OER Home
Adaptation of OER for Egypt, Université Française d'Egypte
Open Distance and eLearning Initiative, African Virtual University
Translation of OER, Universia
Translation of OER, China Open Resources for Education
Open Educational Resources
Open content for higher education

Forum 1 Session 3 – Background note
Perspectives of the users and issues related to use
14-25 November 2005

Download the page (.pdf)

Adaptation of OER for Egypt, Université Française d'Egypte

Mohammed-Nabil Sabry, Director, Centre for Research, Development and International Cooperation, Université Française d'Egypte

When and why the initiative was undertaken

An initiative to use available Open Educational Resources (OER) started November 2003. The main motivation was to empower tertiary education in Egypt to face challenges raised by globalization. There are two main issues to face:

Increasing the tertiary completion rate: New technologies tend to increase the need for tertiary graduates at a rate that greatly exceeds available capacity, both in terms of investment and human resources. The positive impact of a high tertiary completion rate on economic performance and social development as a whole has been proved (Desjardins, Garrourte-Norelius and Medes, 2004; Taskforce on Higher Education and Society, 2000). The gap between Egypt, as well as many other developing countries, and developed countries is high. Measures have to be taken to increase the offer in tertiary education in order not to lag behind the world’s evolving economies.
Preserving cultural diversity: An increasing number of academic institutions are developing e-learning capabilities, with a high imbalance in the distribution between different languages and cultures. The continuous improvements in the quality of the offer in one language (namely English) should be viewed as a stimulus for other cultures to join the movement and even innovate in order to preserve their own cultural identity – and a valuable universal wealth, which is embodied in the diversity of cultural heritage.

What has, and is being done

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the UNESCO office in Cairo and the French University of Egypt (UFE), which resulted in direct co-operation between the UFE and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a first step, to be extended later to Carnegie Mellon University, Rice University, Alakhawein University (Morocco), the University of Gamal Abdul Nasser (Ghana) and Mauritius University.

In the first stage of the project, four MIT courses were selected from among the courses available through the OpenCourseWare initiative. These courses were adapted for the needs of the UFE. Adaptation means:

selecting the parts of the OCW course that fit te corresponding UFE courses;
translating the selected parts into French;
eventually adding modules to complete the course, and
finally adding graphics and/or animation whenever necessary to clarify some points.

Main challenges and lessons learned from the experience to date

The main advantages of the OCW set offered by MIT is it comprehensiveness:

There is a high probability of finding a hit in OCW when looking for a particular course, which is a valuable advantage for both instructors and self-learners.
The nature of the material offered varies from simple course notes in PDF files (which is important for convincing some professors that it need not be complicated to start), to sophisticated interactive materials (which is stimulating for other professors willing to put in the required effort).

The main issues for improvment are:

Course modularity: However good a course may be, designed for a given university, it will never fit the needs of another university without some modification. Course modularity, i.e. the breaking down of the course into relatively small and independent educational elements (modules), is an issue that needs to be addressed both in the design phase (module structuring), as well as in implementation (handling of cross links). This is necessary to keep the adaptation of a module for another course down to a manageable effort. In our case, we had to work with large chunks of material (a whole chapter and sometimes larger) because otherwise the effort needed would have been huge. The meant each part selected inevitably contained some elements outside our scope, and each part disregarded contained some useful elements.
Course adaptability: The most time consuming tasks in course creation are making figures, equations and tables. In the absence of the source materials, i.e. in cases where the only resources on offer were PDF files for instance, equations and tables had to be redrawn. Figures will also probably need to be redrawn because cutting and pasting from PDF files will result in bad resolution, together with a large file size. Also, figures usually contain annotations, which must be translated into another language. The only usable part of a PDF document is the text, which was not very useful for us since we need to translate it.
Course ownership: In some cases, course adaptation has involved extensive modification by our professors. Measures have had to be taken to preserve the intellectual property rights of both the original source (OCW) and the adapting professor. Although this issue has been addressed in the literature, we did not have enough time to make a survey. The decision was taken to:
  1. structure our courses into modules that are as small as possible;
  2. for each module, include a list of sources used to create it.
We hope that discussions will help us to define a better, hopefully standard, approach.


