Rice-African partnership is open-education blockbuster
Houston-based Rice University and South Africa, Cape Town-based Shuttleworth Foundation today announced plans to jointly develop one of the world’s largest, most comprehensive sets of free online teaching materials for primary and secondary school children. Using their open-education projects — Rice’s Connexions and the Shuttleworth’s Siyavula — the organisations will work to transform South African primary and secondary education with a bold initiative based on open-source software, online educator communities and open copyright licenses.
Ultimately, the group hopes to offer a complete suite of the highest caliber K12 materials online for free. This comprehensive repository of educational resources includes everything from online textbooks to classroom activities, experiments and training materials. Connexions and Siyavula will work together to create the repository, and Siyavula will create an online community of educators in South Africa that will expand, update and use the lessons. The newly created content will reside in the Connexions repository, one of the largest open-education resources (OER) repositories.
An OER pioneer, Connexions is both a platform and repository that lets people create, share, modify and review open educational materials. All Connexions modules are freely accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Because it is licensed under the Creative Commons attribution license, all material in Connexions is available to the world to use and reuse for free. The Connexions platform will be used to distribute the project’s content.
“The Siyavula/Connexions project is one of the most powerful open-education partnerships in history,” said Connexions Executive Director Joel Thierstein. “We are humbled by the resources the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Maxfield Foundation have brought to bear on the issues of global education. The realisation of an enlightened, educated world is an amazing thing to be a part of.
“The Connexions platform allows materials to be translated and remixed to make them culturally relevant and thus usable throughout the world,” Thierstein added. “Connexions allows instructors to rearrange lessons, reorder chapters and add their own materials, in effect giving each teacher the ability to create his or her own customised textbook. Finally, the Connexions platform makes it easy to print materials, as well.”
Siyavula Project Manager Mark Horner said the Rice-Shuttleworth team will create the software that South African educators need to develop and maintain a comprehensive set of educational resources that cover the entire South African school curriculum.
“Siyavula decided not to build its own platform as an excellent solution already existed in the form of Connexions,” Horner said. “It is important to collaborate with existing initiatives and not reinvent the wheel. This approach allows the pool of open educational resources to grow at an accelerated rate. Building on a solid, existing foundation is more cost-effective and adds to any initiative’s possibility of sustainability.”
The number of people using Connexions has grown by 40 percent over the past year, and with peak traffic of more than 1 million visits per month, Connexions is one of the world’s most popular OER sites.
“Connexions represents openness in every way,” Horner said. “The content housed on Connexions is openly licensed using Creative Commons licenses, the software is open source, and the team is open to collaboration and partnerships with like-minded initiatives. These match the values of the Shuttleworth Foundation in its open-source approach to social development.”
Siyavula means “we are opening” in the Nguni family of languages. The Siyavula project is sponsored by the Shuttleworth Foundation, a South African organisation that invests in social, technical and policy innovation in the fields of education and technology. The foundation works through active partnerships with local and international organisations.