This month, Open.Michigan passed a milestone – we completed our African Health OER Network grant.
The African Health OER Network (hereafter abbreviated as “the Network”) has been one of our flagship projects here at Open.Michigan. Both the Open.Michigan initiative and the Network were envisioned in 2007 and launched in 2008. The Network has been particularly influential to me, as the prospect of contributing to multi-directional exchange of knowledge between University of Michigan (U-M) and African universities to advance health education globally inspired me to volunteer for the dScribe pilot at the School of Information back in January 2008 and to join the Open.Michigan staff at the U-M Office of Enabling Technologies (part of the Medical School Information Services) later that year.
We have been fortunate to have some outstanding partners as founding members for the Network: the South African Institute for Distance Education (Saide) and its OER Africa initiative, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Ghana (UG), University of Cape Town (UCT), and University of the Western Cape (UWC). Largely funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with supplemental funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the University of Michigan Medical School, the Network evolved over three distinct phases:
- Phase 1: Pilot (2008) – U-M received a six-month pilot grant, which funded materials and process development at U-M as well as an international workshop, which brought together 27 participants from six African universities and institutes, three private foundations, and U-M, to discuss the relevance and potential of OER to advance health on the continent.
- Phase 2: Design (2009) – The six founding members received a joint one-year grant to initiate health OER initiatives within the four African universities and to encourage collaborative authoring of materials between institutions. During this phase, we held a second workshop to bring over 40 faculty and staff representing 11 health science African institutions together to discuss expanding the health OER activities across the continent.
- Phase 3: Network (2010-12) – The founding members renewed the grant with the objective of scaling the health OER initiatives within each partner university and to strategically expand to additional African institutions. The following programmatic approach emerged:
- Through workshops, we have trained over 200 African academics and students in open licenses and methods for creating electronic learning materials using free or low-cost technologies. That includes, among others, three multi-institutional workshops to support inter-institutional capacity building:
- the health senior leadership session at the OER Africa Convening in May 2011 included 21 participants from across Africa,
- the Ghana OER tech workshop in October 2011 brought together 13 technologists from 3 institutions in Ghana, and
- the Health OER Tech Africa regional workshop in October 2012 included 22 individuals from 12 institutions across six countries and marked Network’s first multi-country gathering of support staff for health OER. We have already seen continued dialogue and reflections from participants.
- Our African collaborators have created 147 new openly licensed learning modules for diverse health sciences topics. The collection includes 24 open textbooks, over 175 videos, 3 multilingual resources (one in Spanish, one in Portuguese, and another in both Xhosa and Afrikaans), and many self-assessments.
- Our collection of learning materials is distributed widely, highly visible, and has been accessed in over 190 countries. We receive an average of 8,500 visits/month across our two main websites (one in South Africa and the other hosted in Michigan), have distributed 530 copies of our sampler DVD of OER, and have over 2.5 million total views on YouTube. An analysis of the over 1,720 ratings and over 360 comments on YouTube reveals that viewers are finding the videos helpful, with an average rating of 4.38 out of 5 and “thank you” among the most frequent comments.
- Our quarterly newsletter has 1036 subscribers.
- We have already seen numerous examples of OER developed that has been used, translated, or otherwise adapted by students and instructors at institutions in other countries. Through the Health OER Request and Search service we have matched 16 requests for learning materials with existing OER.
- We have shared our lessons learned through guides, evaluations, case studies, journal and book publications, conferences, and blog entries.
- Our experience with the Network has provided a strong foundation for new partnerships for health education in East Africa and Ghana and for engineering education in Liberia.
Though the grant has ended, the Network progresses. The founding members now have in place processes, personnel, and, in some cases, official policies to continue to support the creation, usage, distribution, and research related to health open educational resources. In order to keep momentum, Saide and U-M have committed to maintain the two African Health OER Network websites, the newsletter, and our three health OER interest groups as avenues to share lessons, models, learning materials, and outcomes.
What are the key takeaways from the Network activities? A 2012 report by an independent evaluation expert succinctly concluded:
The African Health OER Network has shown that quality and cost-effectiveness are neither mutually exclusive nor unattainable. The current impact study finds examples of direct and significant indirect savings through OER; and enhanced quality is evidenced in the accounts of academics and students as well as in new quality assurance peer-review mechanisms. The founding project rationale for the African Health OER Network is that poor health outcomes in Africa’s developing countries are partly attributable to too few health providers, staff and resources; and to too many students. OER developed through collaborative networks can lead to more productive teaching and learning, and ultimately to more and better healthcare providers. Impact of the Network fully justifies the theory of change on which the project is based. High impact has been achieved in a way that serves also as a model for OER adoption in other disciplines in other African universities.
Thank you to all our partner institutions in Africa, to our funders, and to our contributors across U-M for your role in helping to achieve the vision of the African Health OER Network.