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VE reforms provide opportunity for Open Educational Resources

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ proposed reforms of Vocational Education provide a great opportunity to expand an already empowering global online educational initiative - the Open Education Resource universitas.

Conceived in 2011 at an open international meeting in Dunedin, the Open Education Resource universitas (OERu) is coordinated by the Open Education Resource Foundation (OERF), and headquartered at Otago Polytechnic.

The OERu is an independent, not-for-profit international network of like-minded institutions that offer free access to online higher education courses for learners worldwide. It provides more affordable ways for learners to gain academic credit towards qualifications from recognised institutions.

If users want to get academic credit, they only pay for assessment if and when they are ready.

Otago Polytechnic believes educational materials developed using taxpayer funding should be released under an open copyright license for the benefit of all New Zealanders. This would enable the vocational education system, through initiatives such as the OERu, to offer free open online courses for independent study.

"OERu is challenging conceptions of online delivery, including the longevity of proprietary or bespoke learning management systems, and its model promises to be a game-changer in any fit-for-future Vocational Education system," says Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive, Phil Ker.

"We do not support the Government’s proposal that there be only one provider of on-line learning for New Zealand.

"Rather, we strongly recommend that government should undertake an evaluation of options, including open education solutions, with a view to establishing a world-class integrated on-line service.

"In the case of OERu, there is already one. The OERu network is a model of leadership and global collaboration in the important space of providing more affordable on-line learning and could be established as a Centre for Vocational Excellence (CoVE)."

Mr Ker says Otago Polytechnic strongly supports the establishment of Centres of Vocational Excellence under the proposed reforms.

"However, it should be noted that the establishment of the OERF in 2009 was a result of Otago Polytechnic’s willingness to invest - and such responsive decision-making might be lost should the Government not alter its original proposal."

About the Open Education Resource Foundation:

Open Education Resource Foundation Director Dr Wayne Mackintosh was awarded a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chair in Open Education Resources at Otago Polytechnic in 2013 in recognition of the Polytechnic’s leadership in open education.

The post, which helps promote open and accessible education, has been renewed until October 2021. The OERF also hosts an International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) Chair in Open Educational Resources.

"The OERu makes education accessible to everyone," Dr Mackintosh says.

"All you need is an internet connection and you can study independently from home, with access to world-class courses from recognised institutions around the world. It’s about sharing knowledge and the sustainability of education.

"All the course material is taught online, based on open educational resources and openly accessible materials on the internet. This means you won’t need to buy any textbooks," explains Dr Mackintosh.

Designed for independent study, users get peer-support from fellow learners. The OERu network comprises institutions from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Oceania.

The OERu is implementing a full first-year of study with exit qualifications in Business and Arts conferred by the University of the Highlands and Islands, United Kingdom, and Thompson Rivers University, Canada, respectively.

Courses on offer through the OERu include, for example, "Learning in a Digital Age", "Introduction to Entrepreneurship", "Introduction to Project Management" and "Regional Relations in Asia and the Pacific".

The OERu’s innovation partnership model is building a global leadership role in transnational micro-credentialing. All OERu courses are assembled as micro-courses with options to earn micro-credentials with pathways to gain international university-level qualifications.

Significantly, the OERu has partnered with EduBits, Otago Polytechnic’s innovative micro-credentialing initiative, to offer assessment services for these international qualifications.

"A micro-course allows the user flexibility to manage learning around their personal commitments and learning interests," says Dr Mackintosh.

OERu micro-credentials are small enough to be manageable for busy people, but big enough to be meaningful to employers with options to transfer credit towards internationally recognised qualifications.

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