Historisk arkiv

Free and open learning and research in Norway

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Kunnskapsdepartementet

State Secretary Lisbet Rugtvedt's speech at the confernece "Technology for Participation", hosted by The State College of Agder, 27.06.07, in Kristiansand.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests,

It is a pleasure for me to address you on such an important and at the same time challenging topic as free and open learning and research. As you all know, terms like ”open” and ”free” allow a number of different connotations, dependent on context, culture and profession. For me as a politician these words are not only related to software and content. Free and open are also important hallmarks of the history and politics of Norwegian education after World War II.

In my presentation today, I will give an overview on current policies in Norway that are relevant for the title of my talk. Most of what I have to say will relate to education.

But let me first give you an overview on some of the important political priorities of the current government which came to power in October 2005.

One of the core principles in our educational policy is the emphasis on public education as the best way to develop the individual and society at large. To achieve our goals is we must be abreast and work as hard and systematically as possible in order to develop a world class system of education. I would like to emphasize 5 priorities in our policy. Learning for All: Everybody shall have equal opportunity to achieving the goals they have set. The primary task of our schools is learning and competence development. Today we know that our skills and competencies are developed through a high-quality learning environment and first-class education.

  • Improving the school ownership of local authorities: The responsibility of implementing the national educational policy has been delegated to local and regional authorities. We have to ensure that they handle their responsibilities in a good manner.
  • Support for teachers: The core task of education is to further the learning processes of the students. Teachers are the most important resource in our schools. We need and must recruit competent teachers, we need to keep them and stimulate their enthusiasm. An open-minded and motivated teacher is a pre-requisite in every school.
  • Strengthen the access to resources: It is no secret that Norway spends a lot of resources on education. We rank in the top three among OECD-countries. Still there are areas that need special attention from the Government. As long as we don’t reach the as good results as we should according to the needs of our students and as a society, we still want to invest more in our schools
  • Reduce the number of drop outs from upper secondary education: The completion rate in upper secondary education is not satisfactory with at drop-out rate of 25%. We underline the need for a holistic approach to the matter, and  a main focus in our strategy against drop out is “early intervention”. That should be interpreted both as efforts at early age and at early stage in the education when problems arises.

Two main interrelated goals lie behind these priorities: Equality and quality. To make a quick reference to the topic of the conference – I think there is no doubt that a right use of technology must be a part of our strategy to reach these goals.

And open and accessible educational system where no-one are left behind is necessary in order to innovate, succeed and survive. Norway is known as a rich country not least due to our petroleum and gas resources. But it is important to remember that our biggest fortune is our human resources. That is a fact today and that is what we are dependent on when the petroleum era one day has come to an end.

Another aspect of this is the fact that we never have had any petroleum fortune without a successful cooperation between the research community and the petroleum companies. Many serious technical obstacles had to be solved before the oil resources could be brought up from the North Sea.

To day one of our main challenges is to overcome the environment threats that results from our petroleum dependency and  combating global warming.

In Norway the minister of education is responsible for education from pre-schooling to higher education and research and adult learning. Equal opportunities and good quality is important at every level. At all levels we are dependent first of all on competent teachers and academic personnel. But also on a number of other factors such as right choice and use of technology is important. 

Opening up education and thereby giving the citizens the opportunity to realise their full potential also applies to the adult population, a group which is quite heterogeneous and that can be hard to reach because of the Matthew principle we sometimes can observe in terms of adult education: Those with a solid educational basis often benefits from new campaigns, whereas people with less formal education and most in need of training do not seem to be in demand of more formal training.

ICT in Education
Since this conference focuses on the use of technology for participation I would like to highlight the foundations for our policy on ICT in Education.

