U-M receives grant to provide free and open, online electronic health professions educational materials

The University of Michigan has launched an ambitious pilot project to make comprehensive pre-clinical health curricula available worldwide via the Internet.

The project, made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, addresses the education of health care providers in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. It also enhances the access for health science schools around the world to materials that can be used to help educate health professionals.

The U-M Medical School is leading this project and working with U-M health science schools and partner institutions in Africa, the University of Cape Town and the University of Ghana. A key part of this effort will be converting existing educational materials into Open Educational Resources, which will be available online to anyone. The Medical School and the schools of Public Health and Dentistry will provide materials for the pilot. Other U-M health science schools and the School of Information also are supporting the OER program.

"This is an exciting opportunity for our University," says  James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., Dean, U-M Medical School. "The Health OER program provides the opportunity for the University of Michigan health science schools and the School of Information to collaborate in an innovative, comprehensive approach to work with others to improve education opportunities for health care providers globally. As we participate in this effort to help improve medical education in developing countries, we are transforming our health curriculum to provide students with richer learning experiences and strengthening their ability to practice in a global health context."

Cathy Casserly, Ph.D., director, Open Educational Resources, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says the Michigan project is a valuable experiment in learning how to make educational materials relevant to a specific target population. "Michigan's pilot project is smart in that it works back from the population they want to help, in this case, health care workers in the developing world to ensure the content is designed to meet demand. We're excited to see how it unfolds."

In addition to this grant from the Hewlett Foundation, the University of Michigan, the Open Society Institute, and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research are providing financial support for this pilot project.

"We believe this important grant will help us respond to an imperative global need to help train health care providers, particularly in Africa where they are desperately needed," says David Stern, M.D., Ph.D., director, UMHS Global REACH. "At U-M, we train health care providers, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, public health professionals, and public health workers. That's what we do best. With this grant, we will be using, adapting and co-creating educational materials with partner universities to collaboratively solve the human resource crisis in Africa."

Several top universities have undertaken OER projects, but usually at considerable expense. The U-M project is unique for its use of dScribe, a low-cost, scalable and sustainable method developed by the U-M School of Information to convert educational materials into OER. The dScribe method involves a close working relationship between students, faculty and staff to assess the quality of materials and clear the intellectual property in course materials. U-M is also developing software tools to aid the faculty in quickly choosing materials to be posted to the OER site.

Health OER will be developed for the pilot program with participation from many parts of the University of Michigan. A larger, future OER effort is expected to include educational materials beyond the health sciences as well.

"The Medical School has taken an important leadership role in launching the University of Michigan's initiative in OER," says John King, Vice Provost for Academic Information. "This grant award enables the Medical School to collaborate with a number of university programs, including those in Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing, Public Health, Kinesiology, Social Work, and Information. There is also an important role for the University Library. This is the university's first major step into OER, but it is only the beginning of much more exciting things to come."

More information can be found on the new Open Michigan Website.

Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning and research resources that are in the public domain or have been released under a Creative Commons intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing. They include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software and any other educational tools, materials or techniques. The Hewlett Foundation Open Educational Resources Initiative supports the development of OER to help equalize access to knowledge and educational opportunities across the world

Written by: Bruce Spiher

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