An Open Covid Pledge for Education

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As we begin to imagine - and to shape - the ‘new normal’ in education, we need every opportunity to learn from each other.

Today the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is proud to support the launch of the Open Covid Pledge for Education, covering all forms of research, data and know-how that can support the COVID-19 response in education around the world. The creation of the Open Covid Pledge has been co-ordinated by Helen Beetham, Researcher and Consultant, and ALT Member.

Since the start of the pandemic, researchers in medicine and healthcare have openly released their findings to build a shared knowledge base and save lives. Thousands have signed up to the Open Covid Pledge, hosted by Creative Commons: millions of valuable patents and data sets have been put into the public domain. An equivalent pledge for research and know-how in education could have a similar impact - and researchers in digital, open and online education could lead the way.

During lockdown, Open Education Resources (OER) have been critical for keeping students in touch with their learning. There are already several global initiatives to boost OER access and development, like the Open Door initiative hosted by the Commonwealth of Learning, and the OER Dynamic Coalition, launched by UNESCO in March.

But we need more than shared content: we also need credible evidence on which to base day-to-day decisions in practice and policy. We need urgent research into the experiences of teachers and learners. We need shared know-how, especially from experienced online and distance educators and learning technology specialists. (This summer has seen a generous flowering of blog posts, webinars, infographics and how-to courses – but more will be needed as the ‘new normal’ takes root.)

Education globally faces many challenges, not only for the people who work and learn in the sector but for whole organisations and modes of learning. Societies depend on education to improve lives, widen economic participation, and support civic life. Education will be critical to the long-term response to the pandemic crisis.

A recent UNESCO report, Education in a post-Covid world, compared public education explicitly with public health in this respect: “the focus must be on cooperation not competition. We are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes”.

The Open Covid Pledge for Education commits people and organisations to sharing what they know, to support the world-wide educational response. Not all research will be shareable as open data. But whether fully open, redacted, anonymised, synthesised or combined with other data sets, data should be shared whenever possible. Not all evidence will look like formal research. But outcomes should be available to everyone who can use them – educators and students around the world, trade unions and stakeholder bodies, funders and policy makers. This is true of organisational research and evidence from practice as well as research that is funded and published more formally.

The Pledge has been signed by representatives of many global open education initiatives. Thanks to them, much of the hard work of building open principles and processes has been done, and the Open Covid response in education is in good health.

But the hard work of understanding education in a time of pandemic is still ahead. Right now we have a chance to make ‘open’ the default for that work – to make this moment an ‘open’ pivot rather than just an ‘online’ one. Please sign the Pledge here, and persuade other people in your organisation to do the same.