The framework for our current strategy for ICT in Education is laid down in the so-called Programme for Digital Literacy covering the period 2004-2008. The Programme has four main goals:

  • By 2008, the Norwegian educational system should be among the foremost countries in the world to use ICT in teaching and learning
  • By 2008, Digital Literacy shall be integrated at all levels in education and training.
  • By 2008, ICT shall be an integrated tool for innovation and quality at all levels in Norwegian education
  • By 2008, Norwegian schools shall be equipped with high quality infrastructure. Classrooms and other arenas for learning shall be connected with adequate bandwidth. The use of ICT in teaching and learning shall be supported by secure and cost-effective solutions for infrastructure maintenance.

The programme has actions covering four thematic areas:

  • Competence development
  • Digital learning resources, assessment and methods
  • Research and development
  • Infrastructure

As you all know, ICT cannot exist as an isolated phenomenon at the fringe of educational practice. In order to unleash the power of ICT in teaching and learning we must ensure that teaching and learning is firmly embedded in the curriculum. As one of the few countries in the world we have placed ICT right at the core of the curriculum. Basic digital skills are  one of five basic skills that are to integrated in all subject matters at all levels. Let me give you a couple of examples.

The first example that you can see at this slide is from the subject Natural science. Students are expected to use digital tools for experiments and field works. Further, ICT will be used for simulation to describe the apparent motion of the planets across the sky.

The second example is from the subject of Arts. Students are expected to compare various techniques in folk’s arts and crafts by using digital sources, and in 10th grade students must document their own work in a multimedia presentation.

ICT policy making is a complicated task.. Let me briefly touch upon some key challenges:

  • Most countries are struggling with the integration of ICT in the educational system. Despite heavy investments over the last decade, it seems that we are not capable of utilising the possibilities we have invested in. Schools and Higher Education Institutions have purchased learning platforms – we are near 100 % coverage – but their pedagogical potential have not been maximised according to several studies.
  • Keeping an eye on the present is important, but we must also keep an eye on the future. It is necessary to have some kind of “early warning system” that enables us to spot technological innovations and their pedagogical potential. One such example is the emergence of so-called social software (Wikipedia, Wikis, Flickr etc) which step by step in my opinion will be spread into educational practice.
  • It is of vital importance that the use of ICT is regarded as a part of everyday life in schools, This is a common challenge for all.
  • Both policymakers and the educational community at large must be sensitive to the changes in the way our children and youths are using technology. I think education has a lot to learn from youth culture in this area.

The Digital Commons: Digital Content for All
Digitisation and access to information via the internet has created new possibilities for access to music, films, art, research etc. This revolution of technology and access has raised a number of challenges. Artists, record companies, the film industry, publishers and newspapers have been hit by severe losses, and at the same time the existing regimes for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) have been challenged by new forms of IPR regimes such as Creative Commons. This is the topic of a panel discussion later today, and I will not pursue this issue here.

From a political and democratic point of view, the development of what we refer to as the Digital Commons – I suppose the notion of Commons is known to most of you – is well aligned with the key principles in our policy for education and research. Let me give an overview of what we are doing in this area.

One of the important promises this Government made after the last general elections was to announce that learning resources will be made free of charge for upper secondary education. This will take effect from August this year. Before we made this possible through an amendment in our legislation, students in upper secondary education themselves had to pay for learning resources. The core concept of this policy is that the regional authorities, who in Norway are responsible for upper secondary education, carry the responsibility for traditional and digital learning resources.

As a warm-up for the change of policy, the government put forward the suggestion for approval by the Norwegian Parliament to invest in digital learning resources for upper secondary education. This measure has several goals, among others to increase the use of digital learning resources in the teaching and learning process and to increase the supply of digital learning resources in the marketplace. The first resources will be available from next term on. We have already seen a number of interesting developments in this field. Authorities are collaborating across regional borders in order to maximise the dissemination of learning resources, and the existing players in the marketplace (i.e. the large publishing houses) are not too fond of this development. I am really excited by the potential pedagogical and organisational innovations these investments can lead to.

