3 Steps for Educators to Take Advantage of OERs

Bill Taylor
Open Educational Resources (OERs) have been recognized as one option for solving the challenges of today’s educators. In many schools, teachers struggle to work around funding issues, low student engagement, and providing individualized learning pathways without the proper tools. OERs offer solutions to these problems by providing teachers the opportunity to reach beyond what’s provided within their classrooms.
With the number of open-source textbooks growing, through the efforts of Connexions, ck-12, and others, schools now can build their classrooms around numerous digital textbooks designed to be used as needed. Additionally, these online alternatives can be aligned to state standards in order to ensure quality information is being presented to students. The results of these actions are staggering. According to a 2013 study conducted by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative solved the nearly $19 million gap in the budget. In 2015, Columbia Gorge Community College reports saving students over $35,000 in textbook costs in just two years after implementing an OER program. With budget cuts and funding issues always threatening educators’ classrooms.
Educators using OERs also report increased levels of student engagement and retention. Nearly 70% of educators in an OER Research Survey reported an increase in learner engagement, interest, and satisfaction. Tidewater Community College in Virginia saw higher retention rates and lower student withdrawals after utilizing OERs. The diversity of OERs, coupled with the accessibility of these resources, leads to students accessing classroom information in new ways and forms.
In addition to listed perks, OERs create new opportunities for personalized learning pathways. With formats including videos, images, and interactive elements, teachers are now able to incorporate high-quality resources into traditional teaching strategies. This culmination of diverse media elements serves to accommodate individual learner’s needs, provide remediation as necessary, and also connect students with more challenging information when applicable. Platforms, such as Khan Academy, now create a personalized experience for students based upon their performance, tracking student data and offering additional open resources in order to support students. With more options for differentiated instructions, educators can quickly adapt materials in order to reach students based upon academic performance, learning styles, and disabilities.
Shockingly however, according to the Hewlett Foundation in 2013, only 40% of of K-12 educators in the United States are using OERs as supplemental materials. With the advantages of OERs being so clear, why aren’t more educators utilizing them? Solving the mystery of OERs requires work in three categories: identifying high-quality, vetted OERs; implementing OERs in the classroom; and collecting informative and actionable student data.
Here are three steps educators can take to take advantage of OERs.

Identify engaging, relevant, and appropriate OERs

With unlimited resources constantly within reach, the challenge is finding ways to find the right OERs. In addition to using well-known sources, such as  Wikimedia Commons, thousands of reputable OER repositories exist. The Learning Registry, which was created by the U.S. Department of Education, provides educators with one to search over 380,000 resources. Additionally, OpenEd, ck-12, and Connexions all work to provide open textbooks and resources for educators to use as standalone or supplemental material.
When searching for OERs, educators need to ensure they selecting appropriate resources that are closely tied to their objectives, accessible for all students, and available for use. With Creative Commons licensing, copyright navigation is more transparent than ever before, protecting educators from illegal use of resources.

Deliver OERs to meet your instructional model’s needs 

OERs can be implemented in any type of instructional model — flipped classrooms, traditional classrooms, blended programs and online coursework. The implementation will differ based upon the model in order to ensure the effectiveness of the OER implementation. Depending upon the lesson and the OER, the resource may work best as remediation material, as a prerequisite to instructional time, as independent work, or even as a standalone lesson. Educators can make these decisions based upon their understanding of their students, but they also face the challenge of finding a way to delivery the material.
Delivery platforms go beyond acting as a resource repository, serving as a space where the teacher can get the OERs in front of their students. Gooru, Zaption, and Fishtree offer educators a space to curate OERs, modify content when allowed, and build lessons around the resources.

Collect data, reflect, and implement change 

In addition to implementing OERs, educators need to be cognizant of the information they can learn from using OERs in their classrooms. Data analytics can provide valuable insights into student performance and engagement, and as a result, educators can make reactionary changes in their classrooms.  Educators need to create plans to decide how to collect data and what data they actually want to collect. Additionally, this data should highlight the clear actions educators need to take in order to adjust their teaching strategies, implementation techniques, and plans for students.
With the challenges of today’s educators remaining a permanent obstacle for the foreseeable future, OERs shine as solutions for navigating budget issues, increasing student engagement, and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students.
Learn more about OERs:

Bill Taylor is the CEO of Spider Learning, Inc. Follow Spider Learning, Inc. on Twitter, @SpiderLearning.

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