Monday, January 22, 2018 News

Reflecting on 10 Years Since the Cape Town Declaration

Open Education

Today marks 10 years since the publication of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, a global call to action that has helped inspire thousands of Open Education advocates around the world. Beginning with the words, “We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning,” the declaration envisions a world where everyone, everywhere can access and contribute to the sum of human knowledge, where teachers and learners collaborate together, and where educational opportunities abound.

Over the last decade, this vision has spread from a small group of innovators to a worldwide movement. The Cape Town Declaration has played a central role in helping to inspire and bring together Open Education advocates, with signatures from more than 2,500 individuals and nearly 300 organizations around the world. It also helps chart out future pathways for the movement through the Cape Town Declaration 10th Anniversary: Ten Directions to Move Open Education Forward, a collaborative document published last year at the World OER Congress.

On January 22, 2008, I read the Cape Town Declaration for the first time—on the screen of my clunky first-edition iPhone. I was a scrappy young advocate, a year and a half out of undergrad working with a student organization to mobilize support for open textbooks. Back then, the only faculty aware of OER were the ones we had talked to, and the number of open textbooks available could be counted on one hand. But, I was on a mission: I could not accept that 21st century education relied on absurdly expensive textbooks when we have a wealth of high quality online information at our fingertips, and I believed that our educational systems should start taking advantage of it.

SPARC and I had not crossed paths yet, although if I had looked at the list of Cape Town Declaration signatories, I would have seen both SPARC and SPARC Europe, who were among the first organizations to sign. The Open Education gears started turning at SPARC, and one year later, I was invited to speak at the semi annual SPARC-ACRL Forum at ALA Midwinter 2009 in Denver. The theme was The Transformative Potential of Open Educational Resources (OER), and speakers also included two Cape Town Declaration original signatories, David Wiley and Rich Baraniuk.

It was in that room in Denver where the sparks for the first major library-led OER initiatives began to fly. While the academic library community was aware of the rising cost of textbooks—with students lining up at the reference desk at the start of every term seeking relief—many had not yet considered a potential role for academic libraries as part of the solution, even as libraries were leading the way on Open Access. In an article we wrote together for Against the Grain, OER pioneers Steven Bell of Temple University and Marilyn Billings of UMass Amherst reflected back on ALAMW 2009 as the start of their own Open Education journeys. The event also set SPARC in a similar direction, which—as we now know—is how I ended up where I am today.

As a grassroots organizer and policy wonk, I never expected to work full time with librarians. Yet, when I got a call from Heather Joseph in 2012 asking me to join SPARC, it became immediately clear that working with librarians was exactly the right next step for my career as an Open Education advocate. After nearly seven years of organizing student campaigns, I believed deeply in the importance of the student voice, but also recognized that students cannot do it alone. There was a need for other allies on campus who could help raise awareness, work with faculty to overcome barriers such as discovery and curation, to act as a locus of expertise for publishing and vetting resources, and to convene other stakeholders. In other words: librarians.

SPARC’s Open Education program launched in 2013, and the rest is history. Today, academic libraries are increasingly seen as the movers and shakers of OER, as is highlighted in recent news articles in EdSurge and Inside Higher Ed. What started as a few individual librarians innovating and building upon each others’ successes has become a norm across North America: where there are campus activities on OER, libraries tend to be at the heart of them. And more importantly, OER is having an impact on students. This point was driven home last fall through SPARC’s Connect OER annual report, which found SPARC member libraries were by far the most engaged stakeholder on campus, and each participating campus had saved students an average of a quarter million dollars in the 2016-2017 academic year alone.

Reflecting back on where I was a decade ago, I am constantly amazed at how far we have come. I nearly had to pinch myself when the recently-published Babson survey found that 9% of U.S. faculty had adopted OER and 30% were aware of OER. While some on the outside look at those numbers as a sign that OER has yet to take off, I look at it as a resounding, hard-won endorsement that the vision we all signed onto 10 years ago was right. And this is only the beginning.

How far we have come in the last decade is the result of tireless, dedicated work by thousands of Open Education advocates around the world, and I can say one thing with certainty: it’s working.

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