A few thoughts on the launch of OERu

Last week saw the launch of the Open Educational Resource university (OERu), a UNESCO COL project coordinated by the Open Education Resource Foundation and lead by Wayne Mackintosh (PhD) Director of the OER Foundation at Otago Polytechnic.

OERu describes itself as

“an international network with a philanthropic mission to provide first-class, accessible and affordable education to everyone – no matter where they live, or what their background.”

Unlike many commercial MOOC providers, the ethos of OERu is very much on open  –  open educational resources, open educational practices , open access, open licensing, open source, open philanthropy.


Another distinctive feature of OERu is that the initiative is being promoted as a route to formal academic credit.  Depending on the individual subject, OERu courses carry varying degrees of accreditation, with some partner institutions providing optional assessments for formal academic credit.  Students have the option of engaging with courses as self directed learners, picking and choosing topics and activities that interest them; alternatively they can receive certificates for active participation, on the basis of completed activities and interactions; or they can submit their work for formal assessment by designated OERu partners on a fee for credit basis.

During the project launch at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Sir John Daniel, former president of the Commonwealth of Learning,  stated that

“The OERu will reduce the cost of higher education dramatically. I believe that radical innovations in higher education must be accompanied by particularly robust frameworks of accreditation and credentialing in order to reassure the public. It’s all very well for evangelists to promote do-it-yourself accreditation from the personal safety of CVs replete with reputable qualifications, but ordinary people want the ‘beef’ of proper recognition too.”

The OERu currently has thirty two partners from five continents, though so far there is only one UK partner, Prifysgol De Cymru, the University of South Wales.

While I fully support OERu’s commitment to open principles and practice, I’m less sure about the imperative for formal accreditation.  The jury still seems to be out as far as certification is concerned, with some MOOC providers and participants suggesting that accreditation is not the be all and end all of online learning. However it’s also notable that many first generation MOOC participants are already educated to degree level, so perhaps Sir John Daniel is making a valid point about “ordinary people’s” desire for proper recognition.  (Though characterising any group of individuals as “ordinary” rather makes me baulk.)

I also couldn’t help noticing that, although there had been quite a lot of publicity about the OERu initiative in the run up to its launch, I haven’t seen a great deal of discussion about it since.  While Creative Commons and Times Higher Education published new items about the launch, the reception on the blogosphere has been rather muted, and it barely caused a ripple in my twitter feed.  After the hype that surrounded the launch of FutureLearn, and the distinctly hostile reception that Coursera founder Andrew Ng received during his Open Education Conference keynote earlier this week, it’s perhaps unsurprising that ed tech commentators are becoming distinctly jaded about yet another new / innovative / disruptive startup that will revolutionise online education as we know it.  If that is the case, then it’s unfortunate for OERu, as I think it’s a very welcome addition to the online learning / MOOC landscape, and if it really does stick to its open principals the it is is certainly to be applauded.

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