No matter what industry you’re in, people are always going to be looking for the next big thing. Early adopters will readily move forward, while others will take a more cautious approach. When one of those things pops up in education, multiple stakeholders must be included in any decision to use the new thing. First and foremost, is this new thing going to be beneficial to your students? What is the effort, for both faculty and administration, required to implement the new thing?
One of today’s next big things are Open Educational Resources (OER). Depending on who you ask, some believe that OER are worthy of the hype and every school should be taking advantage of them, while others think that the benefits provided aren’t worth the work required to make them a part of curriculum. But before we lay out the pros and cons of OER, it will be helpful to explain exactly what makes an OER an OER.
OER are a low-cost way to supplement the coursework currently in place in classrooms around the country. And yet, they aren’t very well known. But not because they are ineffective; faculty simply aren’t aware of what they are. In fact, during a 2014 study that asked how aware teachers were of OER, 65.9 percent answered that they had no awareness at all.
Now, when it comes to OER, having awareness of what they are and actually making use of them are two different things. The problem isn’t necessarily that educators are missing out on a helpful resource; it’s that they don’t know how to properly identify an OER when they see one. So let’s start there. What are OER?
They are best defined as teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.2 That definition is rather broad, so let’s break it down some more.
OER expert Dr. David Wiley says that in order for something to be an OER, it must meet the criteria of his Five R’s:
- Retain: The right to make, own, and control copies of the content.
- Reuse: The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g. in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video, etc.).
- Revise: The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g. to translate the content into another language).
- Remix: The right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g. to incorporate the content into a mashup).
- Redistribute: The right to share copies of the original content, revisions, or remixes with others (e.g. to give a copy of the content to a friend).
We can further categorize OERs by splitting them into two separate groups: small and large. Small OER are educational materials created by individuals and made available using a suitable license. This can be anything from a YouTube video to a blog post. Large OER, meanwhile, are professionally developed educational resources available under the Five R’s framework. An example of a large OER would be OpenStax College, the online repository of open textbooks created by Rice University. Small OER can mostly commonly be found in K-12 classrooms, while large OER are more popular in Higher Education.
Hopefully by this point we’ve been able to give you a better understanding of what exactly an OER is. But being able to apply this new knowledge in some way will be significantly more helpful than simply knowing the definition. For the rest of this article, we’ll be diving into areas where OER can transform education the most.
Finances are extremely important no matter what kind of school you may be operating. OER can be a great resource regardless of what your situation is, but the fact that they are open and cheap (if not free) can be especially helpful for those schools on a tight budget.
Decreasing costs is never going to be worth it if you aren’t, at the very least, maintaining your current level of student success. Studies on the subject have shown, however, that switching to OER doesn’t just keep student success where it was, but it is improved with the change. A study performed by Mercy College showed that their math department saved $125,000 while increasing test scores by over 20 percent just by transitioning to OER. However, another study claims that a lack of a strong business model can be an impediment for some schools looking to use OER. Neither study is necessarily wrong, but both do show that a strong and well-executed plan is needed in order to make the implementation of OERs a success.
Availability of Resources
OER possibly enable educators and students to have access to new content regularly through a more convenient medium than annual purchases of new edition textbooks. However, some large OER are updated rather infrequently as each textbook in the database needs to be written (or updated), edited and peer-reviewed before it’s made available for public use. Then, considering they are found almost exclusively online, OER can be accessed anywhere a student or teacher can find an internet connection.
Faculty want flexibility and choice when it comes to the materials they use in the classroom. By utilizing OER, they could now teach from any number of course materials they wish since they would have access to thousands of resources, thereby satisfying their desire for both flexibility and choice.
Reduction in Dropout Rates
Having access to free, readily available online resources would greatly improve that problem and let all students start each semester with the same advantages.
The most obvious trend at the moment, considering how much time it’s spent in the news, are new government proposals that would overhaul parts of the U.S.’s educational system, including a new commitment to getting students free and easily-accessible materials like OER. Internationally, countries like Poland have already initiated a program for the use of free digital textbooks. This program has created a full set of OER designed for grades 4-6.
Now that we’ve covered what OER are and how they could change the educational landscape, it’s up to you to decide if and how you want to utilize them for your school. Choosing to make OER part of your curriculum will require you to do your homework, but the benefits for your school and (most importantly) your students can be extremely beneficial.