Blazing a trail in the digital landscape

| Written by Arlyn VCD Palisoc Romualdo

UP Open University (UPOU) Networks is the first of its kind in the country, perhaps even in Southeast Asia. It’s certainly the first among member institutions in the Asian Association of Open Universities.

UPOU Networks is an online repository of multimedia learning materials, both open and proprietary, produced by the University. And in this day and age, when the Internet releases tons of data faster than you can say “information superhighway,” wouldn’t you like to learn from a reliable source?

 

Examples of UP-produced open educational resources found inside the UPOU Commons, which is only one of four sections inside UPOU Networks (Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)
Examples of UP-produced open educational resources found inside the UPOU Commons, which is only one of four sections inside UPOU Networks

 

Creating content, sharing knowledge

Describing the uniqueness of UPOU Networks, UPOU Chancellor Melinda Bandalaria says that “This is not just an index or listing of links to learning materials, which is quite common. This is a collection of UP-created content which we are disseminating online and sharing with everyone.”

For UPOU Information Office Director Joane Serrano, who was also director of the UPOU Multimedia Center until recently, the initiative allows the University to further contribute to the collective knowledge and content coming from the Global South. “We’re mostly consumers of learning objects from the Global North, especially open educational resources (OERs). This needs to be challenged. We need to work toward a level playing field,” Serrano says. The Center is involved in the production of most materials in UPOU Networks.

So what does one get from UPOU Networks?

Accessing networks.upou.edu.ph brings you a variety of content. UPOU Live is where lectures, symposia, research presentations, seminars, and other University events are broadcast in real time. UPOU On Record is a collection of podcasts and other audio materials. UPOU Commons is where OERs are housed under a Creative Commons license. UPOU Mix contains learning objects in various formats and on different topics.

 

Pushing for genuine openness

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 is “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has identified OERs as strategic in improving access to quality education.

UPOU, whose leadership in open and distance e-learning has been recognized by law through the Open and Distance Learning Act, fully supports these global initiatives by pioneering the OER movement in the country. “Not many people in the Philippines know about OERs, which is why the University needs to work even harder for this revolutionary education movement to take root and prosper,” Serrano continues.

 

From left to right, some members of the UPOU Multimedia Center, the office behind UPOU Networks: University Researcher Luisa Gelisan, Information Systems Researcher Edison Sevilla, and Director Joane Serrano (Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)
From left to right, some members of the UPOU Multimedia Center, the office behind UPOU Networks: University Researcher Luisa Gelisan, Information Systems Researcher Edison Sevillo, and Director Joane Serrano (Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)

 

Admittedly, there’s some resistance from those who feel OERs run contrary to the protection of intellectual property rights. This perceived conflict seems to be one of the biggest challenges facing the progress of the OER movement in the country. And universities need to strike a balance between both if they wish to remain relevant in the global pursuit of quality education for all.

As for UPOU, it will continue to create and advocate the use of OERs not only to educate but to enrich knowledge through sharing, collaboration, and creation.

 

Moving for greater accessibility

Accessibility continues to be one of the main issues surrounding quality education. There’s a digital divide between the technology-rich and technology-poor. And even within the group with digital technology is the issue of inclusive access. Can everyone “read” your content? Can everyone navigate your website or mobile application with ease?

Early this year, UPOU embarked on a mission to widen access to its resources through its Universal and Inclusive Accessibility Program, which covers “all aspects of [its] academic and administrative functions and services.” It aims to adhere to UNESCO’s Guidelines on the Inclusion of Learners with Disabilities in Open and Distance Learning.

For UPOU Networks, this means improvements in readability across different devices and browsers as well as varying availability of computer peripherals.

 

UPOU Networks houses the learning materials of the e-Service Management Program, a massive open online course offered by UPOU. (Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO)
UPOU Networks houses the learning materials of the e-Service Management Program, a massive open online course offered by UPOU.

 

Edison Sevillo, an information systems researcher at the UPOU Multimedia Center, explains that readability requires design flexibility, where a website conforms to the size of the screen, whether it is a computer monitor, a tablet, or a smartphone. “We must also be logical and methodical in creating a smooth flow of tabbing sequences for those who don’t have or use a mouse or whose track pad isn’t working,” Sevillo says. He adds that among other accessibility solutions, they are also exploring text-to-speech options for those who are visually impaired.

The UPOU Networks mobile application was recently released as another initiative to further promote access to the online repository of learning materials. “It really needed to be user-friendly with just a few clicks or taps and fewer swipes, etc.,” Sevillo says.

UP led open and distance education in the country with the establishment of UPOU in 1995. Over the last two decades, technological advancements have changed how information is shared and retrieved, and how teaching and learning are done.

And UP isn’t only keeping pace. With UPOU Networks, it’s making a distinct mark on Philippine education in the digital age.