Lesson 4.2 How to adapt OER to local contexts: cases of diversity in rework, reuse and remix

Consider the following example:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) releases as open content an introductory course in agricultural engineering. A professor from the South-Mediterranean  studies the educational material and thinks that it would be very interesting to use a part of it with his students. However, he encounters some barriers to use the open contents in his teaching:

This is an example in which a teacher faces some obstacles to the reuse of open content. To face it effectively, he will need to implement some strategies for adapting the open content. That is, he will have to localise OER. In this case, he will have to translate the content and introduce examples related to the local economy, as well as incorporate it officially into the curriculum and syllabus of his course at the university.

In this lesson, we first present the barriers to reuse of open contents. Second, some of the strategies for local and cultural adaptation of OER are examined.


Inhibiting factors to reusing open contents

Hatakka (2009) has reviewed some of the most common obstacles in the reuse of open content in developing countries. We have summarised it in the Table ‘11 factors that inhibit the reuse of open contents’. Along with the original list of 11 factors, we have provided a brief description of each barrier.

11 factors that inhibit the reuse of open contents

Inhibiting factors Example
Educational rules and restrictions Depending on each institutional context, the Ministry of Education or the university itself can decide which types of educational materials are used in class, or what language can be used in the teaching practice. The rules set limit the type of contents that can be included in the curriculum or syllabus.
Language Much of the open content is only in English. The need to translate – or even the peculiarities of the language used or its cultural references – may become an obstacle to its use.
Relevance Sometimes the content is not appropriate because it is not adapted to the goals of the course, or is too complex for students. For reuse, it is important that contents relate to the context of the students, so that it is meaningful for them. It is also easier to reuse when the course is composed of small modules, so you can extract some of the original content (but not the rest).
Access Although the materials are freely available on the internet, their use depends of finding them. In turn, this may depend on the users’ search skills, the amount of materials and the accessibility of repositories. Therefore, the challenge is not only to have open content available but also to find materials that are appropriate for the courses taught by the teacher.
Technical resources Infrastructure limitations such as lack of computers or internet access are impediments for use.
Quality The more (or less) trust the potential users can have in the contents can determine their use.
Intellectual property Clarity regarding copyright and the type of uses that each content allows, are relevant to reuse by third parties.
Awareness Knowledge of the existence of the resource is a step prior to its use.
Computer literacy IT literacy influences the teacher’s ability to incorporate OER into their teaching.
Teaching capacity Some teachers think that content development is one of their competencies and that the re-use of pre-existing content makes them lose autonomy or creativity.
Teaching practices and traditions Sometimes teaching is organised around a textbook, which reduces opportunities to incorporate alternative content.



Strategies for local and cultural adaptation of OER

Reuse of open content is not easy or immediate. It requires a significant investment of time and effort. To be effective it has to be made relevant in the local context. Following the 11 previous factors, next we propose some of the strategies that facilitate the local and cultural adaptation of open contents. They are summarised in Box 5.1.


We have reorganised the list of inhibitory factors into 7 categories which, in turn, correspond to two types of conditions for the effective location of OER:


Picture by Nick Youngson (CC by-sa 3.0)


Cultural relevance of open content

Consider the following example:

A teacher from Spain participates in a development cooperation programme, training Peruvian teachers. The training is developed in Spanish and the teacher does not perceive a great cultural distance, being two countries with a part of shared history. However, in the development of the course he appreciates some differences of interest:

This is a case of teacher-student interaction that seems conditioned by some elements of cultural distance. Traditionally, it is a very common situation in academic exchange programmes or in development cooperation projects. It can also arise in internet-mediated communication, often involving international or intercultural interactions.

To examine international contact situations, one of the most widely used models consists of the application of the five dimensions of cultural variability (Hofstede, 1980). In the following table, we have compiled the original definitions by Geert Hofstede.

The model has been widely used in cross-cultural comparisons. Interestingly, the author of the model indicates: ‘Culture only exists by comparison. The country scores on the dimensions are relative, as we are all human and simultaneously we are all unique. In other words, culture can be only used meaningfully by comparison. These relative scores have been proven to be quite stable over time. The forces that cause cultures to shift tend to be global or continent-wide. This means that they affect many countries at the same time, so if their cultures shift, they shift together and their relative positions remain the same.’


5 dimensions of cultural variability

Dimension Definition
Power distance This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.
Individualism-collectivism The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we.’
Femininity-Masculinity The masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as ‘tough versus tender’ cultures.
Uncertainty Avoidance The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles.
Long-term versus short-term orientation Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritise these two existential goals differently. Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honoured traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hofstede%27s_cultural_dimensions_theory


Picture by Marc Wathieu (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


In situations of intercultural contact, these dimensions may affect the teacher-student or the student-student interaction. For example, distance to authority influences the role assigned to the teacher, and the degree of individualism affects the type of interactions that occur within groups of students.

Research has shown that in developed countries it is comparatively more frequent to find individualistic values and a more egalitarian relationship style. In traditional cultures of developing countries, collectivist values and a perception of greater distance from authority figures are comparatively more common. In the case of intercultural contact, frictions occur which need to be handled properly. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the elements of cultural distance and to face them effectively.