Open Education Resources (OERs): Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

Challenges, Potential Solutions and the Marketplace

Open Education Resources (OERs) increasingly capture the attention of districts looking to leverage their internal knowledge base and to save money. I’ve had the good fortune of being part of a number of conversations within Ohio concerning OERs. It’s worth spending some time discussing how OERs might work in a public school setting.

First, What Are Open Education Resources?

Open is the key word here. As in, resources are not restrictive. The internationalist in me likes the Cape Town Open Education Declaration:

“Open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.”

Licenses and copyrights run a range. Being good law abiding educators, we need to pay attention to those licenses and copyrights on materials we use to teach students. Open Education Resources make this possible. More importantly, OER allows us to build on what others have created.

But OER has Challenges

OERs are not a panacea to education. I’m particularly struck by the following challenges:

  1. Quality Control
  2. Searchability and Indexing
  3. Portability
  4. Funding

Before Pearson cribs those talking points and starts having lunch with legislators, I wanted to explore those issues in greater detail through a series of posts.

On the Issue of Quality Control

Why a textbook? Sure, it’s nice to have resources. But our rockstar teachers are constantly curating and creating resources to fit the academic needs of their students. They don’t necessarily need a publisher’s textbook. So why buy them? We buy them for quality control. For beginning teachers or teachers who struggle in the profession, textbooks provide a uniformed experience for students. These experiences might not be super rigorous or engaging, but at least the materials have been vetted by experts and are common.

Because OERs can and are created by anyone, they don’t necessarily have a quality control mechanism built in. That open textbook might have been written by a writebot gleaning information off a reddit page. I’ve seen a lot of shoddy OERs (usually with bad clip art and lots of Comic Sans, which is odd).

Comic Sans Image

Aesthetics matter. Comic Sans will always raise quality control flags.

Now ideally and fundamentally, a teacher provides the quality control for their resources. They’re the expert. Trust them. And I do. Most teachers I work with are incredible.

But teachers are also overworked. Sometimes they’re trying to get a quick worksheet fix before 5th period (I’ve been there). If there was a way to ensure quality in OERs, it would be a great help.

On the Issue of Search and Indexing
How do I find quality OERs? Google isn’t necessarily the answer. Where do I direct teachers to find open education resources?

On the Issue of Portability
The largest issue I face as a technology director is the silo effect of systems. School districts are complex organizations with many moving parts. The parts need to talk with each other. Frequently they don’t.

The last thing I want is OERs to add to this complexity. Districts use different Learning Management Systems, Student Information Systems, Devices, Operating Systems, and personnel with different skill sets. OERs need to be as agnostic and portable as possible to account for these different conditions. The question is how?

On the Issue of Funding
Writing and creating good open education resources are hard. It can be particularly challenging asking for the creative commitments without considering some level of compensation. Does “open” need to mean “free”?

In my next post I’ll cover possible solutions to these issues.