Podcast with Jamie Alexandre from Learning Equality

In this podcast, I talk with Jamie Alexandre from Learning Equality. Learning Equality focuses on technology solutions which are optimized to work in areas where Internet access is lacking or costly. Their project KA Lite is an offline version of Khan Academy, used in over 170 countries. Based on feedback from KA Lite users, the Learning Equality team is actively developing Kolibri, their next generation platform which allows for curriculum alignment of a broader set of content.

Learning Equality builds educational technology solutions that leverage open-licensed content and low-cost hardware to enable a broad range of NGOs, schools, governments, and individuals to implement programs that improve educational outcomes in their communities.


CC-BY is the ideal license for OER


I believe that the CC-BY license is the ideal Creative Commons license for open textbooks and other open educational resources. If you are part of a project funded with money from a donor trying to get the most out of every invested dollar the more restricted licenses would create unwanted barriers.

The CC-BY license drives innovation and creativity – including commercial use. It also increases the overall goal of sharing, translation and re-contextualization of open textbooks and OER.

Sometimes there could be good reasons for adding restrictions but more often the not, CC-BY is the best way to go.

Why? Here are some of the most obvious reasons:

  • The CC-BY license drives innovation and creativity – including commercial use.
  • The CC-BY license increases the overall goal of sharing, translation and re-contextualization of open textbooks and OER.
  • The CC-BY license is easy to understand and follow, requiring simply that attribution be provided to an open textbook author(s).
  • Content with a CC-BY license can be remixed** with all non-ND CC licenses, making it easier to remix others’ OER into an open textbook.
  • I believe an ND (no-derivatives) licensed textbook is not an open textbook because ND licenses do not allow two of the five Rs: revising and remixing.
  • The NC license also reduces remix options.
  • The SA license reduces remix options.
  • The NC license often causes confusion and limits the spread, adoption and use of OER. Creators should consider carefully whether their reasons for using an NC license justify the limitations it will impose on users.
    • NC license has been used to claim that OER cannot be printed by a commercial print shop for use in classrooms.
    • Some Colleges have assumed that because they charge tuition, they can’t use NC-licensed OER. Others worry about printing and selling (cost recovery only) NC-licensed open textbooks.

This article is a derivative of “Open Textbook Community Advocates CC BY License for Open Textbooks” by Mary Burgess, David Ernst, Hugh McGuire, David Wiley used under CC-BY 4.0 International License. This article is licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International License by Christer Gundersen.

More than 40% of the global population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand

Quality education should be delivered in the language spoken at home. However, this minimum standard is not met for hundreds of millions, limiting their ability to develop foundations for learning. By one estimate, as much as 40% of the global population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand (Walter and Benson, 2012).

A great part of the world’s learning content is written in English or in major languages in the industrial world. We don’t know the exact shares for the most-used languages when it comes to learning related content in particular, but it’s reasonable to assume this to be proximately equal to the most-used languages on the Internet as a whole.

As of 2015, 55.5 percent of all web content was in English, followed by the next four most-used world languages Russian, German, Japanese and Spanish, adding up to an additional 21.5 percent. Compared to this, the lack of digital resources is striking for languages like Swahili, Bangla or Hindi which are mother tongue or commonly spoken languages for an estimated 60+, 200+ and 500+ million respectively.

The simple magic of reuse, sharing and collaboration


Two weeks ago I posted a blogg with a timeline of OER. After reading this, my friends in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia picked up the timeline and translated it into Amharic. This involved a different language, different plattform and context. The common thread is H5P, a tool I have blogged about many times before, that allows anyone to create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content in their browser.


The important thing to notice here is that the team in Addis could reuse all the effort that I put in the timeline and at the same time just by translating it the timeline was available in a new language, something that would be impossible for me to do simply because I don´t know Amharic.

There is a growing edTech and OER community in Addis and this last weekend they organized a workshop where they also made their own timeline describing important events in Ethiopian history(see it at the end of the bloggpost). As a part of the same workshop they made an interactive test where you can test your skills on the most common Amharic words.


This put me up to the idea that I could make a new resource based on what they have made, and in fact make an OER in Amharic, a languages that I do not master. How? I made all the «cards» in the object below based on text from the team in Addis. Our common ground is that we all understand English.


When advocating for Open education resources, open source and open standards the message sometimes is lost in the complexity of all the technical issues. I myself have on more then one occasion struggled to explained the «magic of OER». In this case working with a small usecase like this just seams like a great way to demonstrate the magic of open educational resources.a

Check out this timeline on Ethiopian history:

What can the «anti OER lobby» learn from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?

Occasionally I bump in to representatives from the «anti OER lobby» and they often start of by talking about how open educational resources ruins the marked, and if the OER is financed with public money they go on about how the government is using their position to compete in the marketplace handing out «free content».

