Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) in Lebanon is a Catholic private, non-profit institution of higher education organized according to the American system of higher education. The main driver for the adaptation of OER at Notre Dame University-Louaize is to take advantage of the open resources freely available online from the United States.
This opportunity was identified following the participation of the Assistant Vice President for Information Technology in the government-sponsored Alumni Exchange Program in 2014 that brought leading education innovators from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) together with their counterparts in the US to explore opportunities and developments in the realm of the open education movement.
A key rationale for piloting OER within the context of Lebanese higher education is the need to deepen student engagement and instill the value of self-directed learning as a strategy transferable to other learning situations. Other opportunities include:
- Reducing barriers to learning from ever-increasing textbook costs;
- Access to quality learning material in an Arab setting, in addition to textbooks;
- Substituting for the static nature of traditional textbooks by more interactive OER lessons or textbooks; and, overall,
- Creation of a dynamic, shifting classroom and information with which students can interact by nature of its digital format.
Based on these goals and the exchange with colleagues, a strategic direction was established at NDU for the implementation of OER, as well as promoting a culture of openness. By increasing awareness about the use of OER among faculty, staff and students, and by strategizing the development of OER policies and practices, a new direction was determined.
The main emphasis in the OER initiative at NDU was to make learning content more discoverable and accessible among students, faculty members, and librarians. To accomplish this, a program of systematic training, workshops, and awareness campaigns was introduced. These activities were designed to overcome potential cultural resistance to pedagogical innovation and obstacles, and to do so in the absence of any governmental policies that regulate the integration of OER in education.
The adoption of OER at NDU was institutionalized through the University-wide Strategic Plan Vision 20/20 2015-2020, which calls for continuous training of faculty members and students on the use of OER in teaching and learning.
Licensing and a Community of Practice
The University started supporting OER implementations using Creative Commons licenses. In line with this, a Community of Practice around OER was established on campus, including participants from other institutions in Lebanon. This included the creation of an OER website, which hosts Arabic language OER and information on regional initiatives, while encouraging research in the field of OER. As part of the OER implementation process in 2015, NDU signed an Affiliate Agreement with Creative Commons, to spotlight the university's commitment to open content and support training on the use of open licenses in a university setting. As an institutional affiliate of Creative Commons, the University led the way among higher education institutions in Lebanon in the promotion of open education and open access with an eye on building cooperative links with higher education institutions in the Middle East and North Africa Region.
Training for Students
A workshop for M.A. Education students was conducted in 2015; one of the outcomes was an M.A. thesis/student project with the aim of writing a textbook in Physics for Grade 10, through adapting and assembling OER linked to the Lebanese official curriculum. The training also targeted undergraduate students. These students learned about the basics of OER and their role in constructing learning by adopting the concept of openness. This learning was presented as something that would reflect positively on their education through collaborative and constructivist learning, and through the creation of online communities for engaging in academic discussions.
Training workshops to help overcome some of the potential cultural barriers that faculty face in the use of OER in teaching and learning aimed at bringing faculty members into a culture of openness, sharing and collaboration. With a focus on hands-on training, the workshops resulted in wider engagement of faculty members with OER, either as instructors or coordinators. In addition, the workshops stimulated discussions and interest in OER among faculty members. Many of these emerging OER “champions” sit on the University-wide OER Committee tasked with developing policies and procedures for OER implementation on campus.
Library Staff Training
Special training workshops were offered to staff members in the University libraries, focused on the critical role the library plays in the learning environment of NDU. The training sought to enable librarians to guide faculty members in selecting appropriate OER and integrating them into teaching and learning.
Integrating OER into Teaching and Learning
Following NDU’s strategic decision to integrate OER in teaching and learning, students who enrolled in Sophomore Rhetoric, which is the University’s core English requirement, were the first cohort to pilot the use of OER in the classroom. The piloting took place in 25 sections of English Rhetoric with a total student enrolment of 500. The integration of OER into this English communication course was preceded by several training workshops provided to faculty members who taught the course.
Following the successful implementation of OER in this first-year English course, training expanded to include the Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences and faculty members started to attend regular workshops for adopting and assembling OER in sciences courses.
To document students’ experiences with OER courses, a 72-item scale questionnaire was administered to 500 students enrolled in the multi-section English communication course. The questionnaire included 5 dimensions (attitudinal, satisfaction, quality, effectiveness, and progress). Results indicated favorable attitudes towards each of the five dimensions. The principal benefit noted by both students and faculty was the promotion of a culture of sharing and sustainability on campus. This feeling of community was reinforced when faculty and students were learning about OER together. The survey findings also showed a favorable inclination toward enrolling in courses using OER in the future.
Professors who participated in the training workshops were encouraged to create and share knowledge and resources serving the broader public, and thus fulfill a key feature of community service such as presenting in international conferences, engaging in research on OER in teaching and learning, and creating the rudiments of a sustainable Community of Practice revolving around promoting OER in educational contexts.
At the official educational level, NDU was able to establish cooperative links with the two main segments of education in Lebanon, i.e. higher education and general education. NDU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD)
on June 23, 2017, to train CERD’s personnel on OER and Creative Commons Licenses. In addition, NDU is working closely with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to establish frameworks and policies to look after public interests through wider use of OER, taking the successful OER implementation at NDU as a main driver.
And, of course the reduction of textbook costs was a primary motivator for students and
for faculty looking after their interests. The students' savings were significant, and more are expected as more OER courses are implemented.
Survey results indicated several important challenges. There were major issues of connectivity as Internet service was intermittent and unevenly available, especially for students living in rural areas. Faculty noted that finding quality OER, appropriate for the courses targeted, was often problematic. After which, it took considerably more time than expected for instructors to adequately align resources with the learning objectives and learning outcomes of the course. Another challenge was in the curation of openly licensed materials from sources with different licenses, making remixing a more complex procedure than expected. In addition, the absence of policies that could be used to guide faculty members in the development and assembly of OER was noted. There is still a need at NDU for clarifying publication rights, in reference to open licensing issues. Finally, the lack of incentives for faculty, either financial or professional, was identified as a challenge impeding progress in OER implementation.
In its strategic plan, NDU clearly identifies OER as contributing to teaching and learning, and enhancing students’ core competencies. The university OER committee is charged with developing a strategy for implementing OER into courses within five years. This will be accomplished through OER awareness campaigns and training sessions for both faculty and students. Progress will be assessed continuously by examining the curriculum and the outcomes of students in courses that use OER.
Dr. Fawzi Baroud
Assistant Vice President for Information Technology
Notre Dame University- Louaize
Strategic Plan 2015-2020
 The Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) was established by Decree # 2356, dated 10 December 1971, as a public institution having a juristic personality enjoying administrative and financial autonomy. CERD reports directly to the Minister of Education and Higher Education who acts as a custodial authority, http://www.crdp.org/policy?la=en Accessed on June 22, 2017. It is worth mentioning that CERD is in charge of developing the official national curriculum of Lebanon.