How EdTech Solves the Challenges to OER

How EdTech Solves the Challenges to OER

Giving students and educators the opportunity to use Open Educational Resources (OER) in easy and reliable ways for studies and instruction can change the course of education. Recently, I blogged about the three major challenges standing in the way of students adopting OER. Luckily, a number of edtech initiatives from companies, schools and other organizations have taken steps to solve these problems.

Some have made the process of identifying OER in search results easier. Others have developed strong brand voices that make their open content immediately trustworthy. A smaller few have succeeded in connecting students and educators to OER directly relevant to their course or knowledge levels.

For each of the three key problems with OER—searching for content, learning what’s trustworthy and focusing on relevant content—each initiative has carved out a niche to help students and professors together overcome a specific challenge.

Finding OER with Ease

OER and search engines are not friends. Finding open resources through traditional search mechanisms likely doesn’t yield many reliable results. Without a good way to get OER to interested users, the content would sit wasted in obscure corners of the Internet.

In the edtech industry, several initiatives remove the hassle of sorting through endless search results to find OER.

  1. Creative Commons, which facilitates the sharing and use of knowledge in free and legal ways, hosts a search engine for OER.
  2. Online repositories, like OER Commons, make it easier to find and use open educational resources. OER Commons has alliances with more than 120 major content partners so learners and educators can use thousands of materials under a Creative Commons license.
  3. The Learning Registry is an open-source system filled with digital content for educators and learners to use and share. The Registry points users to searchable information directories from organizations like the National Archives, PBS and many more.
  4. A similar initiative from the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative makes it easier to find educational resources on major search engines. The project will tag digital educational content with metadata so search engines know where to look.
  5. Students looking for a familiar search environment can turn to iTunes U, a section of the traditional iTunes store that delivers lectures to interested learners. The iTunes U store includes free lectures, language lessons, campus tours and lab demonstrations from hundreds of colleges around the world.

Building Trust in a Brand

Even if the problem of search is tackled, not all resources will be immediately trustworthy. Often, users can spend more time searching for and deciding which sources to trust than actually learning the material.

It takes time to build trust in a brand, especially for OER products offering free resources. That’s why top-tier universities are finding success in connecting learners and educators through their OER platforms.

  1. EdX, the joint initiative between MIT and Harvard offers classes from both institutions online for free to improve education for audiences around the world. Given the global reputations of both these schools as prestigious academic institutions, users can easily transition to trusting this OER.
  2. MIT OpenCourseWare collects the course materials from almost all undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT and makes them available to the public.
  3. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative has online courses for anyone who wants to learn or teach. Students receive immediate feedback to assess their learning and study habits and can track their progress and test scores through the platform.

Schools like these, and many more not featured, have strong reputations and make it easy for users to trust OER. Though this is not to say that new OER platforms are untrustworthy, it just means initiatives from well-known schools likely have a high level of trust from the start.


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Learning with Relevant Content

The final problem with OER is relevancy. For students, this could mean finding information on key concepts or terms relevant to their course and knowledge levels.

On the other hand, an educator would want to find resources that speak to the lesson at hand. If they present students with materials that are too in-depth or detailed, they risk confusing them.

Often, the onus falls on educators to conquer the search and trust challenges to connect students with relevant OER. However, this is a huge burden to place on professors and teachers, which is why many turn to simpler tools that they know, like textbooks.

Creating an easy way for educators to customize their curriculum not only gives their course a unique feel, but also saves students hundreds of dollars on antiquated textbooks.

  1. OER Glue is one such product giving educators a simple way to connect the dots in OER and produce great customized learning experience. The platform allows users to assemble courses by “gluing” together OER relevant to specific courses or subjects.
  2. Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of college-level open textbooks, gives professors the option to assign free, digital textbooks to their students directly relevant to their course. Educators can delete and reorder chapters to fit their lesson plans—and students won’t pay a cent to keep up with their reading.

Solving All Three Problems at Once

Of course, if all three problems could be solved at once, studying would be a breeze.

At Boundless, we’ve worked hard to address the search, trust and relevance challenges surrounding OER. Our platform provides an easy and trustworthy way for students to use open educational resources without placing the burden of scouring the Internet for the most valuable content on them.

The OER students use on Boundless directly complements what they’re learning in class, so they can spend more time studying and less time worrying where to find their readings. When OER are used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods, like lectures or office hours, the materials greatly enhance the learning experience.

Edtech initiatives like Boundless, or any of those mentioned above, are changing the face of education and providing students and educators with the tools they need without a huge price tag.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Jonathasmello


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