The problem with this claim is of course that it belongs in another paradigm, a paradigm without what we now call «the internet». This is a global issue but we could use Norway as an example. The idea that the Norwegian government, municipalities  and counties should not be able to let teachers(with a public paycheck) share content on the web under a free license is just ridiculous.

Last week I met a guy from an organization that lobbies hard against OER and while talking to him I came to think about Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft. It was sort of a deja vu moment and it took me back to 2001.

During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on June 1, 2001 Ballmer said that «Linux is cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches»

15 years later Microsoft has shifted their stands completely and invest substantially in open source and even Balmer himself is quoted saying «We now considers that the threat from Linux is over». Current chief at Microsoft Satya Nadella took it even further and went public 2 years ago saying that Microsoft loves Linux.

In the 15 years that has past Microsoft has lost its position in many markets and is now overtaken by Google and Android in the mobile market while Linux dominates everything from the server market to devices running in cars or in the kitchen.

For anyone that has been a part of both the open source movement and the OER movement its obvious that they share principles,  philosophy and methodology.

So my simple question is: What can the «anti-OER lobby» learn from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?

We value “Open” as a fundamental quality in education and in our learning resources.

“Open” produces better outcomes than “Closed”. This gives us a new responsibility. We must now prioritize our time and resources accordingly. The time has come to value “Open” as a fundamental quality in education and in our learning resources. – Head of NDLA, Øivind Høines

The Norwegian Digital Learning Arena (Nasjonal digital læringsarena) is a joint enterprise operating on behalf of the county councils in Norway. Our goal is to develop and publish high quality, internet-based open educational resources (OER) in subjects taught at upper secondary school level and make these freely available.

The term “open” is a cornerstone in all our projects and an important part of our strategy as we develop new subjects and open educational resources. From the beginning in 2007, head of NDLA Øivind Høines and his team started working on how NDLA could build the plattform, content and organization with “Open” as an important quality.

For NDLA as an organization this materializes in four focus areas:

  • Open standards
  • Open source
  • Open interfaces
  • Open methodology

Open standards

A major reason for us at NDLA to use open standards is that we would like our content to be reused and remixed by anyone. By using open standards we aim to make it easier for systems from different parties using different technologies to interoperate and communicate with our content and technology.

Another important aspect of open standards is to hinder confinement to a single vendor or proprietary technology, and to provide better conditions for free competition between all technology vendors and content creators. Open standards set out to prevent unfortunate interlocking, monopolization and competition bias.

An important area of focus is the use of standardized protocols and specifications where it is deemed relevant. This is pertinent both in between components internally in the NDLA solution, but also in NDLA’s communication with third-party services.

A few examples of such standards and specifications:

  • HTML5: a mark-up language intended for the formatting of webpages with links and other information that can be viewed in a browser|, and which is used to structure the information. HTML5 incorporate several new kinds of content (e.g. audio and video) than previous versions than the HTML standard.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets is a mark-up language used to define the layout of files written in HTML or XML.
  • Tin Can: a standardized API for learning technology making it possible to gather data on user experiences. To a larger extent than today, NDLA will be built upon this notion of open standards and known specifications.

Open source

Open sources is an important part of all development at NDLA. We have based our plattform on Drupal and contributed significantly to the development of H5P as a platform for easier creation, sharing and reuse of the developed content and applications.

H5P is not a standard, but an implementation that supports HTML5. H5P is being used for the development of different kinds of interactivity in NDLA. H5P is an open source-based framework for the development of HTML5 based content (video, interactive presentations, multiple choice assignments, timelines, etc.). We are proud to say that more than 2400 websites all over the world now run H5P.

Why open source?

Open source software is software that is distributed with the assumption that the source code is being made readily available for reuse. The opposite is software that keeps the source code secret/closed or protected through legislation. The main strategy of NDLA has always been geared towards open source , but in certain contexts it has proven difficult to avoid using third-party products or components that follow other regimes of licencing. In the future, NDLA will go further and demand open source software in all vital parts of a solution.

Open Interfaces

We are interested in sharing our content in any way we can. In addition to developing our own website and servise we develop AAPI’s (i.e. application programming interfaces) or open interfaces to make it easier to reuse our content by any third-party.

By developing and using such open, well-documented API’s, NDLA will facilitate a modularity that deems the solution more service based and flexible to change. Additionally, both the data and the modules become easier to reuse by third-party.

What is an API?

API’s (i.e. application programming interfaces) are the interfaces between different software components. API’s link the components together in standardized ways. The API describes what will happen in different circumstances, e.g. finding or saving specific data in a database. An open API is an interface that is openly described, i.e. that is a known matter how it operates so anyone can develop a solution that can link to and benefit from it.

Open methodology – crowdsourcing

For us at NDLA, crowdsourcing is an methodology where the individual teacher and pupil can create, co-create and develop content themselves. The concept of crowdsourcing makes it possible for a larger group of people, e.g. teachers, to revise an academic plan, curriculum or the actual content in learning resources.

