Open Educational Resources (OERs) can be beneficial when compared to other online learning opportunities because of their characteristics of openness within a structured learning framework and low cost of learning (Iniesto 2020). Recent literature indicates there is limited research on how accessibility is embedded in the design of OERs (Zhang et al. 2020). Moreover, the need to incorporate greater access has been tackled through significant institutions such as the University of California that stressed the need to make accessible more than 20,000 audio and video files from its online open-access platforms (Jaschik 2016). To avoid the disability law, the University of California decided to remove free access to those contents, requiring learners to sign in with academic credentials to view or listen to them instead of investing in making the content accessible. Therefore, in this case legislation was a driver for inaccessibility.
The importance of accessibility to online educational resources is widely acknowledged (Navarrete & Luján-Mora 2018) but there is limited discussion about the inclusive design of online learning courses (Acosta & Luján-Mora 2016). Providing accessible OERs would increase the flexibility of learning and the benefits to all learners. Law, Perryman and Law (2013) reflected on the need to address accessibility features of platforms and repositories where OERs are deposited, and that institutional repositories should be designed with accessibility in mind. The European Unified Framework for Accessible Lifelong Learning (EU4ALL) was a major collaborative project (McAndrew, Cooper & Farrow 2012) that highlighted the importance of adapting online learning resources for all and stressed the need to make accessible content available. Brahim, Khribi and Jemni (2017) pinpointed the lack of accessibility awareness within the repositories and platforms that host OERs. Technologies used in OER platforms are not necessarily accessible (Rodríguez et al. 2017), which may then block access for a significant number of learners. But barriers to learning in OERs are not necessarily technical, pedagogical designs can affect learners’ experiences which might include misuse of cultural references or affect learners’ engagement (Iniesto 2020).
The most recent “Inclusion and Education” report (UNESCO 2020) assesses the progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) which ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for all, drawing attention to all those excluded from education because of background or ability, marked by the roadmap of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. A published report on inclusive teaching and learning in higher education in the UK (Department of Education 2017) encourages higher education providers to care and offer support, and to develop an inclusive environment for learners. The lifelong learning paradigm integrates education, work, and personal life in a continuous process and allows learners to be able to access knowledge and develop it both personally and through work (Hanemann 2019). In this respect, if designed to be accessible and inclusive, OERs have the characteristics to widen access to all learners.
This paper integrates different research experiences of alumni and experts of the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) in the area of inclusive and sustainable open education. This network has been the driver in which authors have been in contact and research has been informed jointly. The paper presents different investigations that seek to address SDG4 targets, which have identified different challenges for a more inclusive Open Education.
The Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) was founded by Fred Mulder in 2013 with the aim to bring together active researchers on OER in a worldwide network and to promote investigations on OERs towards getting a real impact on society. Almost ten years after the creation of GO-GN and now hosted at the Open University in the United Kingdom (OUUK), it can be concluded with enough perspective that the objectives for which this network was devised have been realised. Equally, it can be said with certainty that the acronyms chosen to define the association were selected with wisdom:
Central to GO-GN open education initiatives are the values of diversity, equity and inclusion as outlined in its DEI project. So far, GO-GN is supporting the DEI project in two phases: In phase 1, GO-GN focused on Africa and provided recommendations to inform the DEI strategy (Bossu et al. 2019); In the current phase, 2, GO-GN focuses on Latin America to improve understanding of what DEI means within that region, and to identify how GO-GN can better support potential members to develop strategies for increasing engagement (Weller, Farrow, & Pitt 2019).
