OER: One Size Does Not Fit All

Even though we are a #GoOpen launch district, my tech-savvy school board asked for a report that would explain open educational resources (OER). Since OER multiply faster than rabbits and have been known to disappear in a poof, this is an edited version that includes additional information that is relevant to our library world.

As far back as 2013, the Hewlett Foundation published a white paper titled Open Educational Resources: Breaking the Lock Box on Education.  The authors stated “…the idea behind Open Educational Resources (OER) is simple but powerful—educational materials made freely and legally available on the Internet for anyone to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute.” 

So we now know that they are free educational materials and may be shared and downloaded from the Internet. They may be simple and powerful but what are they? Just to add to the confusion, there is not a one-size-fits-all description. The closest we can get to a generally accepted definition comes from OER Commons:

Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials that are freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner. Examples of OER include: full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.

Open Educational Resources (OER) usually fall under Creative Commons licensing, which means the creators (individuals or organizations) do not wish to retain ownership. This makes them very, very attractive to all educational entities. Less textbooks = less costs to both the schools and universities and students. Since students and teachers can edit OER in some way and re-post it as a re-mixed work, it is perfect for project-based learning, collaboration, and research.

As OER Commons stated, Open Educational Resources come in all varieties, from full courses to gaming applications. Since they are ephemeral resources, it is important to adopt and curate wisely. School boards should be wary of adopting individual or small groups of OER that could quickly become out of date. So how do librarians, teachers, and districts curate and manage OER? Luckily there are educational platforms that have been set up to define your OER footprint and curate content. Listed below are a few of the better known platforms:

  • Amazon’s Inspire, MERLOT, ISKME OER Commons, Curriki, Gooru, CK-12, MVP Math, Kahn Academy, Engage NY (Common Core curricula), Smithsonian Learning Lab, and the grandfather of them all, OpenCourseware MIT.
  • In a more  specific visual way, Flickr and Vimeo …

Follett has done something interesting with their federated search engine, Destiny Discover. Since its inception OER has been included as a search feature along with site specific print materials, databases, and e-books.  In the next few months, the new Collections feature will be added to search and curate teacher and student created OER.

All major platforms provide various templates and links to create and launch an OER. However, at the site level managing OER is similar to managing a print or digital collection. You can purchase/create, but you still need to weed/curate. If there is not a district or site plan in place, these OER might take over the world of resources. All involved in OER creation and curation should remember the old adage quality over quantity.

In this uncertain world of education funding, OER offer a unique way to supplement curriculum and perhaps… just perhaps defray the cost of those very expensive print textbooks. The federal government’s Office of Educational Technology has provided information for the #GoOpen initiative including a very detailed District Launch Packet that can be downloaded from the US Department of Education. For those in California, last year Tom Torlakson announced the launch of #GoOpen Initiative and Collaboration in Common Professional Learning Community.


Author: Kate MacMillan

18 years as Coordinator of Library Services for Napa Valley USD and Napa Valley School Library Consortium; 2010-current CDE Recommended Literature Committee member; 8 years as an outside library consultant for Follett Library Resources; 6 years as a Napa County Library Commissioner; Current member of California Dept of Education’s Literature Committee; Napa TV Public Access board member; ALA, AASL, CLA (Californiia Library Association), CSLA (California School Library Association) and CUE (Computer Using Educators). Conference presentations include: United We Stand; School and Public Libraries Working Together (CLA 2016, CSLA 2017), It’s Not Your Mother’s Library 2012 and 2013 (CUE); Enhancing Online Resources through Library Partnerships (CUE 2010); Implementing School Library Consortium (CSLA 2008); Athletes as Readers and Leaders (2008 Association of American Publishers & CSLA Project). Contributor to School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come!

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

3 replies

  1. Informative article… OER offers library media specialists a great opportunity to take the lead!

  2. This is a wonderful article on curation of OER supplements!

    I would add that high-quality, openly-licensed core programs are incredibly available to districts. For example, Open Up Resources offers full-course OER curricula from expert authors like Illustrative Mathematics – a nonprofit led by standards author Bill McCallum – and EL Education, the renowned nonprofit that authored many of the EngageNY curricula.

    This editorial by 9 Digital Promise superintendents does a nice job of illustrating the landscape of OER options, from curation and creation to curriculum use:

  3. When well-designed full course Open Education Resources (OER) are used with a learning management system along with the professional development and training for this type of learning, students no longer necessarily need to be physically present in a classroom to gain the learning experience necessary to apply real-life skills. Also, approaches like Project-based learning can be leveraged allowing students to not only learn new facts, but to apply them as they will someday be required to do in their careers. In addition to gaining social learning experiences with their classmates, the digital learning experience opens the world to the student, allowing them to converse and learn from people around the world.

    Missing so far in the implementation of the free open education resource curricula and the realization of all the possible customization has been a way to take the money that’s currently being spent on textbooks and divert it to paying for teachers to acquire the training and skill to make all of the possible customization a reality. The Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources (SABIER) was created to supply that missing element. SABIER works with school districts to make the changes necessary so that all of the customization and personalization is realized. Districts are able to use existing money and available philanthropy dollars to pay for the initial teacher training that’s necessary to become proficient at using open education resources. It’s the next step in transforming how kids experience school, how teachers teach, and even how classrooms look.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.