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Open Education: Learner Support, Higher Education Resources, News Aggregator, Open Courseware (OCW).

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Finding and Using Open Educational Resources (OER)

Formal and Informal Education

In contrast with the formal education system provided by schools, colleges or universities, most of life's education arrives informally through a natural process of trial and error. The idea of knowledge as a series of undisputed 'facts', transmitted from teacher to learner, is quite mistaken and should not discourage would-be learners from exploring the new and more flexible educational opportunities offered by Open Educational Resources. Fortunately, many learners, particularly those excluded from formal education because of location, full-time employment, health problems or just because they learn differently, now have the means and motivation to educate themselves informally through independent and self-directed study.

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials that can be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone. Open Courseware (OCW) is a good example and many links, covering a wide variety of academic subject areas, are available in iBerry's Open Education Directory. Full courses, syllabi, video lectures, assignments, quizzes, lab activities, games, simulations and even exam questions with solutions are freely available in digital repositories from around the world.

Open Textbooks are another good example of OER. These are licensed under an open copyright license and are freely available online for use by students, teachers - or anyone. Many open textbooks are distributed in a variety of formats such as print, e-book or audio and are challenging traditionally published textbooks in terms of access and affordability with little or no compromise in quality.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) vary considerably but essentially are free online courses with start and end dates that are open to all. The 'Massive' can mean thousands of participants and little available expert assistance but there is normally unrestricted access to lectures, videos, quizzes, forums etc and interaction between the participants is encouraged. Some features of MOOCs may not be properly classed as OER. Access to educational content is usually free and can be downloaded but may come with traditional copyright restrictions. Also, there may be charges for optional certification or expert assessment.

How to find OER ...

You can now find OER very easily. iBerry's OER listings - lead to the main repositories and related resources. OER material may be changed or withdrawn resulting in broken links but searches using common search engines along the lines of 'topic OER' where 'topic' is 'physics', 'history', 'science' etc can produce good results, particularly if advanced search techniques are used to select only recently updated material.

... and use it effectively.

This is not so easy, particularly if you are a first-time OER user with little experience of independent study. OER is plentiful but there's not much advice available on how to choose OER for particular needs and how to use it effectively. But independent self-directed study means just that and you can view, scan, download, study at any depth or just ignore whatever OER you come across with or without advice from anyone else. If you want to study some topic try starting with OER that you simply find interesting rather than boring or obscure. Leave more challenging material until you have a reasonable impression of how the topic is organized, what the important sub-topics are and a basic understanding of technical terms.

Joining a MOOC can be useful at any stage of learning as you're completely free to engage in whatever way you like. You could simply monitor proceedings, download lecture videos and go away but the more you put into a MOOC the more you get out of it. Whatever your own academic level you'll almost certainly find similar participants in the forums as well as more knowledgeable ones who are more than willing to help. In contrast with traditional courses, typical MOOC participants have very different educational backgrounds and interaction with other participants can be a very effective and enjoyable way to learn.

Many tools are available for supporting your studies. Jane Hart's Directory of Learning & Performance Tools lists over 1000 tools in 4 main categories! Find and use whatever you are comfortable with but there are many circumstances where basic aids such as text editors or just paper notebooks can be quite effective.

Open Education and Refugees

"Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education." (Article 13: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16th December 1966)

Is Higher Education moving towards this ideal expressed by the United Nations of almost 50 years ago? In some ways the opposite of what the UN intended has come about. Higher Education has become expensive for most people and an impossible dream for the poorest. Regardless of the widely-acknowledged benefits higher education brings to societies, the financial burden of sustained education continues to fall mainly on the individual and with little support from the public purse. Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Courseware (OCW), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Textbooks help to make a difference but on the whole, universities and colleges are severely limited by financial and political constraints and have yet to embrace open education.

Climate Change and Online Learning

Climate Change Summit (COP21/CMP11)

The Climate Change Summit (COP21/CMP11) is being held in Paris from 30 November. 190 nations are coming together to discuss a new global agreement aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change. The best scientific evidence indicates that there is still time available to achieve this although the window of opportunity is closing. Carbon dioxide levels have already exceeded the 350ppm threshold considered necessary for climate stabilization and the temperature of the Earth, already 1C above pre-industrial levels, is halfway to the 2C limit agreed by world leaders in 2009. (See, Everything you need to know about the Paris climate summit and UN talks)

New Connections - Old Philosophy

"Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education." - Article 13: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16th December 1966

iBerry's mission is to foster free and accessible Higher Education by every appropriate means but the appropriate means do change with time. Originally we tried to provide comprehensive lists of open education resources but now the focus is on supporting online learners in making their own choices and finding their own way through whatever open educational paths they wish to follow.