Several authors of this paper joined the first GO-GN seminar, in the city of Cape Town, South Africa in 2013, while others participated in the second and third seminars celebrated during the OpenCourseWare Consortium Global Conference, ‘Open Education for a Multicultural World’ (OE Global Conference), in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and OpenEd14 (Open Education Conference) in Washington DC, USA, both in 2014. The authors of this paper have collaborated with the network throughout these years, which has also made it easier for them to develop their research in the context of Open Education particularly in the area of inclusive and sustainable design. The following sections disclose research performed by the authors to address the SDG4 targets, as indicated in Table 1 (UNESCO 2020).
|RESEARCH INITIATIVES||SDG4 TARGETS ADDRESSED|
|Innovation Group in the Quality Management of University Centres – Polytechnic University of Madrid (GICAC-UPM) Open Education research initiatives||
|Procomun and its OER social community at The National Distance Education University (UNED)||
|The Marine Litter Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)||
|YourMOOC4all – MOOC recommender system||
This work arises from the fourth author who was an attendee at the first GO-GN seminar as Open Education expert and PhD supervisor. He organised several workshops in collaboration with the Research on OER for Development (ROER4D) team, where he introduced the GICAC-UPM research group formed by researchers from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and the Technical University of Loja. The research from the group aims to improve the access, search, sharing and use of OERs by the use of emerging web technologies to reach a society where OERs are shared and accessible to all using open data (Piedra et al. 2014).
Some of the challenges GICAC-UPM face are the quality and discoverability of OERs. OERs can be made available under an Open License, however, that does not imply that they are easy to find, and then reuse, remix and redistribute. There are several reasons why Open Licenses are not enough, among them, there is an enormous amount of information available and OERs produced by universities; the internal organisation, structure and technological infrastructure of OER repositories are diverse and respond to the individual vision of the universities. Finally, there is not a standardised way to implement those repositories, heterogeneity leads to barriers of interoperability and sharing of OERs within institutions (Moreno, Tovar & Cabedo 2018). The lack of interoperability shows some disadvantages in the discovery of OER. One way to facilitate interoperability has been addressed through the use of Linked Data to integrate and extract data from repositories, to navigate in OER repositories and to create a basis on which the use, re-use, remix, and adaptation of OERs can be provided more easily. The research group examines the impact of the technology applied to face this issue using Social Network Analysis (SNA) with the following goals: measuring and analysing social structures, to find not evident information within the structures formed by the interaction between end-users and institutions to reduce complex systems to their basic components and their relationships.
An example of the outcomes by this group is Serendipity,1 a faceted search engine based on Semantic Web Technologies. A faceted search engine is a technique that involves augmenting traditional search techniques with a faceted navigation system, allowing users to narrow down search results by applying multiple filters based on faceted classification of the items. Serendipity applies this type of search to improve OER discoverability including specific filters allowing users to visualise OER repositories from a dataset based on Linked Data technologies. A case study of this engine includes its use through OER repositories in Spain and Latin America (Piedra et al. 2017).
These topics and the tools presented at that very first GO-GN seminar have been applied over the last 10 years in different European projects providing different Open Educational Practices (OEPs):
The current learning context for many learners is a blended one, comprising the use of online educational resources, such as digital books, presentations, videos, podcasts, etc. The study carried out by the OUUK’s Open Research Hub (de Los Arcos et al. 2015) showed the high degree of use of OERs for blended educational purposes. The distribution of the percentages of educators who have ever used OERs highlighted the high incidence in the use of videos, images, and open textbooks. But for OER use, two aspects of special relevance need to be considered: if these resources are adequate for all learners (including those with accessibility needs) and if their reuse and redistribution comply with the use of Open Licenses. A broader knowledge of the existence of open repositories and specific norms to evaluate their quality, together with some basic notions of computing, would allow educators to create or reuse OERs with the assurance of Open Licences and adapted to the varied needs of their learners (Rodrigo & Tabuenca 2020).
Procomun3 is one of these open repositories. It stores more than 95,000 OERs along with educators’ experiences, constituting an intelligent, social and distributed network. The repository is designed mainly for educational purposes but is open to a wider audience. Anyone can search, consult and download OERs in different formats. A semantic layer has been built on top of the existing platform and the services offered have been expanded by including the use of Linked Data. The incorporation of a faceted search engine allows educators to find educational objects by restricting the global set of results through multiple criteria based on their reasoning.
