Access2OER:Inspirational stories of access to knowledge and learning

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The original OERWIKI seems to be offline (December 2012). The Access2OER discussion pages are preserved here for reference! The final report in pdf is available here: Access2OER_Report,

The report:
Introduction to the report
Part 1 - Issues
What is access?
Issues and classification
Part 2 - Solutions
Solutions criteria
Stories and solutions
Case studies
Part 3 - Proposals
Conclusion and next steps
Additional sections:
Stories 1
Stories 2
Stories 3
Case studies v1
Access initiatives v1
OER Training proposal
Open Educational Resource Centres
OER exchange infrastructure
OER exchange infrastructure diagrams
Additional materials
Access2OER:Additional Considerations
Wiki only
Some technical notes
Discussion Log and Quotes:
Discussion Week 1
Comments on SuperOER
Overview of week 1 activities
Discussion Week 2
Discussion related to solutions put forward
Snippets from the general discussion
Overview of week 2 activities
Discussion Week 3
general discussion
OER training discussion
resource centre discussion
oer exchange discussion
stories discussion
All discussion on one page.
Additional pages
For authors:




1 Stories and solutions - Part 1

One of the suggestions put forward by Kim Tucker during the discussion was to make space for people to share inspirational success stories of access to knowledge and learning. The purpose of this is surface a diversity of innovative and effective practices invented by communities with limited access. These inspirational stories add to our understanding of access to OER (or more generally, access to knowledge and learning).

In this report, this is reflected through three sections on stories and solutions. The three sections fulfil the same purpose, but the stories are split across three because they arose at different points in the discussion, and with slightly different focus.

For this first set of stories, the suggestion was to recount inspirational stories of access to knowledge and learning.

1.1 Programmers Interacting While Learning

Participants: a group of relatively inexperienced programmers of varying levels of multi-lingualism and programming ability.

Context: on-the-job (just-in-time) learning while working on a task.


Observation of a group of newbie software developers coding together while accessing a learning resource on the Internet. One was very bilingual and better able to understand the material in a tutorial which had relevance to the task at hand. She explained the concepts to her co-workers first in English, and as they became more engrossed in developing and working with the code, the conversation switched from English to Xhosa as they discussed the details of the task, the content of the tutorial and the concepts required for implementing the coding solution.

Key Factors:

  • Interaction among the peers (in peer production),
  • extracting/internalising knowledge from the learning resource,
  • recontextualising it for the problem at hand and the participants,
  • communicating in ways appropriate for the participants,
  • informal roles develop.


What questions should we ask about this scenario which adds to our understanding of access to knowledge?

  • When is localisation necessary in a permanent form? (e.g. translate the learning resource for future users in the target language)
    • versus simply using it in conjunction with a team member with the language/knowledge?
  • Classifying learning resources - this one is a technical resource.
  • Did the participants actually develop a localised version of the learning resource?
    • In this case, no. It served its purpose and they moved on.
  • What did the participants learn in this process?
    • A coding technique.
    • Teamwork.
    • Some English.
  • What motivated the learning?
    • Desire to become better programmers
    • Need to deliver working software for the client.

Implications (and further questions):

  • The language barrier may be mitigated via bilingual team members or culture brokers in certain situations.
  • Although it would often be useful to build localised learning resources, in some situations, such as this one, there isn't time.
    • At most this team might have translated the specific section they actually used and enhanced it with their own learning while using it.
      • Set up tutorials (and OER in general) on platforms which enable incremental translation/localisation.
  • If someone with time had translated the resource, would it have been worthwhile (for this team, and how many others who happen to find it)?
    • In this case, the tutorial happened to have something of relevance to the specific task at hand. Not all of the tutorial was relevant. The number of such tutorials on the Internet is vast. Selecting which ones to translate is a task for communities needing such localisations.

1.2 How OER can make a difference

OERs are a solution to the challenges facing the developing world:- learning materials are scarce, costly and non reusable yet the academic delivery paradigm followed is that suitable for well to do societies. I will use my experience to situationalise the issues coming out of this discussion.

As a student at a univeristy (6 years) we had little material at our disposal most of which was in paper form, coming either from the library or the lecturers. This was never enough to carter for the demands of the programme and it made learning awefully difficult and costly for we had to buy the few books available. Little did we know (I believe both the students and lecturers) there existed material that could alleviate our plight at reasonable cost. Had there been OER experts within the university and had the teaching staff been well acquainted to their existence things could have been different. We had access to reliable Internet but not OER.

The curriculum we followed was based on the traditional resources. Course reference literature was always defined in terms of physical books and journals. None of the learning tools where OER. Years later working as Head of ICT a at a university I observed students going through the same cylce that we went through. Trying to highlight the existence of usefull courseware and other OER did not translate in any paradigm shift. Looking back I realise that :

  • 1  Lack of awareness on the existence of OER made access virtually impossible
  • 2 Non existence of a critical mass of OER experts prevented the training of teaching staff on OER 
  • 3 Lack of OER skills on the part of staff limited access 

(Taken from the mailing list.)

