Collaborating across borders: OER use and open educational practices within the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth

Perryman, Leigh-Anne and Lesperance, John (2015). Collaborating across borders: OER use and open educational practices within the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth. In: Open Education Global Conference 2015, 22-24 Apr 2015, Banff, Alberta, Canada.



This paper presents the findings of a research collaboration between the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) and the UK Open University-based OER Research Hub ( and suggests that when user communities’ needs do not coincide with those of the majority, a model of open education resources (OER) development and sharing through open, transnational collaboration can offer a solution. The VUSSC is a mechanism for 32 tiny nations to collaboratively develop, adapt and share post-secondary level openly licensed courses and learning materials in subject areas that are especially relevant to the needs of people in the participating countries - for example, disaster management, entrepreneurship, the fishing industry, life skills and tourism. Since 2005, educators from island, coastal and landlocked nations in the Caribbean, Pacific, Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, as well as small states in Africa, have been gaining skills in the creation of learning materials and in online collaboration, and applying them to collaboratively develop a body of OER freely available to all via the VUSSC website ( and published under a Creative Commons (CC) license.

Survey and interview-based research with students and educators in the VUSSC member states has allowed for an understanding of the means by which open education practices (OEP) provide some of the world’s smallest countries with stronger economic opportunities and improved access to quality education, offering them the potential to become active contributors to global development. The collected data shows how the VUSSC participants are using and developing OER to meet the very specific needs of the member countries. Educators are at the heart of the VUSSC, taking a key role in resource creation and sharing, in policy discussions, in building subject-specific networks and in training peers. The survey data shows that use of the VUSSC OER has led to educators’ pedagogical development and their increased connectedness with peers worldwide. In addition, the survey data shows that OER are having a positive impact on students’ educational performance, their confidence and independence as learners, and their satisfaction with the learning experience. The benefits of the VUSSC for institutions are also explored in this paper through a case study of Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning, which has used VUSSC OER to extend its curriculum to cover higher education.

The VUSSC study also reveals that finding up-to-date, high quality, context-relevant resources remains a challenge for many, as do digital infrastructure problems in some areas. In addition, while there is evidence that openness is spreading throughout the member states the study also indicates that there is still much scope for expansion and a need for increased global awareness of the work of VUSSC. The research reported in this paper should be of value across the open education movement, adding to the growing picture of the power of OER and OEP in diverse contexts and presenting a compelling view of the potential of open collaboration in growing small states’ educational capacity and in helping increase educational and social inclusion in remote and isolated areas of the world.

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