Last week for two days, Centrum Cyfrowe was happy to host a unique group of representatives of organizations holding or preparing to hold repositories of open educational resources. Our goal was to gather in one place both those with extensive experience in the area and those who could profit from it, and we were joined by guests from Norway, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Romania.

How they do it in Norway

A comparison of two large projects from Norway and Belgium was definitely the highlight of the two days. Norwegian Digital Learning Area (NDLA) is an organization that keeps a repository funded with government grants for school digitization, the money transferred annually to local governments. Each of them spends 20% of the subsidy for the platform and the remaining 80% to buy necessary school equipment and traditional learning aids, including textbooks. The NDLA platform is designed for high school teachers and students and contains fully free and open electronic study materials for over 50 subjects. The Norwegian model relies on procuring high quality educational resources on the market (about 60% of the budget is spent on materials created by selected teachers and professional authors of educational resources) and includes buying also the rights to existing commercial works (such as The Hobbit movie). The users themselves can create and share their own resources as well. According to NDLA, 98% of teachers in Norway know about the platform, and over 60% use it (while 50% declare to use it frequently). NDLA_hvit

How much does it cost? About EUR 8 million annually, in other words, EUR 40 per student per year grants access to a database with 30 million weekly hits, 100 million page views and 2 million users. Its resources are enough to fill 3 million teaching hours. NDLA has a kind of “competition”, too: educational publishers have set up two big platforms with resources that can nonetheless be used only by those students and teachers who have paid for access. What’s more, Norwegian publishers, although initially skeptical about the initiative to create a platform financed with public money are now more than pleased with the outcome: not only do they scoop large parts of the NDLA budget as contractors, they also use the free materials posted on it to create their own, commercial, paid resources.

What is perhaps most interesting, however, is the fact that around the time when the idea of the platform was taking shape, the Norwegian educational system was at a stage similar to ours: before the repository has been built, Norway had a strong, consolidated market of educational publishers, strong teachers unions, a lot of good textbooks, and its educational policy lacked clearly defined goals. Then came the reform introducing a unified core curriculum, subsidies for textbooks and the programs for school digitization. Sounds familiar? The difference between Norway and Poland is that the Norwegians managed to think long-term about the creation of open resources and were able to inspire and motivate the local authorities to co-finance this strategy (without giving up on supporting the schools’ efforts to build IT infrastructure.)

Meanwhile, we have seen so far several dispersed projects without a long-term plan for content acquisition, nor for maintaining and motivating users to use the repositories. Scholaris, for instance, despite a robust and continuous funding, has for years been unable to work out a coherent model for involving teachers in the creation of materials and has not become even remotely as popular and commonly used as NDLA. Today, all our hopes lie with the “Digital School” which is soon to unveil an e-book platform. The project’s challenge comes from the fact that in its current form it is an advanced technological solution lacking sufficient support from the administration and a plan to maintain, develop and improve the project in the future.

And how about Belgium?

All of this takes time, as clearly shown by the team responsible for the second, phenomenal (Flemish) repository. KlasCement is a publicly funded platform with free open educational materials and 87.5 thousand users of almost 40 thousand shared resources (such as lesson plans, articles, applications, web pages, computer programs, exercises, photographs and videos). The Flemish platform is gamefied, meaning that upon logging in for the first time users gain 1000 points that they can “spend” on browsing the resources. As they run out of points, the system encourages them to contribute – by commenting, adding a resource or contacting other users. This is how points are “earned”. For the last 15 years the repository has been in the care of a team ensuring the quality of submitted materials and developing strategies for user involvement. All resources are assigned standardized metadata and have their quality and legality checked. Everything is submitted under free licensing. KlasCement has also developed a system allowing to include materials from other organizations: as a result, the database grows continuously, regardless of the size of users’ input.

Towards a public repository

Two countries and two models of publicly funded repositories of open educational materials – both of which, although they may differ in detail, place great emphasis on building a community of teachers centered around the use and creation of open resources, on keeping them involved and interested in the platform, on motivating them to share their materials. Especially KlasCement shows its users that the repository belongs to them and is created by them.

A repository of open educational resources is an idea that has also been on our minds for some time now. This is because we firmly believe in the full openness of publicly funded educational resources and their digitization. We also believe that developing Polish education in this direction will improve the quality of educational materials, stimulate the creativity and potential of our teachers, and increase the student engagement in the educational process. The EU has already set these directions and Poland, too, has taken this course once already, through the “Digital School” programme. What we have to do now is avoid getting too comfortable, learn from the experiences of those who were successful and consistently strive to build modern education.