Education News

UNESCO promotes new initiative for free educational resources on the Internet

July 8, 2002 - Open Educational Resources are critically important for ensuring wide access to quality higher education in developing countries and full participation of universities in these countries in the rapidly evolving world higher education system, said the participants of the UNESCO Forum on the impact of open courseware for higher education in developing countries in Paris last week.

The sixteen principal participants from universities in developing and industrialized countries and representatives of six international and non-governmental organizations express in the declaration adopted by the Forum their wish to develop together a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity, to be referred to henceforth as Open Educational Resources.

Open Educational Resources are defined as "technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes". They are typically made freely available over the Web or the Internet. Their principal use is by teachers and educational institutions support course development, but they can also be used directly by students. Open Educational Resources include learning objects such as lecture material, references and readings, simulations, experiments and demonstrations, as well as syllabi, curricula and teachers' guides.

Open Educational Resources are mainly developing in the area of higher education. Several initiatives in the United States of America were presented at the Forum including the OpenCourseWare initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has announced that it will put online the substance of all of its courses during the coming few years, and established portals including the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) and the World Lecture Hall of the University of Texas. The UNESCO Portal for Higher Education Faculty of Science and Engineering, developed by UNESCO's Cairo Office, is a digital library aimed at faculty and is also a platform for them to publish and share their own web publications.

The meeting discussed three principal aspects of Open Educational Resources:technology support including software standards for dissemination and exploitation of Open Educational Resources and requirements in terms of Internet connectivity; the methodology for organizing international cooperation in this area including worldwide identification of learning objects and frameworks for collaboration and user feedback; policy issues such as institutional commitment, financial support, intellectual property rights, and the export and import of educational material.

Two proposals for international cooperation under UNESCO auspices were recommended by the Forum:an pilot international evaluation and usability improvement project on Open Educational Resources involving universities in developing and industrialized countries, and A global indexing system and forum for international accreditation and validation, in cooperation with the International Association of Universities and the UNESCO Global Forum on International Quality Assurance. The final report of the Forum is in preparation and will be posted soon on Webworld.

The Forum was organized with the support from the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET), a USA based cooperative advancing the use of technology in higher education, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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