September 4, 2017
You might be familiar with the Open Source movement; you might even be using Open Office or Linux software. Open Educational Resources (OER’s) form part of this umbrella concept that resources especially in education should be shared. OER’s include any educational resources in the public domain that you can freely copy, use, adapt and re-share. This can be anything from full-length courses to single modules, textbooks video’s, simulations, games, online quizzes or other activities. It’s virtually any type material that can be used for educational purposes. OER’s are created by a variety of contributors, universities (MIT was one of the first universities to make almost all their courseware available on OpenCourseWare) government departments, commercial organisations, publishers, but most of them are created by teachers like me and you.
New teachers are often handed a textbook and a curriculum document, sent into the classroom and told to teach what is in the textbook.  While this saves prep time and provides structure, it’s fast-food curriculum design. It limits learning to only what the textbook writers deemed necessary. I am not implying those textbook writers are part of a big propaganda machine (although history has proven that it does sometimes happen) but the decision on what gets included and what not is more often than not based on none educational factors like the maximum number of pages.

The availability of OER’s allows teachers to curate their own set of resources for their subject and work with the most current information, includes different points of view. Many feel that without a textbook teaching might be directionless. However, teachers are hired for their teaching expertise.  As a teacher, it is not only your job to deliver content, but also to design a learning experience that provides learners with multiple lenses for evaluating and processing the content. Using different types of resources, also, allow you to accommodate different learning styles in your class. This simulation of blood typing, gives a different perspective than a textbook would, it also provide an opportunity for learners to consolidate the theory they learned. (For more simulations click here)
Integrating OER’s into your course require time and research. The internet is flooded with OER’s but quantity does not always mean quality. Like all educational resources, the quality is uneven and largely based on who created it. Most teachers have experienced the rabbit-hole that is the internet. You sit down behind your computer to quickly find an activity, 2 hours later you still have no activity but you have seen hundreds of other things that might be useful if you ever manage to find them again.

Where do you start using OER’s?

Do not fall into the trap of downloading every app or extension you come across. Start with one or two websites that have quality resources. This way you limit the amount of time you spend searching. Khan Academy is well known and a good place to start. It has good quality videos combined with activities and it is not only limited to maths anymore.

Another example of great open educational resources is the digital citizenship course by commonsense media. Even if you are not a life orientation teacher I would suggest you spend 30 minutes working through one or two of the Digital Bytes. Each activity consist of great resources, probing questions and interesting assignments. All of it packaged in lesson size bytes and most important all of it free.

But I decided to focus on using Desmos this year. It is an online graphing calculator but it also include a collection of curated activities that can be adapted to my needs. Being able to modify the activity is of particular importance since most OER’s are created to fit the curriculum in the USA. Even though it is a very simple calculator to use, learners need to get familiar with it. By using the same site every time I spent less time explaining they have to do.

If your subject does not lean itself to a single site for all the different topics, you might want to focus on one site that collects and curate resources. You can find some examples of OER sites here.

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