this?” to “why aren’t we doing this?” from a number of institutions and countries, although there is still a long way to go until “Open” is the default.

There was such a full program that I could not go through all the sessions in this article or in great detail. You can find further information by following the links below where you will be able to view recordings of some of the sessions as well access links to all the presentations and a list of speakers and participants. If you are interested open learning please contact or join the Open Education special interest group and come along to the national conference, OER13, next year.

Useful links


UNESCO (2002) ‘What are Open Educational Resources (OERs)?’ [online], (last accessed 26 June 2012).

Tim Seal
Assistant Director, SCORE
The Open University

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