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The use and implication of Open Educational Resources

What makes a university great? In 2002 MIT decided that it was not the educational resources they shared with their students with, but the quality of interactions between students and their teachers, so made a foray into distance education by starting to put their course materials online so as to provide access to quality educational materials for anyone who wanted to access them. This was the beginning of the Open Educational Resources  (OER)movement. At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005 an initiative was launched in a partnership between the Development Gateway Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to connect anyone with Internet access and the desire to learn to a world of free, high-quality open educational materials. The Development Gateway Foundation’s “Open Educational Resources” portal aimed to equalize access to education and help people in developing countries improve their chances for a better life.   OER are now available from a multitude of universities across the world and, with the introduction of iTunesU, there are no shortage of materials in a range of multi-modal formats available on almost any academic subject you care to choose.

Cisco has also supported a number of open educational resources through the Cisco Networking Academy, in which all its content is made freely available to registered Academies across the world, and through some of its social investments in education including hairdressing resources for Africa and the global programme, Teachers without Borders.

For developing countries the opportunity to obtain free, quality resources can only be beneficial, but if it is the collaboration and instruction on such resources that provides the maximum value, then universities and other educational institutions accessing OER need to ensure that they are able to support students effectively. Additionally such resources may need customisation and localisation, as the style and mode in which they are presented may not be appropriate to another culture. Infrastructure constraints and insufficient bandwidth may also need to be addressed so that media-rich content can be streamed and stored.

There are additional tensions around the provision of OER as overseas students are lucrative sources of funds for universities. Why would universities in the developed world help those universities in the developing world by providing support for improving teaching quality and help those universities to become more proficient and economically viable through dual-teaching and mentoring using OER? Why would they help find opportunities to keep the brightest brains in country to teach the next generation? Why would they encourage students to study overseas and risk perpetuating the brain drain which is hitting continents like Africa particularly hard?

If OER is to benefit those less fortunate or unable to benefit from an education at the leading universities of the world, then there needs to be a willingness to support developing world universities, access to all resources needs to be affordable, and adaptation of OER may often need to be undertaken to make sure that:

  • resources are culturally, pedagogically and technologically aligned
  • the language of instruction is appropriate
  • assessment models associated with OER are robust
  • links are made with books and other media
  • OER resources are accessible on low cost and low power access devices
  • there is an ability to partnering with radio and TV stations for either podcasting, broadcasting or both

 

With the multitude of collaboration tools available today, an effective way for universities across the world to work together will emerge which will result in a win-win situation for all.

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National and State-wide research and education networks

Research and education networks have evolved throughout the last 40-years reaching a substantial position in providing advance networking capabilty and services to 1,000′s of higher education institutions. Over the past few years, the expertise of the groups owning and operating these fiber-based backbones has continued to grow, and in many areas of the country have extended their state-wide reach to K-12 schools, libraries, museums, healthcare facilities, state and local government, some federal agencies, as well as private industry who are engaged with academic research and education. This expansive experience in planning, deploying, and managing broadband networks uniquely positions National/State-wide networks to play a very interesting and meaningful role in the ongoing need to provide broadband capability and services across their state and the country. An important component of this need is the ability to cost effectively provide equitable access to both education and health care services through leveraging technology in order to scale expertise to the areas with the most need.

An exciting example of ‘scaling the expertise’ via Cisco TelePresence was recently demonstrated in California using the state-wide research and education network that enabled advanced -- placement classes to be delivered to a high school in the central valley, giving the students there the same opportunties for college preparation as their counterparts living in the more metropolitan areas.

Other opportunites exist to ‘scale the expertise’ of health-care professionals from university medical schools into rural areas providing ”tele-consulting’ services as part of their overall internships.

Collectively, the National and State-wide research and education networks provide more than advanced networking capabilities and services. They provide the enablement for researchers, educators, and students to collaborate, learn, innovate, and discover across the state, across the country, or across the world.

An exciting example of cross-cultural collaboration was demonstrated on April 5, 2009, when the first international telepresence meeting between national research and education networks was achieved. The National LambdaRail, the US national research and education network successfully held the first telepresence session with the United Arab Emirates research and education network, ANKABUT. This opens up many new opportunities to bridge physical distances and enable researchers and educators from other sides of the globe to collaborate live, literally face to face via telepresence as the collaboration tool.

Research and education networks will continue to evolve. They will continue to enable expertise to be available across the state or across the world, and they will continue to be the fertile environment for collaboration, innovation and discovery that benefits us all!

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Collaboration and the implications for the future of research

Universities have traditionally been measured on the quantity and quality of research funding and research outputs as one of the main factors of institutional success. It is one measure used to rank universities both nationally and internationally and is used more than any other measure to attract both students and faculty. But is the way research effectiveness perceived about to change? The internet and web 2.0 have made collaboration easier and easier. Hours of library research have been reduced through not only sophisticated search engines and online journals and e-books, but access to blogs of leading academics, researchers and research students, and to tools such as Twitter, Del.icio.us and wikis.