This was the demand side, but we are also doing interesting stuff on the supply side:

  • Public broadcasting has always been an important resource for teaching and learning. Just imagine how an audio or a video clip can liven up a topic, e.g. in history or in social science. Like some other countries, we are now exploring how pedagogically facilitated audio and video clips for the digitised archives from Norwegian Broadcasting can be made accessible for teachers and learners. Denmark has been an example for us, the UK and the BBC is another example we are looking into. Our ambition is to launch the first version of a portal by the end of 2007 of early 2008.
  • Our National Library and other stakeholders in the so-called ABM-sector (Archives, Libraries and Museums) are working hard on opening up the resources and collections in the multitude of institutions.
  • Digital maps are important resources in many fields such as urban planning and in many branches of trade and industry. For education and research, this is also the case. Digital maps can enrich the teaching and learning process, and we see that digital maps can be quite valuable embedded in advanced digital learning resources. One example of this is “Real Digital”, a project which has received funding from our campaign for digital learning resources in upper secondary education. One of the sub-projects in Real Digital will develop applications based on video gaming technologies, and in order to models the virtual worlds the developers need accurate geo-data. Geo-data can also be made accessible for learners who would like to share their findings from environmental history projects by adding this information to already available digital maps, a form of geo-tagging put into a system, if you like. I think this offers exciting possibilities for education, and we have joined Norway Digital, a national joint venture for the maintenance and dissemination of digital maps.

As this conference clearly puts the focus on the importance of embedding Universal Design in public policy and practice, let me underline that we demand that the acquisition and development of digital learning resources as well as the facilitated access to digitised audio and video clips from the Norwegian Broadcasting corporation must comply with the WAI guidelines.

Open access: New pathways for self-archiving and publication of academic works
The Open Access-Movement has gained momentum and attention since its inception through the Budapest Open Access Initiative back in 2002. Both pillars of Open Access – Self-archiving and Publishing – are important instruments for the preservation, dissemination and democratisation of academic work.

Open Access has a number of distinct advantages:

  • For scientists, Open Access Self-Archiving offers a centralised electronic archive for their academic work that can be easily disseminated to colleagues and interested parties.
  • The institution will be more visible.
  • Open access is instrumental in making results of academic inquiry a common good. This can be of vital importance, e.g. for developing countries, who struggle in getting access to research findings from countries in the western hemisphere.

In Norway, one of the major initiatives in the field of Open Access is NORA, a joint venture between the university libraries at several of our universities and colleges. The main goal of this project, funded by the Norwegian Digital Library, is to further a more co-ordinated and forceful development of open institutional archives in Norway. Four of our six universities have established such archives, and they collaborate on this, and the university colleges are beginning to collaborate. Other major Norwegian initiatives include the Museum Project at four of our universities aiming at the development of joint database systems for digitising the collections at our university museums as well as The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, which is a national source of information on biodiversity. The organisations main function is to supply the public with updated and accessible information on Norwegian species and ecosystems.

The most challenging part of Open Access is related to Open Access publishing. Open access has been the subject of much discussion amongst several groups, and some even see it as a threat. However, it is my firm belief that Open Access publishing can be an important tool in order to increase access to and dissemination of research. Dissemination is after all the third main area of activity in higher education, and we owe it to the public at large to facilitate easy access to research financed by public funding. Open Access is also well suited for younger researchers who need to get a high number of citations early in their careers.

On the other hand, let me also be clear on the following: Open Access publishing must not run the risk of being perceived as second rate. If so, Open Access publishing will by many is regarded as a fringe activity. I think the ideals of the Open Access movement should be paired with the traditions of peer reviewing well embedded in Academia.

Let me also briefly comment on the role of government with regard to Open Access. I think governments can play a number of roles as a facilitator of Open Access:

  • Governments can ensure the sufficient infrastructure for Open Access initiatives.
  • Governments can ensure that the legislation, including IPR issues, facilitates Open Access.
  • Governments must be clear advocates of academic quality and peer reviewing, also for Open Access publishing. 

