Access2OER:1 Meaning of access
The first week of the discussion concerned access issues and is collected in "Part 1" of this report. In this chapter we begin the discussion by asking "What is access?". In the two chapters to follow, we first discuss access issues in detail and provide a classification, and then imagine a super-accessible OER, the "SuperOER".
1 1.1 What is access?
The topic of the community discussion, was access to Open Educational Resources. More fully, we were concerned with OER access issues, barriers and solutions. Broadly speaking, we have a resource (the "OER" itself), and somebody who wishes to access that OER (the "user"). Between them, we potentially have barriers:
oer | user
In the first part of the discussion, we examined the problems and barriers that prevent successful access to OER. But before coming to that, it is helpful to examine briefly what we mean by the terms Open Educational Resources, access and barrier.
2 1.2 Open Educational Resources
What exactly is an Open Educational Resource? The issue of what constitutes an OER was brought up several times. For instance, it was highlighted that OER encompasses a broad range of materials, not just course-related materials:
I sometimes get the impression that participants are thinking of "OER" as on-line university courses. The definitions are generally much broader (e.g. Wikipedia) spanning individual images, text sections, video clips, modules, courses, entire curricula, FLOSS for education, etc.
Many of the definitions go beyond content, as the Wikipedia definition demonstrates:
|Quote image||Open educational resources include:
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation definition concludes that OER:
|Quote image||...include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.|
During the discussion, we were specifically talking about access to Open Educational Resources. In Open Educational Resources, the "resources" can be understood in the narrow sense of the term as "content", but that content will be of limited value outside the educational context. So there is a broader sense of "OER" that is encompassed by the above definitions, including tools, communities and open education itself.
During the discussion we focused on the issue of access to resources, rather than discussing the vast range of issues around access to education. However, in as much as "resources" are relevant to "education", the discussion was relevant to access to education as well. Perhaps more importantly, many of the access issues discussed are also directly relevant to "open education", and may help to inform the discussion around access to open education as well.
Similarly, we focused on open resources, although the barriers identified may prevent access to other resources, irrespective of whether those are closed or open, commercial or non-commercial, educational or not. So why focus on barriers to open resources? Barriers to accessing open resources are particularly tragic, because these resources would otherwise be fully available, so it does make sense to specifically focus on access to Open Educational Resources.
3 1.3 Access: who is accessing what resource?
Access is the means, place, or way by which a thing may be approached (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary), the right to use or look at something (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary), the right or opportunity to use or benefit from something. Access involves a subject and an object: a person who accesses a resource.
It is easy to make false assumptions about who and what that person and that resource might be. It was agreed that for the purposes of this discussion, we should not make any assumptions as to what and where resources may be, or the location of the person accessing those resources. Importanty, in the first week of the discussion, the following issue was raised:
|Quote image||The barriers to access that have been mentioned so far, mostly focus on those barriers that prevent "users" in developing countries from accessing materials that were produced in developed countries.|
In the context of international development, there can be an implicit assumption that frames "access" as producers in the North, with consumers in the South that are unable to access the materials. However, the above comment suggests that access issues are more complex than this. It is equally justified to ask, what are the barriers that prevent users in developed countries from accessing (say) African OER?
Many of the barriers that are discussed in this report cut both ways. It may be even harder to access materials produced in the "South" (compared to the "North"). There is no question that it would be very valuable to make Southern materials more available to the North, as well as to be able to share materials "South to South".
We are of course not suggesting that the barriers are symmetric. Of course there are additional and more severe barriers to access in the South, such as a lack of basic infrastructure and funding.
It could also be argued that general access discussions focus primarily on North-North access barriers, and that there is a tacit assumption that South-South access issues will be broadly the same. But "access", in a limited North-North way, fails to include some North-South issues, not to speak of South-North and South-South issues. It thereby misses many important questions. Unsurprisingly, given the profile of our community, North-South and South-South barriers, such as the digital divide and bandwidth, featured strongly in the UNESCO discussion, while these are often only discussed in passing in the literature on access.
4 1.4 Barriers to access - and to other activities
|Quote image||...many OER initiatives can be characterised as unidirectional broadcasters, which is not a bad thing per se, since it can have certain benefits. However, it is also important to look for alternative models of communication and the respective infrastructure. Do we look for radio receivers or do we look for telephones? Do we want consume OER or do we want to "rip, mix and burn"? As educators, we cannot only teach reading, we also have to teach (and therefore do) writing.|
Clearly considering barriers to "access" only does not constitute the whole picture, because barriers to access may also be barriers to other activities. Two quotes highlight this:
|Quote image||[Barriers to access] is an important perspective, but it leaves out the barriers to *participation* of people and institutions from developing countries in the OER movement. By participation I mean, publishing local materials, rather than just translating and adapting imported ones. The question then becomes, what are the barriers that prevent "users" in developed countries from accessing African OER?|
|Quote image||Coming back to the discussion, we have talked about "barriers to access", that is to say: "Go once from the North to the South" (or, as you raised, once from the South to North). But participation also means collaboration.|
We may look at this in a different way, and ask whether providing access to content is as important ultimately as developing skills to develop content. Both, however, are necessary. Access to existing content is an important first step for developing new content - especially for developing new content efficiently. For instance, the UK Higher Education system draws on existing encyclopedias, rather than developing new encyclopedias themselves. Others should also enjoy the benefits of access in this way. But, ultimately, participation and collaboration may be far more important than simple one-way access. And many of the barriers to access identified during the discussion are also barriers to participation and collaboration.
If participation and collaboration are to happen, content needs to be relevant:
|Quote image||I'd like to introduce another "barrier to access", which is "access in terms of relevance". It's really just another slant on some of the issues already discussed (around adaptation/remix/re-use), but I do think it's relevant. If there was more participation and collaboration, then OERs could be made more relevant.|
In summary, while we sometimes pursue narrow notions of "resources" as "content", and "access" as access to consuming this content, we need to bear in mind the broader issues.