The OER Movement: Is it worth it?
Based on my previous blog post about OERs and the many useful resources Alec provided for us to explore, simply put, yes– the OER movement is valuable and certainly “worth it.” There are so many well-made resources out there that often go over-looked because Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) has the monopoly on this one. However, paying copious amounts of money for teaching resources isn’t necessary. There are many OERs available, but no one knows about them. I haven ‘t met a teacher yet that hasn’t heard of TPT. I’m excited about the concept of openly sharing knowledge, but somewhat hesitant because I don’t know where to start, what OERs are available, and which ones are easy to use with high quality resources. By having the opportunity to explore various OERs this week, I can deep dive into an area that has sparked curiosity since I have started my graduate studies. It is also pretty handy that this post can become a future reference tool as I slowly expand my horizons beyond the grasp of TPT.
Before I get too carried away and start assessing OERs, I must admit that I don’t really know what I’m looking for when it comes to the evaluation piece. I stumbled upon this checklist from OpenLearn to help guide my thinking in regard to what makes a “good” OER:
I was expecting a number of items on this list, such as: clearly licensed through Creative Commons, must be from a source you trust, and cannot contain copyrighted content. One aspect of this list that took me by surprise was the final bullet point. When using OERs, you can’t expect perfection or that it can be applied to all contexts. As a matter of fact, some OERs are intended to be remixed or adapted.
As I continued to establish some kind of criteria when assessing OERs I came across The 5Rs of Using OERS. Although this may not be a “checklist” of the qualities a good OER should have, it does outline the purposes of OERs and the different ways they can be used. Basically, whatever OER I am evaluating, it must connect with at least one of those 5 Rs in some way and meet some of the qualities outlined in the above list.
Sidebar: The link where the above graphic was found also included a great explanation in the form of a farming metaphor to explain what an OERs is and what can be done with them as well. Check it out for an interesting perspective!
How are OERs valuable? How could they be used?
I chose two OERs that piqued my interest to research more in-depth. Currently, my understanding is very surface-level and I am hoping to learn a little more about them. I’ve heard of these in some capacity before making this post, but haven’t really spent much time exploring them as a resource. Please keep in mind my assessment using my own “criteria” could be incorrect or have gaps… Feel free to comment if I have missed something, as I am still learning about OERs. Keep reading to see my thoughts and experiences!
Use: What drew me to this OER initially is that I’ve heard of Ted-Ed before just from watching the occasional YouTube video. However, I didn’t realize they had an entire OER for teachers to implement! In terms of its use, the website clearly outlines what can be done with Ted-Ed:
- “Discover ideas that spark the curiosity of learners.”
- “Create customized lessons for your students.”
- “Inspire your students to share their big ideas.”
- “Share YOUR big idea in a TED-style talk.”
I created an account to get a solid snapshot of this resource hub, which was straight forward and quick to do. I appreciated that it didn’t ask a plethora of questions or for a bunch of information, making the process comfortable to complete. After I created an educator account, I began perusing the website. My overall impression of the aesthetic of the site is that it is easy to find what you’re looking for and it is well laid out. I didn’t need to search through a variety of tabs or scroll through pages of resources. It is also helpful that there is a search bar to help you find content efficiently. From what I gather in the educator category, there are four pages to visit: Discover, Create, Manage, and Support. I spent the most time looking at the Discover and Create pages, as these were the most applicable to my context.
Discover: This is where you’ll find ready-made lessons on basically any topic… No prep needed! The general structure of these lessons are: Watch (a video), Think (basic comprehension, multiple choice questions/some short answer), Dig Deeper (offers additional resources to explore), and Discuss (offers various articles to keep the conversation going). I like this format, as the students’ thinking gradually becomes more critical. Most importantly, I like that the structure is present, but teachers can add their unique spin due to its flexibility. There are also video series about a variety of topics as well, which are all organized by theme. In addition to this section, there is another section called Earth School, which includes lessons about climate-change and how we can reduce our ecological footprint. Lastly, there is another section that includes a Ted-Ed blog that contains articles on a variety of topics. Overall, I was very impressed with the content coverage of the Discover tab.
Create: Essentially, teachers can create their own lesson that follows the structure outlined above. You can search for a YouTube video to add or create your own, then follow the template provided. In addition, teachers and students can register for the Ted-Ed Student/Educator Talks Program. This program teaches students and educators how to share/present their ideas in the form of a short Ted Talk. However, the program for students requires an application process. For educators, there is a Masterclass available to take and you can have one lesson for free.