The other fundamental element of the Procomun space is the social network closely linked to educational resources built by educators themselves, enriched with a social labelling system, which includes user votes, recommendations for use and links to specific learning communities. Since its inception, Procomun has been designed with the technology of the semantic web to harvest the links to other resources available in external repositories and be able to make their content visible.
Research carried out by the third author includes the use of Procomun since 2017, creating a social community of practice amongst learners at UNED (see Figure 1). The objective of this community is to explore the extent to which educators enrolled in UNED’s Higher Education teaching qualification in Computer Science (“Master in Secondary Education, Professional Training and Language Teaching”) achieve the skills to design OERs. The main objectives are as follows:
At the time of writing, in 2021, the social community comprises more than 120 members and hosts 43 new OERs. These were created by Computer Science educators using the eXelearning5 authoring tool connected to Procomun, thus allowing publishing, metadata filling and specification of licences. Some of the more recently developed OERs are:
For quality assessment, the social community uses the Quality for Digital Learning Resources standard (UNE 2020). Learners are trained within the teaching qualification programme to assess their OERs following this standard that covers indicators of technological, pedagogical and accessibility compliance (Moreno et al. 2019).
Research carried out by the second author highlights the potential of MOOCs towards environmental activism (Tabuenca, Kalz, & Löhr 2019) and to sustain the quality education goal (Tovar et al. 2019). With this regard, marine litter is a global problem that affects every ocean of the world. Litter is an environmental, human health and socio-economic problem that is a symptom of a highly disposable society. With worldwide growth in the amount of solid litter thrown away every day and slow rates of degradation, the amount of litter present in the marine environment is increasing.
The UN Environment Programme and the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) has created a MOOC on Marine Litter as a key activity of the Global Partnership on Marine Litter.6 The MOOC on marine litter strives to teach learners through action-oriented learning how they can apply successful and inspiring activities to their local context, regardless of their profession or location. The course presents different options and tools to combat marine pollution such as the use of effective and legitimate tools like the Honolulu Strategy (Shevealy, Courtney, & Parks 2012). The course provides examples and case studies that aim to inspire leadership at all levels, thereby increasing awareness of and stimulating creative solutions to marine litter problems. Moreover, this course aims to benefit policymakers, practitioners, and managers who wish to connect with other professionals to enhance their knowledge of marine litter issues.
The MOOC on Marine litter was first held in 2015 in English. The increasing number of participants and success in its successive editions have made it possible to progressively translate it so that it is now available in 10 different languages (i.e., English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, French, Indonesian, Russian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Thai). The last edition of the course finished in January 2021 with nearly 10,000 participants from 182 different countries. The course is offered in two different tracks:
Throughout these years the impact of this course on society has been evidenced with the achievement of different outcomes:
The need to care for the marine environment is universal. This MOOC instructs on the implementation of solutions so that citizens of the world can manage waste locally and thus prevent it from ending up at sea. Multi language MOOCs facilitate access to information worldwide so that the proposed solutions can be taught and put into practice throughout the world.
Recommender systems, applied in many domains, have been used in the educational context (Dwivedi & Roshni 2017) by advising learners to enrol in specific courses depending on learners’ performance in previous courses, their grades, and similarity of content. The curriculum recommendation mechanism has not gone unnoticed by MOOC providers for whom trying to offer courses of interest for their learners is a priority in their sustainable development and business model (Tan & Wu 2018).
During the Open Education Global Conference in 2015 in Banff, Canada, a presentation given by a GO-GN member about the use of feedback in MOOC recommender systems (Floratos, Guasch & Espasa 2015) was the seed of the YourMOOC4all project by the first and third authors. YourMOOC4all7 is an ongoing joint research project between OUUK and UNED. It is like any other MOOC search engines where learners can add feedback about the MOOCs they are participating in and receive recommendations considering learners’ preferences. On top of that, YourMOOC4all also supports the review of various pedagogical aspects of the MOOCs through ratings, free text comments, and posted opinions about the content of the MOOC, the provider, or the instructor. YourMOOC4all project is designed with the following aims (Iniesto & Rodrigo 2018):
YourMOOC4all contains more than 700 MOOCs in Spanish from UNED Abierta, MiriadaX and Coursera and it is based on the premise that learners’ experiences on OER repositories offer useful information for others to use to fulfil their interests and to inform accessibility needs. For instance, if a learner is looking for a course in machine learning and it is especially accessible using the screen reader, that information is of great interest to another learner in a similar situation. YourMOOC4all helps learners to find MOOCs of their professional development interest and that fit their accessibility needs.
