In 2002, the term ‘Open Educational Resources’ (OER) was adopted at UNESCO’s Forum on Open Courseware to describe the phenomenon of openly shared educational resources. OER include lecture notes, slides, lesson plans, textbooks, handouts given to students, videos, tutorials, podcasts, diagrams, courses, and any other material designed for teaching and learning. Several definitions of OER exist but we will retain the following:
Open Educational Resources (OER) are any educational resource that may be freely accessed, copied, re-used, adapted and shared and which are available under an open license or are in the public domain for use without paying royalties / license fees.
The World OER Congress 2012, organized by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and UNESCO with the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, brought together over 400 delegates including representatives of Government, educators, NGOs, OER experts, and universities. It highlighted ways in which OER are serving as tools for collaboration and the creation of learning resources, emphasized the importance of using OER as a means to broaden access to inclusive and equitable quality education, and showcased innovative policies and initiatives to enhance the potential of OER. The Congress resulted in the adoption of the Paris OER Declaration (Appendix A), which notably encourages governments to openly license educational materials that are publicly funded.
In the months leading up to the World OER Congress 2012, as part of their joint project Fostering Governmental Support for Open Educational Resources Internationally, UNESCO and COL invited governments to provide information about their policies in relation to OER, by responding to a questionnaires developed by UNESCO and COL, based on a simplified version of the OECD questionnaire, The findings from this study (Hoosen, 2012) acted as a key input to the World OER Congress and ultimately the formulation of the Paris OER Declaration.
Simultaneously, in order to raise global awareness for the June 2012 OER Congress, UNESCO and COL held a number of Regional Policy Fora on Open Educational Resources in all UNESCO regions. The recent William and Flora Hewlett Foundation evaluation of UNESCO and COL OER initiatives in 2015 recognized that these regional workshops served to lift up new voices, provide examples, and generate new champions. They also served as the basis for the establishment of advocacy, capacity building and policy work undertaken by UNESCO in the implementation of the Paris OER Declaration 2012 (UNESCO, 2016).
OER work from 2012 has focused on implementing the Paris OER Declaration 2012 with a view to making OER more widely used by educational stakeholders worldwide. The Education 2030 Agenda – SDG 4 (2015) reaffirms a political commitment, facilitating policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and standard setting. In this regard, as stated in the Qingdao Declaration (2015), OER provide educational stakeholders with opportunities to improve the quality and expand access to textbooks and other forms of learning content to catalyze the innovative use of content, and to foster knowledge creation. The Qingdao Declaration also calls for sector-wide strategies and capacity building programmes to fully realize the potential of OER to expand access to lifelong learning opportunities, achieve quality education and establish legal and political frameworks that promote, inter alia, coordinated partnerships.