The eMOOCs2014 has been a trigger of insight on best practices to expand positive impact of MOOCs to underprivileged settings. One of the emerging practices that were discussed at the conference is partnerships between MOOC producers and stakeholders in developing settings’ education. Such partnerships have already started: EPFL that hosted the EMOOCs is already partnering with the International Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (Burkina Faso) and the Ecole National Supérieure Polytéchnique Yaounde (Cameroon) for experimenting MOOCs in these African institutions. Representatives from those African partners also attended the conference and one of them presented as a panellist.
EPFL also expressed the intention to expand its partnership in Africa. This intention emerged in the key note address from the EPFL President who very accurately articulated the enormous need for higher education on the continent. From the same conference, an EPFL official planned a visit to Tanzania and Rwanda to explore possibilities of expanding partnerships in those countries.
However, the expression of the intention of such partnerships did not pass without scepticism. One of the most frequent questions in MOOC, OER and Open education conferences and webinars re-emerged in the conference. “Can’t such partnerships mask a hidden agenda of extending Neo Colonialism or Cultural Imperialism?” A similar question had been asked in the Cape Town Global Congress on Intellectual Property, Innovation and the Public Interest on 12 December 2013, and similar concerns had been repeatedly expressed in almost all webinars on MOOCs and OER I attended. Tendency has, however, been avoiding this question. Its frequency probably hints that this is an issue that need an open discussion.
My initial thought on the concern is that it all depends on the degree of freedoms offered to the end users. On the one hand, if a MOOC producer releases the content and wants to impose the way the content should be used, then, the fear of Neo Colonialism or Cultural Imperialism would make sense, and such partnership proposal should probably be declined. On the other hand, however, when the end users have freedoms to transform the content, redistribute it using media that are appropriate to create value to learners in their respective settings, create from the content derivative work and share it, then, the concerns of Neo Colonialism or Cultural Imperialism would have no significant foundation. This would rather be a cross-cultural exchange of content, skills and expertise that fosters innovation by both MOOC producers and users, both in developed and developing settings. Most MOOCs in their original models and formats as offered on various platforms are not ready yet for having a widespread impact on many developing settings. More work from local experts is needed to adapt these courses to learners in those settings. Fortunately, this seems to be consent between most Western MOOC producers and stakeholders in developing countries who are interested in creating partnerships.
That said, however, some restrictions may be made on the content to avoid its abusive uses. For instance, any recipient’s attempt to prevent others from having access to the content should be prohibited. This would probably help in using the content to expand access to high quality education to more learners who would not otherwise be included in education system in their respective settings.