Contributed by

An Institutional Approach to OER implementation at the University of South Africa (UNISA)


This decision to support OER was based on a willingness to increase collaborations, both within the university and internationally. University leaders also believe OER have the potential to save course development time with significant cost reductions, while enhancing the quality of the content and the teaching/learning processes. OER implementation is also seen as a good marketing strategy to showcase the university and raise its international profile.

Opportunity The University of South Africa (UNISA) is a mega open and distance learning (ODL) university with more than 400,000 students in South Africa and around the world. UNISA committed to the implementation of OER within the university by incorporating support for OER into all relevant policies and processes. This is seen as the critical enabling factor. Moreover, as an open university, it was felt OER are well aligned with the institution's academic traditions of sharing knowledge while being beneficial to learners.

Knowledge of OER became the basis for institutional adoption and implementation. As a result, awareness and knowledge of OER are quite high within the institution. At this point, the institutional focus shifted from promoting OER awareness to OER implementation.

Innovation UNISA faculty were introduced to OER through the university's internal communications and through contact with interested colleagues. Besides these communications, efforts to increase interest among faculty in OER were centred on workshops and encouraging visits to internal websites.

Several face-to-face workshops were available for staff to attend, where they were introduced to the concept of OER and to the Creative Commons licensing regime. Staff were also given time to explore OER in their own discipline and assisted with where to look for resources. Other than the workshops, regular internal communications about OER were posted on the intranet.

In terms of websites, the most popular avenue for accessing OER was the Open Portal designed by the university; another effective access point was the UNISA Institutional Repository. For many faculty, these websites are more important than the large international collections. The institutional websites proved to be both practical and effective in popularizing OER among faculty, leading to a very high degree of OER awareness and understanding of what constitutes OER. Faculty took ownership of OER implementation, based on their knowledge gleaned from institutional efforts to communicate.

The OER innovation efforts were important in bringing several issues to the surface that needed to be addressed. These included the need for providing faculty and students with adequate access to appropriate technology and infrastructure. Faculty also required training on quality assurance, OER course design, and intellectual property issues. Faculty were heavily dependent on institutional support of both time and funding, as well as positive recognition for their efforts. With the growth in OER awareness, leading faculty were early adopters, implementing OER courses. However, the majority are still unsure and awaiting persuasive results before committing. It is expected it will take time before a critical mass of pro-OER faculty emerges ensuring the sustainability of the innovation.

Benefits Although OER are not yet mainstreamed, they are becoming more widely used by faculty in their teaching practices, leading to the use of new pedagogies. Faculty are becoming more open to sharing their work. This indicates the basic ethos for OER is in place.

At UNISA, faculty are very active in making use of external OER, much more than contributing OER to the open community. Using external resources avoids needless duplication through sharing and reduces course development time, leaving faculty with more time for research and other activities. So, UNISA faculty are taking full advantage of the affordances of OER while beginning to contribute their efforts to the global community.

Faculty reported OER use has improved the quality of their teaching. Faculty felt confident in allowing others to evaluate their work, being secure about the quality of their creations. An earlier study, showed faculty were not open to peer review of their work (Chetty & Archer, 2011). This new openness has been a positive development attributable to the OER initiative.

Challenges The lack of an ICT infrastructure is perhaps the most serious challenge identified by faculty and students. Without computers and network connections, the use of OER becomes severely restricted. There is a need for an investigation into exactly what about the ICT infrastructure was problematic. Despite the university administration’s initiation of the OER strategy, faculty identified a lack of institutional support as a major challenge.

Other concerns involve

  • Legal issues and concerns around copyright;
  • The perception that OER represent the demise of traditional pedagogy;
  • Faculty inability to find OER for their subject or level;
  • Lack of skills for adapting or creating OER;
  • Reluctance to have others modify their work;
  • A few faculty mentioning a lack of interest in adapting/creating OER; and
  • A few others concerned OER would mean loss of revenue they receive for institutional use of content they produce.

Potential There is reason to be optimistic about the future of OER at UNISA as a large majority of faculty indicated they wish to be involved in OER activities in the future. There is a strong impetus to monitor and effectively evaluate the impact of the OER initiatives to determine the best focal points for allocating resources. The value of OER-related work by faculty needs to be determined as well as the activities involved when collaborating with other staff and sharing their creations.

Decisions and policies must be based on evidence-based assessments. OER represent a major change in the UNISA culture; both administration and staff need time to make appropriate adjustments. Otherwise the full potential of OER may not be reached.

Contact: Kerry de Hart Senior Lecturer University of South Africa dhartkl@unisa.ac.za