*Reposted from Virtually Inspired, Showcasing Innovations in Online Learning, an ongoing research conducted by Marci Powell and Susan Aldridge at Drexel University Online in Philadelphia.
Thanks to the wonders of technology and open learning, five European universities have joined nine of their peers in four Arab Mediterranean countries, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Palestine, to launch OpenMed, an innovative cooperative project that is creating new virtual frontiers for delivering higher education.
When one first hears of OpenMed, It is natural to assume it must have something to do with the medical industry but this is not the case with this international project.
Rather than a medical focus, OpenMed is so named due to the region of the world the project serves. The work they are doing, however, will not only serve the South-Mediterranean countries in their region but is having a global reach.
Need for Open Education Resources and Practices
In the South-Mediterranean countries the demand of Higher Education often exceeds capacity in the existing HE system. Using and integrating Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) are possible ways to facilitate learners’ access to the university.. Widening participation to higher education by means of OER adoption is indeed a strategic priority that promotes equity, inclusion and democratization of higher education.
The OpenMed project is an international cooperation project between five European institutions and nine institutions with Mediterranean with Universities Union in Italy (UNIMED) serving as coordinator. It is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union that is currently ongoing.
OER Initiatives Provide Accessibility
OpenMed fosters the role of universities as knowledge providers not only to their on-campus students but also beyond the walls of institutions, especially towards disadvantaged groups (e.g. low income peoples, disabled students, people living in rural areas, learners at risk of low achievement, refugees).
Opening up education can truly change Higher Education and make it better, accessible, and more relevant. Sharing information about OER initiatives can inspire others to reflect, develop their own initiatives, make connections, celebrate diversity, and work together to defend education as a public good and a basic human right.
With the idea to promote open approaches to knowledge projection within education, OpenMed encourages the use of open licenses for all educational materials produced by public institutions.
By promoting adoption of open standards (open source), this consortium has been able to address accessibility principles whilst using bibliometric criteria (Metadata) when publishing.
Project Outcomes Producing Excellent Resources
The first phase of OpenMed has involved a review of good practices in Open Education globally and in particular the South-Mediterranean region. A Compendium of case studies has been created and complemented by interviews with international experts in the field. A baseline survey outlines the level of participation in Open Education within the partner institutions and captures current practice at the time of completion (early 2016). It helped identify the future goals for the participating institutions.
International experts provided important insight into the individual case studies, and helped to shape the 22 recommendations made for the continued improvement of open education practices and resources. These recommendations were categorized under the following five themes: i) Top-down and bottom-up implementation; ii) Supporting staff in using and integrating open practices and open resources; iii) Collaborative creation in communities of practice; iv) Enhancing the quality of student learning; v) Licensing of OER content.
Based on this reliable and evidence-based body of knowledge, OpenMed fostered a multi-stakeholder regional debate about what are the best strategies to embed openness in universities in the South Mediterranean. Taking into account the specific needs and insights of the academic communities of these countries, this debate involved higher education managers, decision-makers, educators and other members of staff (e.g. university librarians, technical IT staff) from universities in the region as well as policy makers.
The debate revolved around the OpenMed OER Regional Agenda for the South-Mediterranean, a set of strategic actions aimed at maximising the benefits of OER and OEP to increase the access, the quality and the equity of HE in the region. This serves as a blueprint for universities in the South-Mediterranean to build-up their own Open Education strategies. Four OER Policy Forums were organized to discuss strategy.
The project also equipped physical centers, called “Innovation Center for Open Education”, at the premises of each of the 8 partner universities in Egypt, Morocco, Palestine and Jordan. The centers are intended to be open and collaborative physical spaces available for experimentation.
Open Education Fundamentals Training Course
Finally, a training of trainers course, “Open Education: fundamentals and approaches: A learning journey opening up teaching in higher education” was developed to support educators at the partner universities in implementing their institutional roadmaps and open up their teaching practices. The pilot phase of the course has recently been completed.
Open Education represents transparency, equity, democracy and participation. Widening participation and build capacity in Open Education in the South-Mediterranean will indeed lead to a stronger integration of the higher education systems.
The use of OER can guarantee a higher accessibility to higher education while diversifying the channels and means to learn.
OpenMed aims to ensure that the Mediterranean university systems are better integrated into global academic and scientific cooperation networks, which is an essential factor in the integration of Mediterranean communities and economies.