TRU joins free education movement

Online university combines resources from around the world

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
November 1, 2013 01:00 AM

Sir John Daniel

It was banner day for the free exchange of knowledge and ideas with the official launch of the exclusively online Open Educational Resource University (OERu) at Thompson Rivers University on Friday.

"My ancestors said that peace will come to native people when a spider web covers Mother Earth," said First Nations elder Estella Patrick Moller during an opening prayer. "And slowly we're getting there. Peace is coming."

The venture is a partnership of 26 post-secondary institutions worldwide with TRU acting as a founding anchor partner in the organization since its inception in 2010.

OERu's partners include four universities in Australia, four from the U.S., 10 from New Zealand and the University of South Wales.

Wayne Mackintosh, director of the Open Educational Resources Foundation, the New Zealand-based organization that is co-ordinating the development of OERu, told Friday's gathering at TRU that the venture fulfils the "core values of the academy, which is to share knowledge freely."

Partners and open university pioneers from all over the world travelled to Kamloops to watch the website go live.

"What's the significance of this new player in the higher education scene?" said Sir John Daniel, one of the world's most eminent practitioners and thinkers in open, distance and technology mediated learning.

"The existing system, for all its expansion, misses and leaves aside a great unused reservoir of human talent and potential."

Open universities require no formal academic qualifications for registration as a student. OERu partners build free courses using open educational resources, use exams to assess learning and offer credits. And they commit to offering low-cost measures to support students in their studies.

Students who complete a course pay to have their work assessed for academic credit. They can then approach any of the partner institutions with evidence of the credits they have amassed and apply for degrees.

"The mission we're about to assign ourselves is going to be very challenging," said TRU president Alan Shaver. "But that mission has been mentored by Sir John, it's been supported morally by Sir John and I think with his support we will succeed."

The open university philosophy, first advanced in the 1920s, takes the academic axiom that knowledge is good - and runs with it.

The inaugural open university launched 44 years ago, coincidentally during the same week that man first landed on the moon.

Science home experiment kits, late night TV broadcasts and residential schools became part of its folklore.

Today, the concept may be seeing a heyday with increasingly widespread access to the world wide web.

"The world is causing a communications revolution, the effects of which will go beyond those of the industrial revolution of two centuries ago," said Sir John.

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