More than a hundred educators, technologists, and academics working to improve educational materials available on the Internet gathered at Rice University in Houston last month to assess the Hewlett Foundation’s contributions in this field and discuss new directions for their work.
Among the highlights of this gathering of people working in the Open Educational Resources movement, as the effort is known, was discussion of the role cell phones are expected to play in the next five years in bringing educational materials to people in the developing world.
The wide availability, low cost, and growing computing power of cell phones are likely to make them the platform of choice for people in the developing world to learn English and master basic technical and business skills, speakers at the conference predicted. Creating educational materials for cell phones would bring learning opportunities to millions more people worldwide, they said.
The Hewlett Foundation helped launch the Open Educational Resources movement five years ago with a series of grants designed to help universities make their course materials available online, and others to address technological and legal impediments to making high-quality educational material universally available without cost to users. To date, the Foundation has issued $75 million in grants to 1,350 recipients worldwide.
The Foundation selected Rice as the site of the gathering because it is home to Connexions, one of the world’s best-established and most heavily trafficked open education platforms. Connexions lets visitors collaboratively develop, share and publish scholarly content on the Web. The site attracts some 500,000 unique visitors each month. To explore it visit http://cnx.org.
Participants came to Houston from South Africa, Europe, South America, and the Middle East, as well as throughout the United States, to discuss emerging challenges as the Open Educational Resources movement has grown into an international phenomenon. Among the challenges ahead are the continued refinement of international copyright laws so more people can share and reuse intellectual property, the need to make organizations offering online materials self-sustaining, and the development of communities of users and contributors. The emergence of gaming software as a vehicle for education was another central topic of discussion.
The gathering “was an chance to assess where we’ve been, where we’re going, and how we’ll get there,” said Catherine Casserly, the Foundation’s Program Officer in charge of this work. “For the Foundation, it also was an opportunity to glimpse how our role in the movement needs to evolve as it grows.”