Desjardins, R.: Garrouste-Norelius, C.; Mendes, S. 2004. Benchmarking education and training systems in Europe: an international comparative study. Stockholm: Institute of International Education, Stockholm University.
Egyptian State Information Service. 2003. The year book 2003. Cairo: SIS Publications.
Taskforce on Higher Education and Society. 2000. Higher education in developing countries: peril and promise. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Back to top

Open Distance and eLearning Initiative, African Virtual University

Peter Bateman Manager, Instructional Technology and Design, African Virtual University

The African Virtual University’s intention is to play a supportive role in the development, within its network of Partner Institutions, of appropriate mixed mode or blended Open, Distance and eLearning (ODeL) programs. Our quest is for the development of delivery modes (traditional residential and distance education, online or computer mediated) that adopt constructivist approaches to student-centred learning, are delivered both on site and online and that incorporate appropriate instructional technology, design, training and professional development for staff in the Partner Institutions. For us, this is where the AVU can add value in the development of both synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning either on or off campus.

Given the increasing number of students in most African universities, it is becoming clear that the development of virtual campuses in Africa is no longer a thing of the past. The paucity of resources and the demands of the learner are now forcing African universities to think creatively about how they can deliver their programmes to an ever-changing student profile. It is in this creative tension between vision and reality that the AVU can add value to what African institutions are engaged in as far as ODeL is concerned. The development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) is a key aspect of realizing this vision.

To support the above the AVU is involved in four wide-reaching OER initiatives: the MIT OCW pilot, the Development Gateway OER topic page, the eGranary pilot, and the TESSA project. For this forum I will describe our experiences with the first of these – the MIT OCW pilot.

When and why the initiative was undertaken

Between June and September of 2005, the AVU’s Research and Innovation Facility, a unit within the ODeL Initiative, in collaboration with MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW) and the MIT Africa Internet Technology Initiative (AITI) students, undertook a pilot project that sought to increase use of OCW material in African institutions of higher learning. The objectives of the project were to:

raise awareness of MIT OCW;
facilitate the use of MIT OCW;
initiate the process of developing African-based communities of practice for ODeL and OER creation, and
provide research data on access to and the use of OpenCourseWare in the context of the African institutions involved.

Two institutions in Kenya and Ethiopia were selected to participate in the pilot phase of this project: the University of Nairobi (UoN) and the University of Addis Ababa (AAU).

What has, and is being done

Setting up mirror sites: MIT OCW provided external hard disk drives, pre-loaded with the MIT OCW site, which included text, multimedia and other enhanced interactive content. MIT OCW also provided software to log and track use of the material.

Sensitization workshops: The AVU facilitated and actively participated in the preparation and implementation of sensitization workshops at the selected institutions (UoN and AAU). Students from MIT-AITI, an innovative programme started by MIT students to integrate computers and Internet technology into the education of students in African schools, were sent by MIT OCW to conduct part of the workshop as a component of their 2005 summer programme. The AVU and MIT-AITI students conducted site visits in order to:

conduct sensitization workshops for faculty and/or students on MIT OCW material;
install and configure the mirror sites and train site technical staff;
provide ongoing technical assistance as needed.

Learning support materials: MIT OCW agreed to work with publishers to collect donated textbooks and learning materials. These were to be made available to UoN and AAU for selected courses in information and communication technologies, a discipline that has been identified as having the highest demand in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Awareness campaign: The success of the MIT OCW pilot was partially dependent upon a successful communications campaign that:

spread awareness about the programme, particularly among African educators and students;
explained the background and purpose of OCW, including what OCW is and is not, and
guided users on how to use the MIT OCW materials.

Main challenges and lessosn learned from the experience to date

Overall, these pilots indicated that there is a very high demand for, and appreciation of, the OCW materials in African universities. The AVU has had several enquiries from other Partner Institutions in its network, requesting a similar deployment of mirror servers. However, there were certainly challenges associated with undertaking the MIT OCW pilots. These are reflected in the following recommendations that the AVU Research and Innovation Facility has made to MIT OCW (and to which MIT OCW has been very receptive), as a result of undertaking the deployment of OpenCourseWare mirror sites:

The links on the OCW mirrors need to be rechecked so that as much content as possible can be made available and linked from within the mirror site, rather than from the main OCW website on the Internet.
In order to reduce the amount of time needed to set up a mirror site and eliminate problems of compatibility and operating system environments, the content should be shipped in a plug-and-play format, complete with at least an operating system/environment.
All fundamental software should be bundled together with the OCW content in order to reduce the time required to set up the mirror site and to make it easily maintainable.
The form of storage of the OCW material (i.e. portable external hard drives) makes it vulnerable to physical loss and damage resulting from constant movement and poor maintenance. A storage media, such as an internal hard disk, is the better option, although more care needs to be taken when handling and shipping.
Research needs to be carried out on the various modes for remotely updating content and receiving feedback via a cost-effective asynchronous channel. This will enable MIT to update the content on the mirror sites from a central, yet remote, location.
To increase buy-in of the OCW material, the mirror site should be configured so that it is flexible, and so that the web template can be edited in its entirety to match the institution’s theme and house styles. We suggest that an easy to edit site template be developed for the OCW mirror, and/or a quick guide to changing the look and feel of the mirror site.
Localised sensitization of the installed OCW mirror site should be maintained through the constant use of marketing material such as brochures, posters and leaflets to keep up the momentum of use.

The scale and scope of existing OER, and the sheer enormity of information already available, presents a considerable challenge to those who stand to gain the most from them: learners and educators in the developing world. However, running headlong into the relatively untested OER realm serves neither the learner nor the educator. They risk being submerged in digitized information that may have little or no defined meaning or purpose. As a result of the MIT OCW pilot (and our involvement in the other initiatives listed earlier), the AVU believes that it is necessary to configure a conceptual framework or OER Architecture within which information and meaning converge to meet the higher educational demands of those in Africa.

The promise of OER resides not only in the digitized information itself, but also in their effective use, and the methodological approaches and mechanisms that manage and ascribe meaning to them. The AVU believes that these challenges are best met through a collaborative partnership that incorporates four main elements of the OER evolutionary process: creation, organization, dissemination and utilization of OER. The current development of the AVU OER Architecture seeks to engage OER partners in a strategic combination of these elements that will lead to the development of a dynamic, rational and comprehensive Open Education Resource strategy for African higher educational institutions.

Back to top

Translation of OER, Universia

Pedro Aranzadi, Director of Projects, Universia

Universia.net was created by its founding partners to provide leadership in the development of the Information Society in Hispanic university education.

The consortium was founded in Spain in 2000, with the support of Grupo Santander and the commitment of 31 universities, the Spanish Principals Conference and the Higher Council for Scientific Research. The Spanish portal, Universia.es, was introduced on 17 September 2000, providing a range of services and basic content.

Universia.net is now active in ten countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. 724 universities have signed agreements with their respective national Universia.net portal, including almost all Spanish universities and 350 institutions in Latin America. In Chile, the first Latin American country portal, the Universia project represents 86 per cent of the university sector. Through these portals, Universia reaches 10 million higher education stakeholders around the world.

Mission and organisation

The consortium’s mission is to foster a high degree of participation from member universities to encourage educational and technological innovation, the application of new technologies, and the emergence of new communication platforms and information channels. Another key aim is to improve quality standards and the competitiveness of the higher education sector in the new information society.

From the beginning, Universia.net was created to serve all university stakeholders: students, current, former and future; teaching and research staff; administration and service staff, and companies with an interest in higher education. Portal content is divided into thematic areas, and each area can function as an independent portal. Universia.net is also strongly committed to the creation of virtual communities that will be first points of reference for the whole Hispanic academic world. The portal therefore incorporates chat, email and forum services, as well as news and events listings.

Universia and MIT OpenCourseWare

On 30 September 2003, the day that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published the 500th course in OpenCourseWare, MIT and Universia announced that they had entered into a formal agreement to translate OCW courses into Spanish and Portuguese. Universia announced that it would translate a first offering of 25 courses, and that it was committed to expanding its translated OCW courses over time. By 5 May 2004, 55 courses had been translated. And today, 105 courses in the OCW catalogue are available on the Universia OCW portal, http://mit.ocw.universia.net. The portal also offers information about OCW in Spanish and Portuguese, translated versions of MIT’s monthly OCW newsletter, information about Creative Commons licenses, and an online discussion forum for Spanish-speaking OCW users.

For Universia, participation in the OCW initiative underlines its own commitment to the Internet as a vehicle for open knowledge through access to free and open materials. Universia seeks to increase the reach, accessibility and impact of MIT OCW, by providing millions of users in Latin American countries with materials translated into their own language.