YourMOOC4all faceted search engine allows searching by free text, letting the learner refine the search by the title of the course, theme or information included in its specification. It is possible to order the results by title, institution that imparts it, platform where it is hosted, or the score obtained. The enriched user profile model proposed for YourMOOC4all (see Figure 3) follows an adaptive model architecture (Iniesto & Rodrigo 2016). The model of educational services proposed is useful to find MOOCs whose platforms and content are inclusive considering learners’ needs and continuing professional development preferences. The profile has two differentiated components: accessibility and professional development preferences (Iniesto, Rodrigo & Hillaire, 2019):
UDL offers a framework that considers how to design learning environments to develop expert learners, defined in this framework as resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, purposeful and motivated (CAST 2017). UDL is based on three principles:
The UDL approach is to present the information in ways that fit learners’ needs, rather than requiring learners to adapt to the information (Meyer, Rose & Gordon 2014). At the same time, UDL supports every learner to choose the best path for their learning. This approach is relevant to understand learners who may like the curriculum to adjust to their needs. As reported above, one of the objectives of UDL is not simply the mastery of content knowledge or new technologies, it is the mastery of the learning process where education should help turn novice learners into expert learners (CAST 2017), which aligns itself with the pedagogical perspective of MOOCs where learners are expected to be self-directed in their learning (Loizzo et al. 2017).
Therefore, for the evaluation of the courses and their platforms in YourMOOC4all, an evaluation matrix was created following the UDL guidelines (CAST 2018), with a total of 31 questions directly related to the checklists. Learners apply this matrix to quantitatively rate any of the optional indicators using a Likert scale (0 to 5). All the indicators offer a small tip to help learners understand each question with an example. In the evaluation process, learners can answer open-ended questions at principle and MOOC level, enriching the qualitative content of the feedback, offering valuable information to other learners and, for research purposes, to provide more information for triangulation and to potentially report accessibility barriers to MOOC developers.
In almost a decade, the GO-GN community has put researchers from different areas in contact around a common goal: Open Education. This paper shows four different initiatives in which GO-GN alumni and experts in the field of education have contributed to promoting inclusive education in accordance with the sustainable development goals of the UNESCO 2030 agenda. From these initiatives, we can reflect on four challenges to provide a more inclusive Open Education which still need to be addressed:
This paper aimed to showcase real initiatives that address inclusive and sustainable development through the objectives of UNESCO’s SG4. These pieces of research have been possible thanks to GO-GN, a research network that facilitates collaborative research in Open Education. GO-GN empowers collaborative research proposals thanks to joint participation in working groups and seminars, which facilitate research collaborations with a clear focus, in this case, on inclusive and sustainable development (Weller et al. 2020).
Examples from our cooperation and research based on GO-GN support have showcased the work on the acquisition of skills relevant to the labour market and discoverability of OERs with the work supported by GICAC-UPM. While Procomun and its social community potentiate the creation and reuse of inclusive OERs. The Marine Litter MOOC ensures that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development and global citizenship education. Finally, YourMOOC4all facilitates the inclusive evaluation and personalisation of MOOC offerings. These initiatives demonstrate the range of approaches to meeting SG4 (i.e., targets 4.3, 4.5, 4.6 and 4.7), and the benefit of communities such as GO-GN which promotes global interaction among its members, experts, and friends.
6Marine litter MOOC, https://www.ou.nl/-/unenvironment-mooc-marine-litter.
The authors would like to thank the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) which is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
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