Host a BYOOER Party! (15 Steps for an OER Launch)

Ross Perot had a pretty standard way of solving problems:

“Here’s how you solve the budget crisis. You put a bunch of economists in a room together and don’t let them out. Until. They solve. The problem.”

I’m not sure where Ross Perot is today, but he is a billionaire, and he did rescue his own corporate executives who had been taken hostage in 1970s Iran after the U.S. government offered no help.  So his “smart people + working together + until problem solved” template has some validity to it.

Could we use this approach in education? I’m not sure. Usually ten minutes into a faculty meeting, most of us are hoping for a Ross-Perot Style rescue.

But if the problem were big enough, and if we were all invested in a solution, then savvy school leadership could probably martial that herd of cats (read: teachers) into a room to solve a probably.

And we have a really big problem.

That problem is content. Content as in textbooks and resources. The new normal does not include having money to purchase textbooks. Seriously, the only science textbooks that we have in our schools that do not list Pluto as a planet are the ones printed before 1930.

So yeah, it’s a problem.

Some groups have figured this out, and they have working solutions that we can not only model, but also borrow from.

What we need is a BYOOER party!

That’s Bring Your Own Open Educational Resources party.  At this party, we are going to assemble our online digital resources for classes using the power of crowdsourcing, OER repositories, secret district digital treasures, and best-of-the-web content.

Digital OER content works best, naturally, when students have access to the internet. If you’re already a 1:1 school (one device per student) or if you’ve adopted a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, then using OER just makes good sense. If you’re headed toward 1:1, then this is a good time to start building your OER framework. If you have no plans of going 1:1, OER content can still find its way into your building and in the homes of your students.

Why should we use OER? Obviously, cost savings are important, but that’s certainly not the only reason. Here’s a short list

  • Students and teacher have easier access to content.
  • Students and teachers have access to current content that’s been peer-reviewed and continually updated.
  • Students can explore content of courses that they are not enrolled in.
  • Teachers can use content from a variety of sources.
  • Content is included from real-life area experts.
  • Districts can utilize local experts and build those relationships.
  • OER fosters a collaborative approach to teaching.
  • The district will have an Increased capacity to support remote learners.
  • Learning can be extended to 24/7.
  • Districts can demonstrate to its community that its teachers have the expertise to create and curate OER content.
  • The district will develop partnerships with OER providers.
  • The district will become an OER provider.
  • The district can join the crowd that’s working toward the greater good of all learners.

After all that, though, some people might concerned about the achievement rate of students who use OER vs. students who use traditional texts. A study by the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning shows that the achievement levels of students who use OER content and traditional content are the same. You’ll also notice in that study that the IRRODL found that OER material was significantly cheaper EVEN when schools actually print the OER content AND pay for teams to assemble the content. Printing OER content is somewhat . . . novel.  Usually it’s not printed because much of it is interactive and manipulative, but it can indeed be printed for the “pulp learners.”

Okay, let’s get this OER party started.

15 Steps for an OER Launch

1. Determine if you are going to do a pilot approach with just selected courses to begin with or go “all in” from the start.  An easy pilot could include algebra, geometry, biology, earth science, civics, U.S. history, introduction to literature, and American literature. Those subjects already have a plethora of OER content on the web.

2. Establish a Common Core / State Standards framework in advance. Before the first resource is saved, curated, or cataloged, establish the desired taxonomy for your instructional team to add content. Know where it goes before it goes there. Although, don’t make your taxonomy a byzantine filing system. Students and teachers will need to navigate this.

3. Decide where you’re going to store your OER content. If your district or school has an LMS, don’t store it there. Let me say that again . . . .

Don’t store your OER in an LMS.

This is your content. Treat it like its yours. LMSs do a lot of great things, but they don’t have to store your content. There’s no need to keep your OER content behind usernames and passwords. That defeats the purpose. Just embed or link the content in your LMS. When you change LMSs in five years, you won’t have to move your content. Use your LMS for assessments, tracking, and communications.

If you lack the software or server space or technology to host your content, use something like SoftChalk. This 2013 Codie Award winner is designed for OER content, and it allows you to embed your content into any LMS.

4. Develop an in-house marketing campaign to attract early adopters to your OER project. Recruit high fliers at each school. Let them be aware of your grand plans. Let them know that this will be their future “textbook.” Plan on a yearlong campaign to collect, review, and organize content.

5. Before you scour the web for the best OER content, explore your own school or district first. You have teachers who have been creating content for years and years. Target those digital data rich teachers who are also creating great content. They have created Word documents, PowerPoints, Youtube videos, quizzes, tests, homework assignments, and even advanced learning objects for their students (your students) to use. Take advantage of this powerful crowdsourcing opportunity in your own district.

6. Develop PD for those who want to contribute. They need to know how to source their materials if they create resources using web content and how to use the creative commons.

7. Create specific PD for creating Flipped Classroom videos. Find your high flyers again. Deck them out with screencast software so they can easily record lessons. You’re not going to load the videos on your servers. You’ll send those to YouTube, SchoolTube, and TeacherTube as always.  This will keep the load lighter on your servers.

8. Create a portal for teachers and educators to contribute OER content. Have a system that lets them to place resources in the appropriate place in your CCSS taxonomy. If you’re a Google Schools district, you can create shared folders where they upload content.

9. Be sure that teachers have incentive to contribute to this. Keep up your aware campaign and include rewards when possible. Maybe contributes get entered in a contest to win an iPad.

10. Create a separate portal for community contributions. You have a lot of experts in your community who have much to contribute. Tap into that local expertise and build relationships that have not been there before. Create a template for them to follow for contributions. Of course, this content can be reviewed by district team to layer in the appropriate pedagogy.

11. Kickstart your OER campaign by bringing in the earlier adopters who you’ve already identified. Pay for subs and have them come together to work for two days at the district level.  Give them full access to add OER content to your OER database and make edits as needed. This will be the first big push for them to contribute content, select OER content from the web, and review contributions that others have already made. Create a system where they can meet virtually as needed.

12. Keep teachers tied to the content.  They have the best knowledge of what today’s right  here right now right in front of me students need and find engaging.  Hire designers to keep the site clean, working, and user friendly.  Instructional designers can set up the framework based on your state’s Common Core standards.

13. Make this a PD focus for the next several years (sorry “Who Moved My Cheese” workshops).  Let other teachers see the framework as it’s being built. Involved them in the process even if they aren’t contributors to the content. They can help identify gaps, find mistakes, make edits, determine ways to differentiate, and check for pedagogy.

14. Make this a recurring item on school improvement plans. Keep school leadership involved in the development.

15. Make plans to have ongoing improvement once the project is complete. Include a mix of veteran and new teachers.


Does this sound over ambitious? It shouldn’t. Because it’s not. A 20-person team in Helsinki, Finland, created an OER secondary mathematics textbook in 30 hours in an event called Oppikirjamaraton, or “Textbook Hackathon.” Things like that create professional excitement that we don’t see enough of in our field.

The Finnish team told this to Elliot Harmon at CreativeCommons:

There were over 20 people who partook in writing that weekend. We had regular upper secondary teachers, university students (mathematics and computer science), a teacher of automotive electronics, my own private students, and even a couple of university professors working both locally and remotely. We had our own inner circle of enthusiastic grammar nazis, too, to help us actually write grammatically and typographically better materials than you see in some books by big publishers. The diversity of people involved turned out to be a great resource for producing a variety of problems and perspectives.


One year from now, you will wish that you started today!

GettingSmart has two great articles on finding OER content.  Check these out:

14 Open Resources for High School

30 Ways to Learn Almost Anything

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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