Open Educational Resources
For many years we have thought about learning resources in traditional patterns and business models. Learning resources has been the playing ground for the traditional publishing houses, but over the last years the emphasis on teachers and learners as developers of digital content has increased.

Now the spectrum has widened considerably. MITs Open Courseware Initiative is probably the lever for this development, and we now see a number of similar initiatives worldwide. The OECD recently published a report from their study on Open Educational Resources. The report, which has the interesting title “Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources” contains a number of interesting issues and finding. Let me dwell on some of these.

But first: What are Open Educational Resources? The term “open” and the concept of “openness” offer as all of you know different meanings and approaches(“free of charge”, “no barriers for access”). The report defines Open Educational Resources as “digitised materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”.

The so-called OER movement has emerged as a global phenomenon. The study shows that a considerable number of initiatives have been taken, but it is hard to give accurate numbers to describe the size of the OER movement. The most frequent target group is post-secondary instructors followed by students and the general public. According to the study, we have every reason to assume that the number of users is growing. In order to ensure easy access many initiatives have no registration, hence the statistics are not as precise as we could desire.

OER initiatives are – as I am sure you understand – a plethora of projects and undertakings. Some of the initiatives are large-scale institutional programmes such as MITs Open Courseware and the UK Open University’s OpenLearn. Other initiatives are characterised by a community approach, and thirdly there are hybrid initiatives (large-scale AND community) such as MERLOT.

There are reasons for governments to support initiatives in this area. They expand access to learning for everyone, especially for non-traditional groups of students. Open Educational Resources can be an efficient way of promoting lifelong learning, and such initiatives can bridge the gap between non-formal, informal and formal learning.

Maybe the most important part of the study is the challenges it identifies. Here are the most important ones:

  • Firstly, the quality and relevance of the resources must be sufficient in order for them to be taken seriously by demanding users. Different methods, including peer reviewing and user comments, are used to ensure sufficient quality and relevance.
  • Secondly, Copyright law takes its definition from international conventions. Legal restrictions on the reuse of copyright material are a barrier for open distribution of such material. New licensing regimes such as The Creative Commons are exploring how the interest of the wider community can be served in order to facilitate reuse of digital content.
  • Thirdly, Open Educational Resources are looking for ways to improve sustainability. The study looks into models for sustainability and cost recovery, and the models offer a variety of institutional and/or government backing.
  • A fourth challenge is to solve some technical issues. Metadata in order to ensure sharing and re-use of resources are important, and interoperability issues are important because of the need to be able to use Open Educational Resources across platforms and systems. The use of open standards is also of vital importance.
  • A fifth issue is to solve challenges in terms of securing and preserving data. If the resources are stored on a commercial, free service, the risk of loosing the resources is imminent.

A number of policy implications are addressed in the report. In my opinion it is important to regard the policy issues as facets of the mainstream policy issues we struggle with and not as separate issues exclusive for Open Educational Resources. The policy implications are visible at all levels;

  • Nationally as a way to promote use of ICT in education and promote informal and non-formal LLL
  • Sector wise as a response to a changing landscape for HE
  • Institutionally as an important element in rethinking business model, target groups/offerings and publication strategy

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests: At the end of the day free and open learning and research goes to the very heart of our political project; to secure high quality education for all in a lifelong learning perspective. Access to digital content and training opportunities throughout our lives are necessary in modern society.

As regards Free Software and Open Access, we are grateful for the pioneering efforts of the Free Software and Open Access movement. Their invaluable work is very important for the world of education and research. Now the time has come to bridge the empowering potential of Free Software and Open Access with the need for mainstreaming and the quest for quality. If we succeed in doing so, Free Software and Open Access will play a crucial role in the advancement of an information society for all.

Thank you for listening and good luck with the third and final day of this conference.