Hosting the 2012 World Open Education Resources (OER) Congress at its headquarters from 20-22 June, UNESCO will lead the debate to accelerate the development of OERs worldwide, with the participation and support of global governments, educators, NGOs, and prominent universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
OERs are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. Anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share OERs, which include textbooks, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio and video.
A term coined only ten years ago at the first-ever UNESCO Forum on Open Courseware, OERs have revolutionized education since then. Congress speaker Anant Agarwal, who heads Harvard and MIT’s joint OER initiative, considers “online education for students around the world… the single biggest change in education since the printing press.” This change is most welcome for students’ pockets, considering that some of the most popular organic chemistry textbooks, for example, cost an average 200USD in the United States but 50USD in France. Such price differences for access to fundamental knowledge are anachronistic in the age of OER.
Providing unprecedented access to some of the world’s best learning and research materials is just the beginning. Through OERs, universities and experts worldwide are combining their knowledge to collaboratively create better learning resources. For example, one can now take courses on water technology from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands that also include information on local water treatment methods added by universities in South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia and various Caribbean countries. The input of local experts has turned the online courses into a virtual center of expertise on drinking water engineering in the developing world.
Selective access is still (too) often held to be the hallmark of a quality education. Availability to all is the new paradigm that UNESCO and its Congress participants will shape for the coming years, as a necessity for survival in today’s knowledge-driven world. Thousands of options are already available for you to access today, and they are expanding every week. The hardest question you’ll have to answer is: what are you going to learn first?
Open educational resources