MAHSP instructor leads OER impact study

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l1oates
An open educational resource (OER) initiative led by Dr. Lauryn Oates, instructor in the MAHSP program, has received a research grant to study the impact of OER on teachers in Afghanistan.

The Darakht-e Danesh (‘knowledge tree’) Library for Educators in Afghanistan is the first open educational resource (OER) effort in Afghanistan and Afghanistan's first comprehensive digital educational resource collection, established to enhance teacher subject-area knowledge, access and use of learning materials, and to foster more diverse teaching methodologies in order to improve learning outcomes in Afghan classrooms. It was created by the NGO, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, established in 1996, and is the brainchild of Royal Roads MAHSP instructor and alumnae Lauryn Oates.

As defined by UNESCO, OER are “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.” OER can include lesson plans, courses, textbooks, storybooks, images, maps, activities, teacher guides, and a variety of other materials.

The Darakht-e Danesh (which means ‘knowledge tree’ in the Dari language) Library uses an innovative interactive, multilingual custom-designed web platform, and currently houses some 2,000 resources in 15 subject categories, for both primary and secondary teachers in Afghanistan, in the three languages taught in the Afghan public school system: Dari, Pashto and English. Before launching, the system was first tested with Afghan users to ensure it is user-friendly, intuitive and contextually appropriate. 

After registering, teachers can search the database by subject, resource type, language and level, or just browse the collection. For instance, a grade 10 biology teacher can search out water evaporation experiments, a teacher working with students with disabilities can find guidebooks with practical classroom strategies, or a geography teacher can download images of maps to print out for her classroom walls. Primary teachers can download full children’s books for and by Afghans, and high school teachers can find full texts on subjects they are trying to better understand, like the Industrial Revolution.

A unique and cost-effective feature of the library is that the content creation is powered by volunteers. Tapping into Afghanistan’s large diaspora community, the library relies on bilingual Afghans with specific areas of expertise – such as health and medicine, or language and literature – to translate OERs into Dari and Pashto, all on a volunteer basis. All translations are vetted by a professional editor in the relevant language who provides feedback and edits to the volunteer, before final publication. The team of volunteers has become a global community of supporters contributing to the evolution of this tool.     

Teachers view the resources online, print them, or download the documents. Sometimes teachers adapt resources and share these re-purposed materials to be re-added to the library. Any user can submit a new resource to the library, making the collection crowd-sourced. Users have submitted materials as diverse as a Dari translation of John Dewey’s “Democracy and Education” to ancient Persian poetry, to a simple health guides for rural villages.    

Teachers are using the library materials to plan lessons, improve their subject knowledge, or deliver new activities in their classroom, and teacher trainers use it in teachers colleges. For example, a teacher in Nimruz province, who also trains teachers at the provincial pedagogy institute, wrote to us to say, "the resources in the library help us a lot and we fully use them in our teaching in remote provinces such as Nemrooz. I also use the library materials to solve other teachers’ problems when they come to me for help.”

Earlier this year, the DD Library was awarded a research grant to carry out an impact study of the OER in the Library, by the Wawasan Open University, Penang, Malaysia, which is coordinating a series of OER impact studies. These together with the series of OER adoption studies coordinated by the University of Cape Town, form the Research on OER for Development (ROER4D) programme. ROER4D is funded by Canada’s International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The DD Library is the first technology-powered collection of educational materials for teachers that is tailor-made for Afghanistan, addressing the distinctive challenges the country’s education sector faces. As the content diversifies and expands at the hands of the community of users, the library may very well move beyond an audience of educators, to a rich collection of knowledge resources for and by Afghans. To learn more, visit www.darakhtdanesh.org