We can go so far in providing links to useful sources of information for most areas of academic knowledge but success in learning is much more than mere exposure to facts and figures. Learning with and from others of different backgrounds, cultures and levels of expertise is an education in itself and is also an enjoyable and very effective way to study. Thousands of learners from hundreds of different countries have already benefited from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and there are now numerous opportunities for interaction between self-directed learners.

Higher Education - AnywherePeace
Peace by Cayusa, on Flickr)

iBerry and Open Education - New Format

The page on Science - is the last to be finished in iBerry's new format as discussed in iBerry and Open Education - Work in Progress. All the main topics listed in the Open Education Directory (see menu in the left margin) are now in this format with links to open access (free) textbooks, support for learners and the best resource sites etc all on the same page.

Learning for Life

Formal Education - and when it ends.

After studying for years in formal education you pat yourself heartily on the back when you land a job. School was boring, not much fun and you couldn't wait to give up studying math/ French/ science/ history/ geography/ ..... whatever - because you're not academically minded/ disliked the teacher/ not clever enough/ hated the exams/ easily distracted from study/ etc etc. University or college was better but mainly because of the socializing and the connections you made but you skipped or slept through the lecture courses and only scraped through by making a supreme last minute effort before the final exams.

But now all that's all behind you and you relax. You don't find your job very challenging but there's plenty of time to watch TV, keep up with 'friends' on Facebook or Twitter, glance at your favourite newspaper, even read a book. But things are not quite as they seem. For example, in your job clever people are promoted over your head because they're clever and you're not. They learn things more quickly than you do and pass these irksome professional exams your bosses harp on about. But wait ..... you've learned a bit about the job yourself. You've discussed it with others at work and elsewhere and some of these clever people, including the bosses, do pretty stupid and incompetent things at times. How can that be? You don't feel qualified to raise your concerns with management and you remember poor Fred who was sacked for discussing his boss's shortcomings on Facebook!

Learner on the loose
Learner on the Loose - by Nick Rice

Who can give the best advice about your learning?

From time to time I get emails from learners asking for help.

"What courses should I take to advance my education?".
Are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or Open Courseware (OCW) really free?"
"I need a formal qualification in Whatology. What college or university courses are best?"

All iBerry's information is freely available on this website but there are no resources for offering detailed advice to individual learners. Higher Education is now going through a period of significant change and I doubt if anyone can keep track or understand how recent innovations such as MOOCs will impact on what we think of as 'courses'.
Higher Education - AnywherePeace
(Peace by Cayusa, on Flickr)

Who then is the best person to go to for advice? The answer is very simple - YOURSELF ! The future is with the self-learner. You know your own learning objectives better than anyone else and you probably have a shrewd idea of your own capabilities. iBerry's Open Education Directory or even Google will provide more than enough basic information on any subject you care to study. There is plenty OCW available to stimulate your interest and then why not join some MOOCs to experience study in your chosen field? You can take as much or as little interest in a MOOC as you like. From participating in discussion forums, doing all the assignments and earning a certificate to just watching a few videos, your level of participation is entirely up to you. Join as many MOOCs as you like to find out what you like and what is most useful to you. Unlike most traditional courses you will not be out of pocket!

Please enjoy whatever celebrations the end of the year may bring and have a happy and prosperous New Year !

iBerry and Open Education - Work in Progress

iBerry was founded in 1999 when universities and colleges were just beginning to publish courseware and other educational material on the web. Listings of accessible courseware provided by iBerry were useful to students, self-learners and other academics and shortly afterwards MIT popularized open education by introducing Open Courseware (OCW). This consisted mainly of lecture notes and videoed lectures taken from courses given by MIT and other universities for their own students.

Now things are very different. Vast amounts of static OCW are available to online learners whenever or wherever they want to study and open education is becoming much more dynamic. There are open forums for debate and discussion covering most subject areas of Higher Education as well as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) given by top universities and colleges connecting learners to experts and to each other for more effective learning.

Image by opensource.com

What Counts as a MOOC?

While updating iBerry's MOOC Resource Page I had difficulty in deciding whether some online courses really deserve to be called MOOCs. Providers are always happy to jump onto the MOOC bandwagon but some 'MOOCs' now seem to have drifted a little too far from the original concept of a Massive Open Online Course.

For example, 'self-paced MOOCs' are apparently online courses consisting of Open Courseware (OCW) and maybe a discussion forum but with no formal start or end. In contrast with other MOOCs, participants cannot be focused on the same part of the course at the same time and so availability of mutual help and support is less likely. These open online courses may or may not be excellent for self-study but the term 'MOOC' seems inappropriate without a massive body of participants moving through the course together.

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