I created my own lesson to gain an understanding of the process that follows the Ted-Ed format. My overall impression is that it was very easy and quick to put together! I kept my lesson brief, as I was experimenting with different features, but feel free to click on the link above to check it out! When I was creating my lesson, I was supplied with a simple template to fill in with my questions or additional discussion prompts. For my video, I chose one right off of Ted-Ed, making the creation process efficient as well. Students can create logins or they can complete the activity using a link provided by their teacher. Teachers can view and track student progress as well, making it slightly reminiscent of Kahoot! or Quizizz. I also thought it was a nice touch that teachers can add video time codes to the questions being asked for hints
Value: I was curious about how my students would respond to the pre-made lessons on Ted-Ed, so I decided to take one of the lessons for a test drive. We did the lesson titled, The Amazing Effects of Gratitude. Most of the kids had already heard of Ted Talks and were excited about using a “Ted” resource. We watched the video and did the multiple choice questions for our morning Bell Work. I had the kids respond to the questions on their whiteboards and we discussed each as a group. Next, they needed to write down (at least) three people or things they are grateful for and their “homework” was to express their gratitude. They were excited about their task and enjoyed the video, as it provoked a lot of discussion. On the teacher end, it was very low prep and provided a helpful template to follow without being too restrictive. This is definitely a resource I plan on bookmarking. Curtis commented on my tweet and mentioned that he had used Ted-Ed for math this week, highlighting that different teachers from different grades are able to implement this OER. I think it has relevant and valuable content that is easily accessible as well. I was blown away by the sheer volume of topics that Ted-Ed covers through their lessons!
Does it live up to the criteria examples I’ve noted above? From what I can tell, it is:
- Easy to find
- Clearly described
- From a source I trust
- Easy to modify (e.g.: creating your lessons)
- Imperfect (e.g.: serves my purpose, but I can also create my own content)
In terms of the 5Rs:
Overall, I really enjoyed using this OER! One thing I would change is having a paper version of the lessons or alternate forms of templates to follow when creating a lesson. Nonetheless, I found this resource valuable and applicable for a variety of contexts and uses.
Use: Prior to the last two weeks of class, I’ve never heard of OER Commons. However, it has come up in multiple blog posts this past week and it was one of many OERs that were recommended to me. To highlight its use, the website states, “OER Commons is a public digital library of open educational resources. Explore, create, and collaborate with educators around the world to improve curriculum.”
Again, I created an account for myself and began exploring this resource. On the first page, you can type in what you are looking for, subject, education level, and standard. I first noticed that this is an American made resource because I couldn’t seem to find any Canadian standards. On this page, you can also make your search more specific by using the advanced search option. For my first search, I tried finding some resources on the novel called, Fish In A Tree. I typed this in, but unfortunately my search didn’t yield any results. However, when picked a broader topic, such as, parts of speech I got significantly more resources. Something I noticed right away when looking at these resources is that it notes the Creative Commons license types with the resource, so there is no guess work in regard to its usage rights. The website is organized into four categories: Discover, Hubs, Groups, and Our Services. I mainly focused on Discover, Hubs, and Groups for the purpose of this blog post.
Discover: In this tab there is a Resources section and this is categorized into two parts: Subject Areas and Materials Types. In both of these sections, there are a variety of options to choose from. I clicked on Games in the Materials Types section and I came across this game called 70 Characters or Less. Essentially, this game aims to answer the question on whether 70 characters is enough to communicate a message clearly, which appears to be inspired by the character limit on Twitter. The instructions are outlined on the right side of the page. Essentially, students need to paraphrase a sentence stem or question into 70 characters or less and respond to each other, again, in 70 characters or less. Students then analyze if the conversation thread made sense and if this was an effective way to communicate as a post-lesson activity. The resource also offered a website called Who am I Online? that offered a variety of digital citizenship resources. This website was created by the creators of this game and the lesson explained above was part of a larger media unit. Although this lesson was developed for students in grade 9 or 10, I could use this idea and create my own similar game for younger students. It is important to note that unless I requested access to edit the Google Docs provided, I wouldn’t be able to change them.
There is also a Collections section under this tab which is essentially curated collections that have been thoughtfully organized into various categories. In these categories, it is helpful that you can search for specific topics, as some collections have hundreds of resources
Lastly, there is a section called Providers under this tab too. Essentially, it is list of organizations that have provided resources. This could also help narrow down your search if you are looking for something that you know was created by a specific group, rather than sifting through the many resources on OER Commons.
Hubs: OER Commons notes that the Hubs tab is, “…a custom resource center on where groups can create and share collections associated with a project or organization. Projects, institutions, states and initiatives make use of Hubs to bring groups of educators together to create, organize, and share collections that meet their common goals.” I appreciate that there is also a collaborative piece to this OER, as this contributes to building a community of creators that share and develop meaningful content. However, it appears that you need to join as a Hub member in order to do this, but it is not required to check out the resources.
