On Display: Open Online Courses & Open Educational Resources for Africa

Two recent developments in the area of distance education and open access might have benefits for students in Africa: massive open online courses (MOOC) aim at large-scale participation and open access. Participants do not need to be a registered student and are not required to pay a fee. Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible and openly licensed media that are useful for teaching and learning. They are resources meant to be used for education and include, for example, full courses, course materials, learning objects, videos or tests.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

  • CollageMOOCsHarvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new online-learning experience with online courses at EdX. EdX’s goals combine the desire to reach out to students of all ages, means, and nations, and to deliver these teachings from a faculty who reflect the diversity of its audience. EdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is governed by MIT and Harvard. If offers HarvardX, MITx and BerkeleyX classes online for free. In 2013, EdX will offer also WellesleyX and GeorgetownX classes and courses by the University of Texas System.
    The MIT course 14.73x “The Challenges of Global Poverty” is intended to be an introduction to the issues of global poverty, as conceptualized by leading economists and political scientists.
  • 33 US universities – like Columbia, Duke, Emory, Princeton – have partnered with Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company, offering courses online for anyone to take, for free: “Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” (Vision of Coursera). Of interest are courses in statistics, data analysis but also the humanities, e.g.:
    Listening to World Music“, by Carol Muller, a South African born Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. This course is about the ideas and vocabulary for listening to world music, and examines the music of several world music cultures and how they have entered into mainstream popular culture.
    The Modern World: Global History since 1760“, by Philip Zelikow, the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, gives a survey of modern history from a global perspective.
  • UDACITY offers courses especially in the computer sciences, mathematics and physics.
  • Stanford University offers “Class2Go” and “Venture Lab“.
  • Compare the timeline offered by the Chronicle of Higher Education under the headline “What You Need to Know About MOOCs“.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

  • OERcollageOER Africa provides a starting point for finding OER. The project focusses on the supporting and developing of OER in agriculture, health education, foundation courses and teacher education. In the section “OER in Action” they  showcase some African OER initiatives, like the IADP-SADC Digital Resources Project, that looks to extend the International Association for Digital Publications (IADP) Affordable Access project running in South African higher education institutions into universities in Malawi and Botswana.
    OER initiatives in Africa” is a similar overview hinting to e.g.
    The UCT OpenContent directory, a web portal for accessing open teaching and learning content from University of Cape Town and
    Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), bringing together teachers and teacher educators from across sub-Saharan Africa and offering a range of OER materials in four languages to support school based teacher education and training.
  • In 2011 the African Virtual University (AVU) launched the portal OER@AVU – Open Educational Resources” hosting e.g. 219 text books available in English, French, and Portuguese, 91 videos, and other resources e.g. on ICT and Intellectual Property Rights.
  • The “Open Textbooks: List” by Student PIRGs offers a good overview about some examples of Open Textbooks, e.g. by the publisher Flat World Knowledge. For a broader approach see the Wikipedia Category:Open content.

Finally, compare the eLearning Africa conferences and the article by Claire Adamson on “Finding the Sweet Spot: Open Educational Resources in the developing world” (January 22nd, 2013, eLearning Africa News Portal) for a more critical acclaim of the debates.

Thanks to hints by Nadia Cohen and to the project “Bildung weltweit” with a web-dossier on “Open Educational Resources“!

New in ilissAfrica: AJOL, African institutional repositories and French databases via Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE)

ilissAfrica strengthened its service of full text e-documents through the integration of Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE). Via this powerful OAI-PMH service provider some of the most important African and French repositories and article databases are now part of the combined search in ilissAfrica.

Highlights of the Africa section of BASE:

  1. African Journals Online (AJOL) to promote access to African research. It is the largest and pre-eminent collection of peer-reviewed, African-published scholarly journals, some Open Access.
  2. 30 institutional repositories from African universities, like WIReDSpace, UWC Research Repository, UNISA Institutional Repository, UPSpace, UJ DigiSpace, SUNScholar Research Repository, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar: Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire Culturels Africains (Senegal), Covenant University Repository (Ota, Nigeria) or Addis Ababa University Electronic Thesis and Dissertations
  3. Major French resources like
    • Gallica – bibliothèque numérique de la Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) – with access e.g. to the accounts, photographs, maps etc. of explorers of Africa
    • Cairn – more than 150 journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences, e.g. Afrique contemporaine, Cahiers d’études africaines, Outre-Terre
    • Revues.org – Revues.org is the oldest collection of France’s open access online journals for social sciences (over 60).
    • Persée: Portail de revues scientifiques en sciences humaines et sociales. Free access to bibliographical data and to some extent to full text articles from scientific journals in the social and human sciences in France
    • HAL – Hyper Article en Ligne and Ressources documentaires. multi-disciplinary open access archive for the deposit and dissemination of scientific research papers, whether they are published or not, and for PhD dissertation
    • Inst. de recherche pour le développement (IRD). – Publications of the scientists of the IRD (former Orstom).
  4. More institutional repositories and digitization databases of LSE, SOAS, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan, Indiana, Harvard and Brigham Young universities
  5. Finally the RePEc:Research Papers in Economics and the Directory of Open Access Journals:Articles bring in many more results from very diverse journals also on Africa


Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) is one of the world’s most voluminous search engines especially for academic open access web resources. BASE is operated by Bielefeld University Library. As the open access movement grows and prospers, more and more repository servers come into being which use the “Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting” (OAI-PMH) for providing their contents. BASE collects, normalizes, and indexes these data. One can access the full texts of about 75% of the indexed documents. The Index is continuously enhanced by integrating further OAI sources as well as local sources. BASE is a registered OAI service provider and contributed to the European project “Digital Repository Infrastructure Vision for European Research” (DRIVER).

Some remarks on selection and usage:

  • The selection was done by choosing specific data provider. There is no further sub-selection like a subject specification on African Studies. So on the one hand one might find results on the natural sciences which you would not expect in ilissAfrica. On the other hand you will find many documents on Africa e.g. in journals which would not be indexed in libraries specializing on African Studies normally.
  • While many repositories deliver keywords and abstracts, only some do support the keyword search.
  • The advanced search for the date range does not work with BASE
  • OR and NOT in the advanced search do work with BASE.
  • Some provider like Persee and Revues.org do not deliver the source information (name of the journal, volume etc.).

Search examples

  • Dogon
  • Khoisan
  • Youth in Sierra Leone – only full text, all document types
  • Mission Congo – AJOl articles, UNISA thesis, Persee, CAIRN articles, HAL documents, digital missionary accounts, pictures and maps e.g. via Gallica
  • Material on the “Kingdom of Kongo” – if one includes the French search term (royaume congo) the results of a title search  lead to journal articles and books in the different library catalogues and databases and via BASE there are found an ORSTOM (IRD) paper, some articles in Persee and some maps digitized by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. See further Gallica-Maps of the Kingdom of Kongo.
  • dakar photo*
  • South African postcards, e.g. historic postcards digitized by the University of Pretoria
  • online chapters of one book available in the libraries
  • Bambara (not groundnut)


The integration of BASE into ilissAfrica’s cross search is a big step forward: one search index provides access to a multitude of institutional repositories and Open Access databases. BASE is a brilliant example of the potential of the linked web via standardized interfaces. And it helps to increase the visibility of academic knowledge produced and stored in the South.


List of the OAI-repositories included:

Read more of this post

DSpace Open Access repository development in Africa / Open Access Week 2011

During the Open Access Week, Oct. 24-30, 2011, a five-part series that looked at Open Access repository development in twelve African countries:

The series is co-authored by Iryna Kuchma, Open Access Programme manager, EIFL and EIFL-OA country coordinators. In 2004 there were 9 DSpace instances in Africa,  in 2011 already 46.

Some results in short:

See also Kenya Open Data (http://opendata.go.ke/) for greater government transparency, however, still not open access in Kenya:

Institutions that have implemented IRs but are still on Local Area Network are as follows: University of Nairobi (108 items); Kenyatta University (Past Papers); College of Insurance, KMFRI (Advanced stage – 400 items), Kabarak (Advanced stage – 3000 items), Agha Khan University (80 Items), Marist International (55 items), Moi University (Advanced stage), KCA (103 items), ICIPE (21 Items), Inoorero, KEMRI and KEMU.

Thanks to all authors and to EIFL for their updates!

Open Access Guides for Africa

See two recent Open Access Guides especially for Africa:

  • Special Africa” on the website “Open Access to scientifique communication”. Hans DILLAERTS and Hélène BOSC want to present, select and organize current information about Open Access.  (In French)
  • Open Access Guide for researchers based in Africa: Cheap or free Access to Databases and E-Journals” – a list provided by the internet library sub-saharan Africa (ilissAfrica) (In French)

And two recent examples for “best practice”:

  • Journal of African Economies – OUP offers academic, research and educational institutions within developing countries free (or greatly reduced) online access to JAE (further details)
  • HSRC Press is South Africa’s open access publisher committed to the dissemination of high quality social science research based publications, in print and electronic form. The Press publishes the research output of the Human Science Research Council and externally authored works.