UNESCO, the Hewlett Foundation, Creative Commons and open education advocates globally, including many in higher education, have been making the case for open education and OER for the past two decades. According to UNESCO:
Universal access to information through high quality education contributes to peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. OER provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of learning and knowledge sharing as well as improve policy dialogue, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building globally.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the urgency of open education became even clearer. At the height of the pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted. In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through open educational resources. The call highlighted the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies.
Overall, the benefits of using OER and OEP can be considered in three main areas: access, equity and pedagogy:
- All can access, adapt and reuse OER created by others, e.g. to assist in the process of developing digital learning materials
- Students have continual access to OER, without incurring costs or requiring access codes
- OER are available for anyone to access, enabling the value of OER to be shared globally
- OER can help to reduce the overall costs of education for students
- OER are persistently available to students (i.e. before, during and after taking a module as well as during any breaks in study)
- OER are available for anyone to access – students and staff within and beyond a specific module or institution, as well as learners outside the formal education system
- Intentional use of OER and OEP can further social justice
- OER are an important contributor towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 4
- OER provide freedom to educators to reuse, adapt, update, translate and/or enhance existing learning materials
- OER can be adapted for specific contexts (e.g., country, region, discipline, programme, specific learners)
- OER can be used to help diversify the curriculum, adding content or perspectives that may be missing
- Use and creation of OER provides opportunities for partnership and collaboration
- Students can become involved in co-creating learning materials
- Use and creation of OER provides opportunities for authentic assessment, with students connecting with issues that are current and meaningful to them
- Students can contribute to public knowledge, e.g. editing Wikipedia
- Use and creation of OER provide opportunities to teach and model key digital literacies and digital competences
- Use of OER within specific teaching contexts can enhance engagement with cultural heritage collections, many of which are openly licensed (e.g. National Gallery of Ireland, Rijksmuseum, Smithsonian Institution)
For further information, see the National Forum’s OER/OEP support materials available at www.teachingandlearning.ie/open.