Open Educational Quality Initiative

The Open Educational Quality (OPAL) Initiative was a two-year project which ran 2010-2011 and focused on the provision of innovative Open Educational Practices and the promotion of quality, innovation and transparency in higher and adult education.

The OPAL Initiative was a partnership between seven organizations including ICDE, UNESCO and ICDE member institution, the Open University UK, and coordinated by the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. The project was part funded by the European Commission Education and Training Lifelong Learning Programme.

The OPAL Initiative moved beyond the issue of access to open educational resources (OER), and focused on innovation and quality through open educational practices (OEP). Existing approaches for fostering the use of OER have made achievements by focusing on building access to resources (MERLOT, MIT OpenCourseWare, Stanford iTunes, OpenLearn, Rice University, the UNESCO Open Training Platform, the UNESCO OER wiki) and licence models (Creative Commons). However, concerns over quality, the absence of trust on the part of learners and educators, and a lacking sense of ownership of the materials hinder wider acceptance of OER. OPAL seeks to build trust by establishing an environment for quality and Innovation through OEP.

OPAL worked to build a multi-stakeholder environment in order to root quality and innovation in a broad consensus, combine activities and provide an interface for international initiatives which promote OEP on a sustainable level. The project addressed both higher education and adult education, brought stakeholders from each sectors' governance community together, and promoted OEP in both sectors so that learners may benefit from continuity when moving between university and adult education.

ICDE was involved in two particular areas of the project; the establishment and awarding of the OPAL Award to recognize outstanding achievements in the field of OEP, and dissemination and exploitation of the results of the project through targeted conferences, papers and presentations, and workshops and seminars.

The nature of the funding of the project meant that the focus was on the European context, though the involvement of ICDE and UNESCO underlined the project’s strategy of connecting European organizations to international debate, and making the EU a lighthouse region for OEP. In this regard, ICDE committed to disseminate updates from, and findings of the project to its membership with a view to providing other regions of the world with input to their work on promoting innovative open educational practices.

ICDE's involvement in the OPAL Initiative was a key follow up action to recommendations made by the ICDE Task Force on Open Educational Resources. At the same time, the project was very much in line with ICDE’s stated objective to promote quality in distance, flexible and ICT-based education.