A revised and truly comprehensive guide to open educational resources (OER) was recently released by UNESCO and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) – it is something every faculty member and instructor should have readily available. The guide is full of suggested places to look for and find appropriate resources to support teaching and available resources to aid learning.
OER includes teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and in some instances, repurposing by others. OER ranges from handouts and PowerPoint presentations to full courses, videos, simulations and laboratories for science experiments, statistics and practical projects. iTunes University, Wikiversity, OERu and OER Commons, for example, offer resources to support courses and students. There are many other places to look to – all described in the UNESCO/COL guide.
But why would a faculty member want to explore and then use OER? Here are five compelling reasons:
Making courses more affordable to students
The costs of textbooks in Canada and the US has risen four times the rate of inflation over the last two decades. With a growing number of high quality texts now available as OER, students can access key learning resources for free.
Increasingly, these free to use texts come with teacher guides, additional assessment and learning materials, simulations and other activities. You can help your students by lowering the costs of their education.
Using effective and quality assured materials
Increasingly, OER materials are being reviewed for quality and evidence of their effective use is becoming more available. As an educator, knowing that an activity, or resource used by students has been tried and tested elsewhere is often a key factor in choosing that material.
Courses and materials from the Open University (UK) or Athabasca University (Canada), for example, meet these requirements and can be accessed as OER.
Speeding the design, development and deployment of new courses
Whether the new course is classroom-based, blended or fully online, OER can help faculty members and instructors design and develop new courses faster.
Integrating existing learning materials, experiments, and multimedia components into a course is now easy (especially if supported by college or university library teams acting as OER curators, instructor and technology designers and other support staff) and minimizes the amount of content creation required.
Providing supports for accelerated learners or learners struggling with a course
OER can be used to fast track a student through additional learning or help a student struggling with some key ideas, skills or competencies. Identifying appropriate OER to meet these needs is now easier than it has ever been before.
Providing new and fresh approaches to teaching, which can support innovation in pedagogy
Looking at how others teach a subject or how they approach a challenging concept for learners is always helpful and can stimulate new approaches. “I had not thought of teaching this in that way…” or “I have tried several approaches to this, but this is different…” are comments made in feedback by instructors looking at OER.
A recent survey of US college and university faculty members found that among faculty who offer an opinion, three-quarters rank OER quality as the same as or better than traditional resources. The key challenge is not quality but finding the right resources to use with the right “fit” for students and the program. Many faculty members and instructors are using students to help find appropriate and useful materials – asking their students to co-create and curate OER resource libraries for their courses, so they become part of the network of finders. Librarians are increasingly engaged in OER curation and review as well.
In the future, there will be more and more full courses available as OER that have been quality assured and are free for all to use. This is the intention of OERu and many other similar developments. Courses will also be available in a range of languages, as the European Union and others support the development of OER resources in less used languages.
As the number of OER grows and more investments are made in development, especially in emerging nations, more OER course components – science laboratories, project-based programs, statistics labs, simulations, games – will become available and these will aid learners who need additional assistance or want to fast track their learning. These developments will also accelerate rapid course development.
One possibility for the future, which many educational futurists are writing about, is the “unbundling” of education. Students take OER courses at their own pace, seeking coaching and mentoring support from educational institutions on a fee for service basis. When students are ready, they seek an assessment of their knowledge, skill and understanding (a competency-based assessment). They may obtain a credit to add to their portfolio and transfer into a program, which leads to a certificate, diploma or degree.
This is already happening with some MOOCs. Students take a free MOOC, but then seek a proctored challenge exam in an established educational institution other than that which offered the MOOC. This challenge exam can lead to transferable credit. A part of the imagined future is here now (described here), but on a small scale.
Open resources are also a growing feature of research. In late February 2015, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Reproach Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research announced a new policy mandating that publications resulting from funded research are to become openly available within one year. Similar policies are already in place in Britain. Ian Milligan makes effective arguments about the benefits of such a policy, while Andrew Smith has also written about the new policy. As open access grows, so too will the ability of faculty members and instructors to access recent research resources for their programs and courses – better connecting research and teaching and speeding the translation of research into action.
All of these developments reflect a bigger new reality – the speed at which knowledge is developing and presented is changing rapidly. Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”; he noticed that until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today things are not as simple as different types of knowledge have different rates of growth. For example, nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. But on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.
In such a world, we need access to knowledge and learning resources to be easy and efficient. While this may be disruptive for many, it is what learners will need to be effective and up to date. Embracing OER will better equip faculty members and instructors to respond to the advances in knowledge and improvements in learning in their own fields of study and teaching, and pass these on to their students.