A winning open education system

Ray Maota

[Image] [Image] A visual from the winning video by Blink Tower which addresses the advantages of using open education resources.
(Image: Blink Tower)

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Elodie Kleynhans
Blink Tower: MD
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Open Educational Resources (OER) is a system that uses digital materials for teaching, learning and research, and makes them freely available on the net. A Cape Town start-up has won an international competition for documenting the importance of the system.

Video marketing company Blink Tower saw off stiff competition from more than 60 global entrants, and walked away with top honours at the “Why Open Education Matters” video competition. The company won US$25 000 (R205 221) for its efforts.

The point of the competition was for contenders to create a video that explains the benefits and promise of OER for teachers and pupils.

The competition was launched as a joint venture by Creative Commons, the department of education in the US and the Open Society Foundation in March 2012, to raise awareness about OER worldwide.

According to Creative Commons, OER has been available online for the more than a decade and there’s enormous potential in the method to help teachers and pupils. The problem is that few people know about it.

Blink Tower’s animated entry, which is two-and-a-half minutes long, was chosen by a panel of distinguished film and education experts, including award-winning director and producer Davis Guggenheim.

“It was really important to us to show how OER could benefit anyone, regardless of income,” said Adrian Burger, the company’s creative director. “We also wanted to add a little local South African flavour to it, and create a story that would inspire the viewer.”

Formed in 2010, Blink Tower is based in Cape Town and specialises in 2D animated explainer and demo videos. Their clients include mobile operator Vodacom, social network company Mxit and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

“We are delighted and humbled by this global recognition of the Blink Tower team’s work,” said MD Elodie Kleynhans.

Cathy Casserly, the CEO of Creative Commons, was impressed with the quality of the competition.

“With this set of great educational videos, we hope OER becomes common knowledge around the world and that teachers, schools, and funders act now to support openly licensed educational materials,” she said.

What’s on the winning video?

The star of Blink’s video, an enthusiastic pupil named Thando, is disappointed by his school’s lack of funds and the direct impact of this on his prospects.

His situation takes a positive turn when it becomes evident that through OER, his school can still achieve its objective of learning by accessing updated, free-to-use material on various subjects via the internet.

The clip also helps to highlight the grave scenario of education systems around the world, noting that in the US for example, President Barack Obama’s administration has given OER the thumbs up and plans on spending $2-billion (R16-billion) of its budget over the next four years on the system.

Kleynhans said her team particularly enjoyed the challenge.

“We are passionate about education and believe that OER has the potential to improve the lives of those who do not have access to the facilities and materials that many take for granted,” she said.

The Africa OER Forum

The University of South Africa (Unisa) hosted the regional forum with representatives from all over Africa in February 2012, in the lead-up to the bigger world event that was held in Paris in June.

Over 200 countries participated at the Unisa event, where some of the key objectives included intensifying dialogue on the system, showcasing local OER policies, experts and initiatives, and developing part of the draft for the Paris event.

Professor Mandla Makhanya, principal and vice-chancellor of Unisa, spoke on issues that affect the advancement of OER on the continent.

“As the continent generally labours to increase access to educational opportunities in pursuit of the goal of education for all, a progressive outlook on access to educational resources is clearly in our interests,” he said.

Makhanya further expressed key goals in Unisa’s approach to OER, saying that it fits into the university’s vision of the African university in terms of the service of humanity, while also supporting its commitment to social justice.