I have just returned from a four-day workshop in Kabul, partly conducted jointly with Dr Dave Humphreys of the Open University. The workshop was hosted by the British Council and the University of Kabul’s Geology Department, and funded by DfID as part of two projects – DELPHE (Developing Partnerships in Higher Education) and INSPIRE. It was planned in response to requests from Afghan academics for support in curriculum development. Dave’s part of the workshop focused on curriculum design principles and procedures used at the OU, and mine focused on an introduction to open educational resources (OERs). For the two OER-focused days, there were approximately 30 participants altogether, including six students from the Environmental Protection and Disaster Management faculty, several Geology professors, three researchers from an NGO called AREU (Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit), and academics from a range of Higher Education institutions in and around Kabul representing a variety of disciplines, from Agriculture to Fine Arts to Medicine to ICT.
In the workshop we discussed the concept of OERs, and participants explored some of the major multi-source repositories such as JorumOpen and OER Commons, as well as the OU’s OpenLearn and the University of Leicester’s OER site. The academics and students spent part of the workshop searching these sites for OERs that might fill gaps in their various curricula. We then discussed how they might use OERs in their teaching (or learning, in the case of the students). The focus was primarily on the reuse of OERs, and included a discussion around the various permissions granted by Creative Commons licences.
Predictably perhaps, there were some technical obstacles that threatened to derail the whole event – the biggest culprit being an awfully slow internet connection that repeatedly cut out and became slower and slower as the morning wore on every day, grinding to a complete halt by lunchtime – apparently due to the fact that colleagues in Europe were just firing up all their computers at that time of day… The other significant problem was the limited software on the computers being used, rendering some file types (e.g. docx) unopenable.
Despite these challenges, the response from Afghan colleagues was overwhelmingly positive. A few comments from the participants will give a feel for their enthusiasm.
“I was amazed to see this invaluable treasure that we can access so easily.”
“I liked that now we can solve some of our problems with these kinds of sites (OER repositories)… that you gave us… Also I want to say that this is one of the most important parts of education that everyone should know about.”
“When our teacher is planning to teach us about a particular topic in a lecture, I will search before the session for OERs on that subject so that I am well prepared.”
“This is better than a Google search (for learning materials). It’s more relevant.”
“I’m going to use OERs in my free time.”
There was also a great deal of interest – particularly from the students – in producing OERs locally and in collaborating on the translation and repurposing of OERs from elsewhere in the world.
Afghanistan may be war-ravaged and beset by all the infrastructural problems typical of developing countries, but this group of academics and students is focused on building an empowering education system for its people, and they believe that OERs have a role to play. I have come away from Kabul feeling extremely humbled and inspired by this experience, and full of renewed optimism about the potentially useful role of OERs in the global education community.
Posted by Gabi Witthaus, 28 Feb 2011