1.3 Bandwidth management

Hi All,

I'm from Aptivate, an NGO based in the UK working on ICTs and development (mainly in several African countries). We've particularly been involved in issues of low bandwidth accessibility.

I've found these discussions very interesting and wide-ranging, and welcome the emphasis on non-technical/infrastructural issues of access. That said, I thought I would chip in on an often overlooked point in institutional Internet accessibility, which is bandwidth management.

It's true, as the contributor from Rwanda reminded us, that bandwidth is particularly expensive in Africa. African universities typically pay thousands of dollars a month for the same capacity connection as a US or UK user might pay $20 for. But whatever size connection you have (however much bandwidth you have) you need to manage it well. An unmanaged network of computers connected to the Internet will quickly become clogged with viruses, spam, peer-to-peer traffic and other useless traffic. This means there is no capacity left to access things like OERs.

For example, a few years ago, we were working in Ghana to improve the usability of a free journal access portal. In one research institution we realised that the main reason their network was performing so poorly was that it was flooded with viruses. Working with their staff to put some tools in place we were able to improve the speed of the connection by a factor of 15.

A 2006 African Tertiary Institution Survey found that almost 2/3 of universities practices little or no management of their connections. Universities have a hard time retaining skilled staff, there has been a lack of awareness among management and funders as to the need and means to build up good network administration and policy, less training than required and to some extent, tools are expensive and/or very difficult to use.

The flip side of the bandwidth problem is that OER resources are not often designed to work well over low bandwidth connections. Users sometimes give up after 'bandwidth heavy' sites (lots of images, flash and less than critical scripting) keep crashing or are prohibitively slow to load.

I'd like to contribute some of the ideas we have had to improve this situation when we discuss solutions next week, to see what others think. In the meantime, please do share any experiences you might have on this subject!

Best regards,

Liz Fearon

1.4 Access Initiatives

1.5 Vmukti

Greetings from Virginia at Getsmartmoodle I just briefly wanted to insert this information and hope that I am doing it properly. There is a company in India called VMukti that is doing some very innovative works in the area of low server bandwidth and video web conferencing. They state that their application can in Theory scale up to 10,000 end-users, however its not been tested as of yet .. and they do support more than just one person web conferencing, it is possible to use with Moodle but has not been integrated into Moodle as of yet. You can also find more information at YouTube just by referencing VMukti. I do hope that this information is of use and thanks for letting me in... Getsmartmoodle

1.6 Zimbabwe Universities ICT Consortium


All Zimbabwean Universities


University ICT Heads coming together to chart a unified path for the servicing of the ICT needs of Universities, other tertiary institutions, schools and the community.


The consortium met and produced a detailed document, blueprint I would say. We considered our individual environments as universities and the overall Zimbabwean environment, our needs and the expectations and the roles universities could play in affording access to knowledge and its generation. The summary goal was to consider the obstacles of bridging our varying digital divides and find ways of overcoming them.

The project proposal document was sent to Vice Chancellors and the ministry responible for higher education. It contained the network design, the equipment, the local univeristy developed ERP, required skills, ways of retaining these skill and the budget. We also gave responsibilities to each of our universities.

Key Factors:

We were able present the following issues

Access and connectivity in terms of

  • Internet Access - if government was to waiver its licensing requirement, we had enough resource to build an academic backbone network (produced the design, equipment listing and costing)
  • Bandwith - our overall budgets were enough to get prime bandwidth though individually we were getting mediocre service
  • Technical Constraints - different univeristies were facing varying scales, but collectively we had the skills
  • Access to information and dissemination - was a challenge due to a myriad of reasons

Human Resource Development

  • To enable an efficient and transparent university administration
  • Capacity building
  • Cooperation with other universities and communities

Local Content, univeristies have potential to be key drivers in local content production and dissemination.

Innovative ICT use

  • the university as an encubator
  • the university within society

Sustainability - Most projects fail because their long term future is not considered at inception.

Gender Imbalance - ICT cannot be a male only club. Gender issues to be part of all initiatives.

Library services

  • Failure to manage the library
  • Failure to inter-link the libraries both internally and internationally
  • Failure to service the community


Why is the digital/access divide still widening unabated when academic ICT leaders are willing to work together.

Why is it that finance was not highlghted as the primary issues when heads of ICT met but became an issue only when it came to remuneration and skills retention.

Why is it that ICT professionals' requests and views are not actioned on.


Though the document we sent was acknowledged nothing came off it, individual universities worked on their given tasks (might share with you some of these). Had our envisaged project seen the light of day I could be presenting a success story to this forum.

The sad thing is that 90% of personnel who sat to draft the project proposal document have left the universities.

Note: This story represent my own personal views and not the official view on the consortium.