I explored the CAST Hub, as I have some familiarity with CAST through my Major Project in EC&I 833. Each hub has sections that cater to specific topics that provide either lesson plans or information. There are also hubs for many other topics as well, however, they are somewhat broad categories and may take some sifting through to find what you’re looking for. In this particular hub, it navigated me to different parts of the CAST website and was more information-based than lesson plan-based. I wish I had known about the many layers to the CAST website, as this would have been helpful for my project last term!
Groups: OER Commons also provides groups for its users to join. I explored the OER Science STEM User Group. You can request to join the group, but even without the membership, I could still access their resources. However, I couldn’t view or participate in their discussions. I think the collaborative nature and connections that can be built through OER Commons is an exciting and unique quality of the resource!
Value: Overall, I think this a useful OER with tons of great resources. Based on the sheer amount of resources available for a variety of grades, subject areas, and contexts I can see other educators making use of this. Plus, I think it is unique because it allows educators to connect and collaborate together by forming groups, which truly lives up to the OER standard. Furthermore, it is extremely organized and there are a variety of ways to search for whatever you are looking for. Lastly, it correlates with the Creative Commons licensing, so it makes the user aware of exactly how the resource can be used. In my opinion, an area of improvement would be the finding of resources. For example, (not to mention TPT, but…) on TPT it is incredibly easy to find a unit/lesson plan for a specific book or topic, which is why it is usually my “go to.” I found on OER Commons, you need to go into it with an open mind and some time on your hands. I found a lesson plan (noted above) that I would like to use for a media literacy lesson, but it wasn’t what I was searching for necessarily. A potential reason for this issue could be that OER Commons is not as widely used as TPT, so there are fewer resources at this time. Also, I am not a seasoned OER Commons user. It might be easier to use and locate resources once I’ve gained some experience with how it works and use it primarily for broader searches, but as a new user it was a little overwhelming. Now, in terms of my criteria…
- Resources were highly organized
- Clearly licensed through Creative Commons
- Free of copyright
- Recommended to me by colleagues
- Imperfect– some resources had a concept, but I would need to modify it to fit my context
In terms of the 5Rs…
- Revisable (depending on licensing)
- Remixable (depending on licensing)
- Redistributable (depending on licensing)
Challenges of OERs & Areas for Growth
OERs present the opportunity for collaboration, resource sharing, and can offer new perspectives. I also think they make acquiring resources for teachers equitable because they are free. However, OERs will not have success if people do not contribute or improve resources that are already available.
According to an article by Tom Berger titled, “The Uncertain Future of OER”, OERs can often not be of high-quality or it is difficult to find the right resource that serves your purpose. From the two OERs I spent time exploring, I would say they do have high quality resources, but can pose difficulties when finding the right one. Furthermore, the article reinforces my opinion in regard to the contributions piece. Berger highlighted that not everyone is a content creator and in order for OERs to be successful there needs to be some kind of sharing economy in place. In addition, the article makes a mention of TPT and that people are more willing to generate content and share it for money, not just for the sake of sharing resources to hopefully gain something in return. Lastly, I would say the biggest challenge associated with OERs is that there is not much awareness about them, which can have an impact on the amount of resources available and the quality of them. Many teachers create fantastic lessons or units and don’t share them– not necessarily because they don’t want to, but the culture of sharing and exchanging ideas is not necessarily widespread, although I do believe it is gaining some traction! Chris spoke to this in his post last week. He mentioned that he created this fantastic unit for a career education course, but it just stayed static and was never put to use again because it was not shared with others.
If there is one positive that has come out of the pandemic, I think people have worked a lot harder to connect in virtual settings and exchange ideas. The pandemic also had people who aren’t necessarily the most “tech-savvy” learning new skills, such as shopping online or connecting with others virtually. The article I’ve referred to above is from 2018 and many significant changes have happened since then. I feel the future of OERs is not as bleak as it was three years ago. However, with that being said, I need to be less of a content user and more of a content creator/share-er. By creating more collaborative spaces online or in-person, we not only pave the way for other educators to hop on board, but ultimately our students reap the benefits!
Items to ponder…
- Did you take a look at Ted-Ed or OER Commons? Is there anything you would like to add or that you feel I may have missed?
- What are your thoughts on the challenges and areas of improvement associated with OERs?
- I spent most of my time with Ted-Ed and OER Commons… Are there any OERs you explored this week that I should explore further?
Until next time,