Knowledge should be free—and that’s exactly what the Open Educational Resources (OER) community believes. Since the term “OER” was adopted in 2002, this community has dedicated itself to opening up free, high-quality educational resources to the general public for reuse and repurposing in learning, teaching, researching and more. Making resources like these free greatly expands the potential for anyone to learn without spending countless dollars on textbooks and other study tools.
But connecting these valuable resources to the masses—particularly college students—is a process not yet perfected. Current students have a hankering to use free materials, but learning to use OER can feel as confusing as doing laundry for the first time as a freshman, minus the desperate call home to Mom.
Many current students rely on the well-known online encyclopedia Wikipedia for studying and are unaware of the array of other open materials sitting in far-off corners of the Internet. Before students can successfully adopt these free tools into their study habits, there are three major challenges to OER that must be addressed.
Searching for OER
First, the process of searching for and identifying open educational resources is both difficult and confusing. Though great resources exist, finding them as a novice OER user practically requires a map and compass.
Search engines are not friendly to OER, so results yield a mix of average websites and open content. For students to truly embrace OER there needs to be a clear path to follow so they don’t need to sort through endless search results or online repositories to find the right content.
Identifying Trustworthy OER
Assuming students beat the odds and locate OER in their searches, the second challenge to overcome is identifying which sources to trust. There’s a certain quality-control issue that exists with fumbling blindly through search results looking for OER; though the content available includes many high-quality articles, studies, videos and more, there are also some resources that are not reliable.
If students are unfamiliar with using OER, they likely won’t know how to separate great from mediocre content. To use these resources in homework, papers or study guides, students should know if they are reputable enough for citation, how to cite them and how to paraphrase the material. If students struggle to figure this out, they’ll likely pass over what they’ve found or use it incorrectly.
To discourage this, an easy way to identify which sources are most reputable must exist. Without a little outside help pointing them in the right direction, students could waste valuable study time trying to determine if the sources they find are even worth reading.
Keeping Knowledge Relevant to the Course
When students do locate reliable open materials, they face the third and final challenge of OER: the sources they find might not be relevant to their course or knowledge level. If students rush to study for an exam or complete a homework assignment, some fall prey to a flat-tier consumption model in which they study an entire subject without drawing out key concepts or terms. This could happen, for example, if a student studied the entire Wikipedia entry on photosynthesis for a Biology 101 exam.
Without an obvious way for students to tell exactly what to read for their course, OER is not an intuitive study method. To truly bridge the gap between OER and students, the materials need to align with specific courses. This is where Boundless comes in.
Building the Bridge to OER
Boundless has pulled out its toolkit and built strong support systems for each of these three challenges to encourage students to make the jump to open educational resources. Our platform successfully closes the gap between students and OER by connecting them with free educational materials that directly complement what they’re learning in class.
Students shouldn’t worry about finding OER and scouring the content for the right terms and concepts. Boundless has done the searches and vetted the materials to ensure the OER provided on our platform are both trustworthy and relevant. With Boundless, students can spend more time concentrating on learning the material at hand and less worrying if it’s reputable and relevant.
Once students successfully transition to OER, the overall cost of their education will decrease significantly. Each year, the average college student spends more than $1,000 on textbooks, which is a figure that can be drastically cut by taking advantage of free open educational resources.
Students using Boundless save money and know that the materials they use are reliable and relevant to their courses. By connecting students with these free materials, Boundless is at the bridge ushering students toward OER—no toll required.
Photo by Andreas Levers