Open source is the future of teaching

The work of teaching in developing countries is often hindered by an absence of basic resources, a lack of infrastructure, as well as underfunding, corruption and sociopolitical instability.

Given these realities, how can we develop teachers in a way that promotes quality education for all?

Open education resources (OERs) are freely accessible, openly licensed materials that are available online for anyone to use in teaching and learning. They have the potential to build capacity by providing educators with direct access, at low or no cost, to ways in which they can develop their competence.

The transformative potential of OERs for teachers was the topic of discussion at a recent Teachers Upfront seminar. It began with an inquiry into the design of OERs to ensure they are suitable for professional teacher development. Dr Björn Hassler, a lecturer in the faculty of education at the University of Cambridge, identified four elements critical to OER design.

OERs should promote learning through effective classroom practice, as well as encourage school-based professional learning for teachers that is practical and practice-focused.

Further, when using OERs, due regard must be given to the overall design of teacher development programmes — this includes possible resource constraints and the use of digital technology. Plus, OERs should be (and generally are) in the public domain or introduced with an open licence so that they may be shared freely and adapted as needed. The latter is particularly important as it offers potential for the scaling and replication of effective teacher professional development.

However, it is not enough merely to provide these open resources. If it were, OERs could be used simply to maintain the status quo — replicating, at a distance, traditional models and approaches for teacher development.

What is required is the judicious selection of quality teacher education resources. Dr Ephraim Mhlanga, a programme specialist at the South African Institute for Distance Education, grappled with this concern during the seminar by addressing the question of quality assurance.

How do we assure the quality of OERs? Mhlanga proposed a number of solutions, including self-managed quality assurance processes, and using prospective end users to pilot resources. He also suggested using university students to check OERs for clarity, content and licensing; and using students to review OERs as part of their information literacy skills development.

In the end, responsibility for assuring the quality of OERs rests with the institution, programme co-ordinators and educators who use them.

As they have always done when crafting curriculums or prescribing textbooks, these stakeholders are ultimately responsible for choosing which resources to use. For this reason, much will depend on which resources they choose to use, how they adapt them to make them contextually relevant, and how they incorporate them into various teaching and learning activities.

The task of assuring quality was further explored by Carmel McNaught, a visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg. McNaught stressed the need to move beyond “edutainment” to identify open resources that serve a clear educational purpose. OERs should be selected based on their ability to assist with learners’ misconceptions, to help them with visualisation and to engage them in meaningful activities, she said.

Crucially, OERs should be used to support rather than supersede an educator’s existing knowledge base. “You don’t just download resources for the sake of it. As teachers, in any endeavour, you must think about what your students’ needs are and what you’re trying to achieve,” she said.

Given the breadth of open resources available and the absence of a comprehensive listing of all of them, OER repositories must also be vetted to ensure their quality. Searchers must be able to identify repositories that have developed out of a genuine need. A core of committed promoters with sustained enthusiasm needs to articulate a clear direction and focus, consult with their user communities and establish a good management process. Repositories should be open access, facilitate the easy addition of resources and have suitable granularity in searching.

The seminar considered the role of communities in producing and using OERs. Research indicates that collaborative creation and peer-to-peer sharing through learning communities are important catalysts in education interventions. To this end, communities of practice centred on OERs could offer teachers (and other users) a space in which to produce, share, discuss, evaluate and modify open resources relevant to their cultural context.

OERs have the potential to celebrate diversity and to capture local concerns without having to create new, original materials. By sharing these resources, and adapting and reflecting on their use, there is the potential to improve the materials — and the teachers who use them.

This process of continued improvement requires the buy-in of the broader education community too. So far, efforts to change traditional methods of teaching — which require learners to be largely consumers and not co-creators of information — have been slow. This, added to poor technological infrastructure, has made the sustained integration of OERs into academic activities difficult to achieve in Africa.

However, there is now a critical mass of universities in Africa with a basic understanding of OERs. What is needed is the involvement, support and uptake of these open resources by the public. Educationists must recognise their role in the “learning loop” by creating, disseminating and adapting OERs in their respective contexts.

Given the roughly 2 000 tertiary institutions and colleges of education in Africa, we cannot deny the urgent and unmet need for OERs in teacher development. This is a shared problem that requires a shared response from all in the education space.

Sarah Lubala is a knowledge manager at Bridge. The Teachers Upfront seminars are hosted by Bridge, the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, the Mail & Guardian, the University of Witwatersrand’s school of education and the University of Johannesburg’s faculty of education

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

See people as individual humans, not as a race

We need to ingrain values of equality in education, businesses, society broadly and religious groups to see people

A template for 21st century education

Project-based learning, where learners find solutions in groups, builds sustainable livelihoods

More provinces involved in matric exam paper leak

The first investigation into the maths paper two leak is expected to be concluded by the end of November.

Teaching cannot live on technology alone

The assumption of digital fluency for staff and students threatens a socially just education system

Convoluted minds must also be heard

Mental illness carries a stigma, but with the publication of her book, Dr Ngcobo sheds light on living with bipolar disorder in an attempt to end judgment and educate people

Conflict in Cameroon: The schools caught in crossfire

A slew of recent attacks in the country means sending your child to school can be a life or death decision

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Why no vaccine at all is better than a botched...

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…