Back to top

Translation of OER, China Open Resources for Education

Derrick Tate, Assistant to Chairman, China Open Resources for Education

When and why the initiative was undertaken

China Open Resources for Education (CORE) was established in October 2003 and the program initiated in April 2004. China Open Resources for Education is a consortium of universities that began with 26 International Engineering Technology (IET) Educational Foundation member universities and 44 China Radio and TV universities. It now has a membership of 100 universities, through which it can reach out to 5 million students.

Higher education has become more internationalized and has been moving towards increased open sharing of educational resources. Inspired by these developments and having received generous support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the IET Foundation, Dr. Fun-Den Wang, a Chinese-American and Professor Emeritus of the Colorado School of Mines, brought together representatives from MIT, the Hewlett Foundation, the 26 IET Educational Foundation member universities, which include Peking University and Tsinghua University, the presidents of 67 distance education pilot universities, and administrators from 44 China Radio and TV universities. On the basis of this forum, CORE was founded to promote the development of open sharing of educational resources in China.

CORE was formed to upgrade the content and delivery of higher educational services in China, and to make available to other countries the world-class educational material generated in China. CORE's objective is to introduce advanced courseware from MIT and other top-ranked universities from around the world, by using the latest information technology, teaching methodologies, instructional content and other resources to enhance the quality of higher education within China. At the same time, CORE aims to share advanced Chinese courseware and other quality resources with universities around the world. Through these efforts CORE strives to realize the true open sharing of resources among universities at a global level.

CORE’s endeavours advance the available knowledge base beyond its current state, by selecting and translating leading OCW in the world, and making it available to a broad range of users from higher education and the interested public.

What has, and is being done

Quality university educational and scholarly materials are being made available by leading institutions, such as MIT. CORE seeks to make these high quality open educational resources available to Chinese universities. The member universities, with the leadership of CORE and a group of selected lead universities that share CORE’s vision, select the courses most relevant to higher education in China. They translate that material into Chinese, review the translation, and ensure its quality. The universities then use this OCW, in both Chinese and English, in teaching and research, and act as leaders to encourage other universities and the interested public to also use the materials. Quality Chinese courses and educational and scholarly materials are made available for sharing globally. Advanced teaching technology and software is also to be made available to encourage Chinese universities to adopt them to form OCW-enabled campuses.

The status of CORE’s activities can be described in three categories:

Introducing and promoting the use of OCW by universities across China: CORE has built a membership of universities across China that wish to use open courseware in their teaching. CORE has first introduced courseware from MIT to these universities, which will be followed by the introduction of quality courseware from other international universities. Universities that join CORE will use an increasing amount of open courseware in their teaching.
Translating OCW: CORE is currently translating more than 100 MIT OCW courses into Mandarin for use by Chinese universities. Member universities are also helping in this effort. In the near future, CORE will also translate quality open courseware from other top international universities. Universities have free access to these translated courses via CORE's website. CORE has hired trained translators, such as professors and bilingual volunteers with expertise in the subject areas being translated. Experts from CORE's discipline and subject committees supervise translation quality and, if necessary, adjust courses to reflect actual user needs and respond to feedback. Chinese universities will also contribute quality open courseware and CORE will translate these courses into English or other user languages. Currently 450 quality Chinese courses are available—in Chinese—through CORE’s website, at http://www.core.org.cn/OcwWeb/Global/all-courses.htm.
Launching CORE's website: CORE’s website is the only platform in China that accommodates the open-sharing needs of Chinese universities. Currently, universities can access open courseware and other important information on the site. In the near future, CORE Member Universities will be able to access live lectures by professors who are abroad, contribute quality open courseware, access lists of faculty who wish to engage in more international exchanges, as well as participate in other opportunities via the CORE website. Currently CORE’s website receives an average of 7,000 visitors per day.

For more information, please visit CORE at http://www.core.org.cn.

Main challenges and lessons learned from the experience to date

There are three major outcomes which CORE wishes to achieve. The first is the selection of relevant OCW, educational and scholarly material for its programs. The second is the translation and quality assurance of these selected materials. The third is the actual use of that translated OCW in teaching and research. CORE will have achieved its objectives when quality courseware is translated and used in teaching and research.

The obstacles to accomplishing these objectives include the reluctance of universities to use course material not generated within that institution, the difficulties of translating and ensuring the quality of the translations, and the inertia involved in getting professors to change to new and better course material.

Back to top

Project Overview  |  Web Publication  |  Forums  |  Links