Managing education with COVID-19 lockdown

OER (Open Education Resources) - An education system free of financial, political and technical barriers

Where a few weeks ago China was the only country to suspend classes and close schools, the spread of the virus is now disrupting the education system globally. The global scale and speed of the educational disruption from the coronavirus epidemic is “unparalleled,” the United Nations said. Nearly 421 million students, from elementary schools to universities, across thirty-nine countries are now stuck at home and the numbers are likely to surge by the week according to UNESCO. Questions are being raised as to how well educational institutions are equipped to overcome the added challenges inherent in distance learning.

 First year university student, doing her schoolwork at home. Paris, France

 First year university student, doing her schoolwork at home. Paris, France


Founded on the principles of liberating an educational system held hostage by for-profit companies is a new system striving to make higher education an open access option to all. OpenStax textbooks have been used by 9 million students since the project began in 2012, saving an estimated $800 million in textbook costs. Telling us more is MyScienceWork’s contributing member and Astronomy professor, Andrew Fraknoi. 

1.Open Access is trending in higher education with more and more institutions adopting an OER (Open Educational Resources) approach. Why the sudden surge in the numbers?

The cost of textbooks has become astronomical these days. It isn't just greed on the part of publishing conglomerates.  It's because textbooks are resold again and again with none of the income from those resales coming back to the original publisher. That means the publisher must recoup ALL the costs of the book from the very first semester of sales. It's a crazy system and no one has figured a way to deal with it for a long time. 

The free on-line textbook isn't a new idea, but the OpenStax model and funding is. The big breakthrough was the funding by major foundations to allow the non-profit project to hire professional editors and graphics people, so that the free textbooks were edited and designed to the same high standards the commercial companies demand. This is where OpenStax books have been doing so well, as compared to some of the earlier more "home-made" efforts.

2. What are some realistic  implications of OER for teaching and learning?


There are several.


For students, it means not having to share textbooks and it also means being able to access textbook anywhere, on a laptop or a phone.

For instructors it means being able to rely on everyone having access to the textbook and thus not feeling like they were punishing students who could not afford a textbook. Lecturers can also produce their own version of the textbook for just their students and have it customized to select only some sections  of the book for them, to add their own assignments, questions, quizzes, explanations, jokes, etc.

For authors it means being able to update the book regularly, at no financial cost to students (in other words, without having to bring out an expensive new printed edition).

For users of the book, since it is electronic, it means being able to jump from the book to some of the links in it, links to websites, videos, apps, etc. relevant to the chapter they are reading.

3.. OpenStax textbooks are Open Source. What are some best practices to ensure the quality of the content shared? 


Here are the most recent measures taken for an astronomy book. 

Step 1 : Authors finalize the first draft of the book.

Step 2: Along with OpenStax, two dozen experts in different subfields of astronomy then verify and ensure the material is absolutely up to date.

Step 3:  Original authors edit this material to be sure that the level and the tone is in par with the rest of the book.

Step 4: The authors and OpenStax dispatch the manuscript to about two dozen astronomy professors who are currently teaching the introductory course to get their feedback about the effectiveness and applicability of the material in a classroom setting.

Step 5:  Following professional editing and design, book is published online

Step 6: Update it over the course of the years (OpenStax has a function on the textbook website that allows professors who use the book to make suggestions on how to change or update it, and every suggestion received is reviewed.  Approved ideas and suggestions follow the same process mentioned above to make sure everything stays as upto date as possible.


Building and managing open access platforms 

Polaris OS developed by MyScienceWork is a flexible and interoperable open source


solution, delivered on a turnkey basis. Also used as a customisable library management system or multimedia archive, its various functionalities automates management, analysis, and retrieval processes, and integrates with other internal and external systems and databases. Its customization and analytics capabilities provide its users with a powerful solution for internal assessment and promotion of search results. More information here.