A significant part of Sun Associates’ work with school district clients involves helping district leadership to identify changes in the educational environment that promise to alter core operational systems such as budgets, technology infrastructure, and of course student learning outcomes. One of most exciting changes that many of our clients are currently grappling with is the advent of Open educational resources (OER) which promise to disrupt the use and integration of traditional educational resources such as print-based texts.
OER are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes. Examples of OER run the gamut from full course textbooks that are available at no charge or for very low costs to homework assignments, activities and assessments. These resources can be found in digital media collections all over the world
At the community college level, a national grant, funded in part by the Gates foundation has involved 38 community colleges in 13 states. Locally, Northern Essex Community College heads the newly formed Massachusetts Community Colleges Open Education Council, which provides stipends to faculty who wish to create or utilize OER in their classrooms. The council’s website states: “OER offers many benefits for faculty and students. The most obvious benefit is that there is no cost to students to use these materials. Students have access to all course materials on the first day of class and retain access once the course ends. Faculty are able to choose materials specific to their courses and tailor material to their particular students. While cost is a significant fact to consider, the quality of materials and student/faculty satisfaction with materials is also an important component of using OER.” The council expects that students in MA community Colleges will save $1,000,000 or more in the first academic year (2017-2018) with savings continuing to grow each year.
At the K-12 level, OER has begun to gain traction – there is no doubt that schools would rather provide current academic materials at low or no cost to the district rather than paying huge amounts of money for textbooks that quickly are outdated and need to be replaced on a regular basis. OER Commons provides no-cost materials for all levels of education from preschool to college graduate programs, and even have adult education and technical/career resources. The OER Commons website allows one to search for specific subject materials at all levels and even provides Lesson Builder for K-12 lesson creation. Many states have initiated OER projects, in Massachusetts, the Department of Education, through their Department of Digital Learning website, lists K-12 courses and activities that are free to Massachusetts schools and districts. In addition, their website also identifies other OER resources from across the nation.
The movement towards OER represents a powerful change in the way current, pedagogically sound content can be accessed by students and teachers. It is truly a win-win situation when the best content available can be obtained at low or no cost to schools. Nevertheless, the use of OER raises a variety of other issues related to teacher time, standardization, technology access, and of course student – as well as teacher – media literacy skills necessary for making wise and informed choices related to the wide range of OER materials available. The movement toward the use of OER therefore benefits from a well-thought-out plan for addressing not just what OER resources might be used, but also the best way to comprehensively integrate these into the teaching and learning environment.