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Appropriate Technology Choice

Sustainable Open Source Solutions for Africa – Myth or Reality?

01 May 2009

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Open Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are gaining popularity as an apt eLearning framework for African universities. At eLA 2009, Open Educational Resource advocates Felix Olakulehin, Romaric Sagbo, and Nicholas MacGowan von Holstein will discuss its benefits vis-à-vis its practicability and sustainability.

As there are a growing number of open source systems in Africa, it is becoming crucial to look at the merits of each before making any choices.

Felix Olakulehin, National Open University of Nigeria, Lagos, and Romaric Sagbo, Institut de Mathématiques et de Sciences Physiques, Porto-Novo, Benin, are both strong advocates of the African OER movement. In their OER sessions, at eLA 2009, they will discuss the various systems currently available for academic purposes such as ATutor, WikiEducator, Moodle, Open Conference Systems (OCS), OpenOffice application and Open Journal Systems (OJS).

Sagbo Romaric in particular will focus on how Moodle can be customised for different institutional needs. Participants will learn how to install and configure it, as well as how to make use of the numerous functions available in the Moodle community.

Open Educational Resources – A Better Choice?

Romaric Sagbo
Image credits: eLearning Africa / Romaric Sagbo
Romaric is convinced that VLEs not only offer the same features as commercial learning environments, but that they provide many additional benefits in terms of control, convenience and transferability.

“Free from locked-in code, VLEs offer organisations the possibility to tailor all aspects of the code to their needs. Content can be moved in and out without third-party filters. Adopters can take parts of the code within open VLE software and reuse it in other projects or developments. And these are just a few of the advantages VLEs offer,” he says.

Felix Olakulehin
Image credits: elearning Africa / Felix Olakulehin

For Felix Olakulehin the most important aspect is that OERs provide cheaper options for participants from developing countries of Africa to access top quality resources and scholarly exchange.

“OERs provide opportunities for open dialogue on issues of critical importance to a community of scholars, where previously unheard voices can ask questions and break the restrictive moulds of traditional academic structures,” he says. However, he does not deny the many challenges that adopters who want to make an institution-wide roll-out have to face.

"African academics”, he says, “are still very reluctant to make their teaching/learning materials available freely for other groups to access; this is usually argued under the guise of maintaining their intellectual property. On the one hand, management of higher education institutions on the continent have not made adequate arrangements for compensating those who participate in the distribution of learning materials through the open source platforms like Moodle. Ideally, there should be an institutional policy guiding the development and implementation of OERs that should clearly spell out all these issues."

How to Build a Business on OER

Nicholas MacGowan von Holstein
Image credits: eLearning Africa / Nicholas MacGowan von Holstein

Nicholas MacGowan von Holstein, Founder and Chairman of Twidox, an open education platform hosted in Wiesbaden, Germany, will bring a new economic perspective to the discussion.

His concept of Twidox is referred to as open business, comparable to companies or individuals who give away software or source codes for free, but then sell additional services (the “bells” and “whistles”), such as implementation, maintenance or premium services. He is thinking of a business model that would make his products free in developing countries, but available for a fee in developed countries. Another idea he will define at eLA is an approach that allows free use for educational purposes, but which charges for commercial use.

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