Givemo 09:24, 13 February 2009 (CET)

1.7 An inspirational story of collaboration.

Susan Albright:

Quote image

I would like to tell you about a North South collaboration where materials can/have flowed in both directions. A faculty member in the pubic health program at our university has partnered with three east African schools - mainly the public health programs, to co-author content. In addition, as our university has developed a comprehensive e-learning system which has been developed based on open source software, we shared this as well with our southern collaborators as well.

The operation has been going on for I think 3 years on basically a shoe string budget compared to larger, more well-funded projects. It has had many fits and starts and all the barriers talked about on this list to date have played a role. But - the collaboration still stands. Content has been jointly created - not nearly as much as one would hope but it is a beginning. In addition, this faculty member has run asynchronous discussions on public health topics involving students from our university in Boston, East Africa and India. These have been tremendously interesting - again not without barriers coming to play - but still a start.

The e-learning system has the ability to export and import - a relatively new feature for us. Content can be exported in a scorm compliant package and then imported into the sister system. Once their it can be edited and reused. The content can and has flowed in both directions.

1.8 Recognition of OER/FLOSS by governments

Quote image Just as corporations just as IBM, Novell, even Microsoft (but in a very

odd way) are recognizing FLOSS, governments need to recognize FLOSS. Did you know that President Obama has asked a former Silicon Valley dude to write a White Paper on Open Source and Government? The government of Japan only purchases Linux running software; Spain, Norway, Brazil are all open source. Can we conceive the impact on the future of OER, let alone the economy, if the president endorses FLOSS?

1.9 Learning in and with an open wiki project

See First Monday paper about an open, relatively accessible and free course which Teemu was facilitating on Wikiversity last spring: "Learning in and with an open wiki project: Wikiversity’s potential in global capacity building"

1.10 Sabu K C: How I taught SUPW

This is a personal experience on material generation.

It happened in the Indian State of Karnataka during 1985-86. I had just joined my first job as a Lecturer in Education in one of the colleges under Bangalore University . Located in a remote rural area, the college had then only humble facilities in terms of library and reference material. I was given the responsibility of teaching one newly introduced paper on ‘Socially Useful Productive Work SUPW’ to the students of teacher education in the B.Ed. Bachelor of Education course. B.Ed. is a qualifying degree for teaching in secondary schools in India . As there was no ready-to-use material, the senior staff members were not interested in this paper. They were perhaps also sure that I would not say ‘No’.

What followed then was hard work including a series of trips to distant locations like Bangalore in search of material – spending from my own humble salary. Having prepared the material, the request came from the students of the locality demanding a translation of the English version into Kannada. Although it was not binding on me to do so, I looked for the ‘best hand’ available for translation who was a lecturer in a nearby Government College . But I had to pay a ‘substantial’ amount to him as translation charges – again from my pocket. The college did not pay for it and I had to take personal loan to accomplish the task of material translation for the Kannada medium students. Of course the students paid for part of the cost in the process - for making copies.

I left the college after my first year to be a full time research fellow in Bangalore as I got a fellowship from the ICSSR Indian Council of Social Science Research. What I learned from others is that the material which I had generated with my efforts and my own money, was being used ‘as it is’ by the following batches. Both the teachers and the students liked the material for its quality which for them was ‘free’.

Although I did the material generation beyond my economic means in those days, and suffered financial difficulties, I never regretted it. On the other hand I felt always satisfied about ‘a good thing I could do’. Something to recollect and feel happy about.

Sabu K C Ph.D.
Noble International Indian School
Doha, Qatar

1.11 Tom's Brazillian friends

In the end of 2007, I started a topic (Portuguese speakers only) asking to students if they have really use open educational resources and, if so, how, their opinion on this materials and so on. My topic was inspired on a question made by Elgg software developers:

"Does anyone actually use any of the open courseware materials ( )? When MIT started this a few years ago, it did create a bit of a splash, but did it really have any impact?"

From 2007 up to know, some Brazilian friends are telling me more and more how they are using these materials. For example, a friend, a PHD student on physics at University of São Paulo, just created a blog post on courses it's worth using, in his opinion (Portuguese speakers only) and he seems a real geek for this kind of content.  :-)

My girlfriend also listens to Berkeley podcasts when she has time at her job and have used a lot for her final monograph on publicity undergraduation.

Some other friends also use these materials, and most of their testimonials seems to me positive.

I admit I've watched only a few classes, but my impression is very positive, as compared to some classes on physics and mathematics I had took here at University of São Paulo - how better it'd be if, instead of watching some classes, I could have used some of the MIT courses? But that was not so common between 1999-2002, at least for me.

I'm writing this email for the following reason. I'd like to collect students testimonials on OER usage.

  • Do you know if there is some work on this issue?
  • How it would be the best way to collect such kind of information?

I'll try to ask my friend who understand English (most are better than mine, that is very bad, sorry) to write their testimonial on this issue and will let you know. Likely I'm going to add this content on OER wiki <> and I'm asking to my friend to use a suitable license on their texts - e. g., it's very convenient to have these testimonials translated as easily as possible to other languages.

I hope someone can help me.