Age of 'open education' arrives in Asia

Universities are embracing open courseware but more must be done so that students better judge the value of information online, says expert at Singapore university.

University educators are subscribing to the idea of collaborative learning whereby education material is posted online for anyone to use. However, people need to learn how to judge the value of the information available online, according to an industry observer.

Ravi Chandran, director of Center for Instructional Technology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview that the premise behind the Cape Town Open Education Declaration is not new. Renowned universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Yale University have had open courseware initiatives for some time, he pointed out.

MIT OpenCourseWare, which began its pilot version in 2002, today offers lecture notes, videos and exams of over 1,800 courses.

Within NUS, Chandran noted, there are a number of lecturers who have begun to post course materials including videos of lectures online for anyone to view. However, the university does not have any policy on whether to "open up" course content.

"It is very much a bottom-up approach--we leave it to the lecturers to make the decision," said Chandran.

Announced last month, the Cape Town Open Education Declaration seeks to rally educators, authors, publishers and even governments to participate in the concept of 'open education' by releasing educational resources openly and embracing collaboration in educational practices.

According to the Cape Town Open Education Declaration Web site, a handful of Asian organizations have pledged support to the declaration, such as Asia eUniversity from Malaysia and the Bangladesh Linux User Alliance. Several individuals from universities in China and India have also signed the declaration.

Chandran added that while the initiative is laudable, open education appears to be more advantageous for educators, who now have the ability to reference other material while developing course material. Students, on the other hand, may not fully experience the learning just by downloading content from the Web, he said.

Another challenge for learners is the ability to discern the authenticity or accuracy of the information available, a criticism that the Wikipedia model has also faced. With the increasing availability of educational materials on the Web, it is important that students know how to make accurate assessments of the information that they obtain freely online, Chandran pointed out.

To that end, the NUS library is working to extend the reach of its information literacy courses. According to Chandran, the library department is working to help students decide how to look for content and make judgment calls on the content they encounter, through online and offline lessons.