Crowdsourcing is a work practice based on voluntary participation, where a large amount of contributors execute a task based on a sense of community, participation and self-organization, rather than managerial control. Numerous actors thus contribute to the improvement of quality on a specific product.

The word “Open” has for us a pedagogical foundation. Learning as an activity thrives in an open landscape where information is truly liberated and free. We learn better when we freely can participate, when we openly share what we make, when we are allowed to remix the work of others, and our own contributions becomes part a wider and connected society. – Head of NDLA, Øivind Høines.


Principles for digital development

For any ICT-based project it is crucial to develop technology based on good and sustainable principles, implementing solutions that are user driven and based open standards at the same time addressing concerns like universal design and privacy. There should be no exception for all the projects targeting users in developing countries.    

A growing number of youth in developing countries are online and thereby possibly connected to learning resources on the Internet. By 2025, as many as 4.7 billion people worldwide will be online. Compared to today, about 75 percent of the increase will come in emerging economies. An increasingly digital world brings unprecedented opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation. This will result in a large number of projects that develop technologies over the next decade and significant investment from NGOs and governmental organizations.

But to reap these benefits, it will be incredibly important to ensure that technology, data and digital resources are developed based on a sustainable model.

Donor and multilateral organizations have been discussing how to surface and spread best practice in the use of ICT tools as part of development programming for at least a decade. These discussions culminated in the UNICEF Innovation Principles of 2009, the Greentree Principles of 2010, and the UK Design Principles, among others.

At the end of 2015 I came across a project called The Principles of Digital development working to consolidate these efforts. The Principles for Digital Development draw from the processes mentioned above, and are the result of consultation with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and large number of NGOs and governmental organizations.

The Principles for Digital Development are “living” guidelines that can help development practitioners integrate established best practices into technology-enabled programs. They are written by and for international development donors, multilateral organizations, and implementing partners, and they are freely available for use by all. The Principles are intended to serve as guidance rather than edict, and to be updated and refined over time.

The nine principles are:


If you are in the planning stages of an app, a portal or any other project involving technology you should take your time and study the documents and guidelines at digitalprinciples.org/ 

Crowdsourcing and OER to help solve the educational crises among refugees in Europe

Many of the refugees that are entering Europa right now are stranded in a situation without any access to  normal education. This is a large problem that is getting more urgent every day. The high number of new people will make it impossible to solve this educational crisis by thinking «teacher and students in a classroom» as would be the normal way of solving this in the old «Gutenberg paradigm». In this situation there are noe available teacher, there are no available learning resources and no way of closing the gap without using new methods.

I attended a conference in Berlin this week and one of the speakers at the conference talked about how it would be impossible for Germany to meet the needs of the large number of refugees in terms of education. He talked about how the government in Germany have made predictions that they need another 25.000 teachers to meet the increase in refugees and this is of course a demand that is impossible to meet.

Germany needs another 25.000 teachers to meet the increasing number of refugees

The Norwegian government and several international partners are launching an innovation competition to develop a mobile-based learning application for Syrian children. This is a great initiative but in general the problem for European public sector is that they are not built to move fast and during the first part of this crises right now they are all just working to meet the basic needs like housing and food.

At the same time we have thousands of highly skilled teachers that if given the opportunity would be a tremendous resource for these refugees. Highly educated refugees from countries like Syria are also an untapped resource that should be able to play a role in bridging this gap.

I have no quick fix to end this crises but I have som thoughts on where to start. I truly belive that a strong community of teacher across Europe working to crowdsource learning resources would make a big difference in this situation. Every singel teacher would not have to put up many ours with quality time to make this into a movement that really could make a contribution.

To organize this we would have to focus on:

  • local communities with bout teachers and refugees
  • develop learning resources that is made for learning without a teacher
  • global learning resources in a locally setting
  • reuse an re-contextualization
  • reuse across European countries
  • Work in booksprints and hackathons instead of setting op large projects

We have to make a community of communities, not another EU-funded project moving at glacial speed

I am thinking that this should NOT be ONE project with ONE plattform trying to gather all the good stuff in one place but rather a community of communities with one common goal and that is to create simple and light weight learning resources to be used in an «out of school setting».

This is one of those times when it is better to do something than nothing, and I am simply saying that starting a movement based on crowdsourcing and open educational resources would be something.

Timeline – the history of open educational resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. For anyone that wants to understand why Open educational resources in so many ways are changing global education today, I think it is crucial to understand the history of OER.

During the last weeks I have been setting up a list of projects that I feel has had an impact on this open educational movement, and at one point I decided to make a timeline.  As many of you might be aware of the OER movement was inspired by the free software movement and open source. I have chosen to start my timeline in 1985 when Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation.

Although OER is the leading trend in distance education as a consequence of the openness movement, many OERs are not truly open. When listing these OER projects I have been very liberal in terms of witch projects to include. So this is by no means a list of OERs but rather a list of projects that have influenced the development of OERs.

Do you know about any projects that should be in the timeline? All feedback is appreciate!