BY MATT MCGREGOR
Wayne Mackintosh is the Director of the Open Education Resource Foundation (OERF), an international non-profit organisation based in Dunedin. The OERF aims to promote the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) as a sustainable and renewable resource. Wayne also holds the UNESCO/COL/ICDE Chair in OER based at Otago Polytechnic and the Foundation.
I caught up with Wayne and began by asking about how he entered the world of Open Educational Resources.
“I spent the majority of my academic career working in open distance learning, including the University of South Africa, the biggest provider of distance learning in Africa. In 2002, I moved to New Zealand to help set up a distance and flexible learning centre at the University of Auckland. The idea behind the centre was to promote collaboration in elearning.”
What was the state of open education in 2001?
“It’s important to point out that ‘open education’ is an umbrella term. When we talk about open education, we’re talking about not only open educational resources, but also open source software, open governance, open policy.
“But in 2001, open education was virtually unheard of, and there was very little happening in terms of OER development. The concept itself wasn’t coined until a conference hosted by UNESCO in 2002. This is ironic, of course, as teaching is all about sharing knowledge freely — it’s fundamental to what teachers do.
“In those days, we focused on the development and adoption of open source software, as this was considered the best way to introduce the concept of open education to the tertiary sector in New Zealand. Thanks to significant investment in that area from the government of the day, we were able to assist with the development of the open source learning management system Moodle.
“Partly as a result of that work, New Zealand has the highest rates of adoption of Moodle in the world.”
How did OER develop over the decade?
“For the first decade, the focus of the movement was on advocacy — just getting the message out and educating folks about open education. As the advocacy efforts developed, the donor community began to fund OER development. The William and Flora Hewitt Foundation in particular has funded a number of the OER projects, including projects like the open courseware initiative from MIT.
“We’re seeing the fruits of some of that early development now, with the adoption of open policy for major projects like the $2billion TAACCCT fund for educational resources for community colleges.”
What happened after leaving the University of Auckland? How did you get from there to the OERF?
“After the University of Auckland, I moved to represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth of Learning, based in Vancouver, where my work focused on the adoption of open educational practices and open source software in education.
“After leaving the COL, I moved to set up the Open Education Resource Foundation. After looking around the world, I saw that the only higher education institution with an open policy for educational resources was Otago Polytechnic — which is how the OERF came to be based in New Zealand.
“Happily, the Council of Otago Polytechnic were brave and forward-thinking enough to take us on.”
What does the OERF do?
“The OERF has two flagship initiatives. The first is Wikieducator, which is a platform for the global education community to share and edit educational resources with 58,000 registered account holders.
“The second is the OERu, which is a consortium of higher education institutions committed to providing truly free and open education, including open courses using only open educational resources.
“The mission of the OERu is to develop a sustainable ecosystem of open educational resources. All partner institutions commit to produce two free courses based entirely on OER, providing free access to all learners. Assessment services are then provided on a cost-recovery model. This model enables us to reduce the costs of tuition to the learner to as little as 20% of current costs.”
What’s next? What does the future of OER look like?
“There’s still a long way to go. From my perspective, OER is inevitable — no model of knowledge production can match the efficiency of OER. The real challenge, though, is how long it takes for institutions to develop a culture of sharing. Working for cultural change within traditional and conservative institutions — as higher education institutions tend to be — takes time.
“It’s important that we keep working to develop skills within the tertiary sector. This is still relatively little knowledge or expertise in OER, and this will need to change in order to make OER development and use mainstream.
“From a policy level, we need a stronger commitment from central government and tertiary education institutions to ensure that all educational resources produced by publicly funded institutions are made openly available. People often ask about the ‘sustainability’ of OER. It’s not rocket science: we already fund the production of open educational resources. We just need to make sure the resources that are already produced within universities are made available as OER using Creative Commons licences.”
What should New Zealand tertiary education institutions do?
“It’s essential that institutions pass policies to support the development and use of OER. This is going to take some time. One of the difficulties in working the tertiary sector is that institutions are competitive with each other. We say that if institutions are worried about competition, they should join the OERu. As I said earlier, our open model enables us to reduce the costs of tuition to the learner to 20% of costs at existing mainstream institutions. The OERu is the new competition.”
Matt McGregor is the Public Lead at Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.