In published research papers, arguments are based on the evidence of research data of which much is invisible, or evidenced through carefully selected quotations or the results of experiments. With the ability to store video and audio electronically as well as numerical and textual data, research publications will become increasingly multi-modal; and data-sets will be made easily accessible so that research results can be opened to greater public scrutiny as well as re-use by others.

Perhaps, as collaboration is made easier and facilitated between and across institutions sole authorship will become a thing of the past as academics work together on research questions, sharing data sets and interpreting them in new ways according to their research questions, their academic domain and their cultural experience. Researchers will post their research data in multiple formats onto collaboration web sites so others can take them down, re-interpret them together and add to the global pool of knowledge

Peer review and referred publications will be replaced by peer argument and co-creation and co-development of theory which means research council funding will need to be based on new criteria

This scenario is perhaps not too futuristic as the tools that make it possible are available now. So what will academic expertise mean in a web 2.0 world and how will academic rigour be judged? What will the criteria be for acceptance as contribution to research, and how will universities be judged on their scholarly output? And finally, what will be counted as authoritative research evidence and who will it belong to?

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Link between Education, Exclusion and Global Warming

Dome like shapesIt is becoming well known and almost universally accepted that the climate is changing and that carbon dioxide emission is one of the mainculprits. What is less clear is how individuals and societies can contribute to carbon reduction. Those with higher levels of educational attainment understand the arguments and can draw their own conclusions, whether or not in favour of reduction measures, however those with lesser education will be reliant in government opinion.

Young people seem to have a greater interest in climate change than their parents, partially because they expect to be alive to see the consequences and partially because they have less economic self-interest in retaining the status quo. Governments often like to retain the status quo, especially in developing countries. Logically then, governments of countries with a lower average education standard among youngsters will be under less pressure from the youth population than those with a higher education standard. Additionally personal carbon reduction methods are less likely to be adopted by those of lower educational achievement, although arguably they will have a lower carbon footprint to start.

The Eden Project (www.edenproject.com ) feels that there is a strong link between education and sustainability and are working in many areas to increase understanding of environmental issues, both in the UK and other countries. From their base in Cornwall where they demonstrate the links between mankind and the environment, they work with schools, excluded communities, prisoners and community facilities such as football clubs to educate people of all ages.

Eden’s Great Day Out programme brings disadvantaged, mainly inner city children to the project to enthuse them about the environment. Cisco’s Network Academy programme collaborates a great deal with the Eden Project, offering chances to learners in community centres such as football clubs and in prisons as well as in traditional educational establishments. Cisco’s Energywise are CRE programmes in Higher Education, in association with Schneider, support Eden’s initiative by providing carbon reduction technology with display systems that tell students and staff alike the current status of carbon emissions.

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Technology – Bridging the gap in higher education

As countries around the world like India, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico etc gear up to provide education to 400 million or more students, the public and private education institutions and their physical infrastructure alone will not suffice. Using the network as a platform, and technologies such as Cisco Unified Communication, Cisco WebEx, Cisco Telepresence, Cisco Wi-Fi Mesh networking, higher education institutions can enable themselves to supplement in-class curriculum with online curriculum as well. Professors from other institutions within the country or abroad would give lectures online that the students can view in a classroom via video conferencing or individually at home or at their desks. As the global economic and urbanisation trends shift the focus to the east, universities need to provide training to the students for employment and connect with the employers for job creation. Training goes beyond regular curriculum to include specific vocational training in finance, retail, BPO, software, healthcare etc.

In a connected world, the students across the world use similar technologies such a mobile phones, iPods, computers and the Internet. They have access to same content with the internet having democratised access to information. Leveraging the same network, the institutions could partner with employers to provide the required job skills training while they finish up their high school or college education. This will help employers to identify talent early on to meet their demands and reduce on-the-job training when new entrants come on-board.

Next generation learning environments also provide a collaborative environment for students within a country as well as outside the country to work on projects together despite the distance and learn from each other. Examples could range from collaboration on agricultural research, computer science, management, new business ideas etc.

Cisco does a lot today in the space of Education through global network academies providing networking skills to students even with high school diplomas. Cisco also donates equipment and funds research with select universities and provides financial support to educational institutions and volunteer projects through its corporate social responsibility initiatives. Cisco solution teams are innovating solutions to address the needs of these new cities and communities around the world.

On a Saturday morning in February 2008, executives and leaders from the Cisco’s marketing organisation volunteered for a local charity ‘Ashwini Charitable Trust’ near Cisco’s Bangalore campus. The task was to build a library and a computer centre for the underprivileged kids in the area. The relationship between the charity and Cisco’s marketing organisation has since grown. The kids in the high school were taught how to use computers, access the internet, collaborate online, and use digital cameras for video and photography. As part of their summer project in June 08, each team of these high school and college kids produced excellent videos that were judged by Cisco’s leadership team in Bangalore. Since then these young students are using computers to learn from the new web based content relevant to their curriculum and are very confident young people, aspiring to careers not just in technology but other fields as well.

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We, in Cisco solutions marketing organisation, want to enable the dreams and aspirations of these young students and education institutions across the world through our extensive portfolio of products, solutions and services.

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