Friday, December 3, 2010

Educators Can Save Time When They Stop Reinventing the Wheel with OER

Since my early days of teaching I always wondered why hundreds of thousands of teachers across the globe were working in isolation to deliver the same classes to their students. If teachers everywhere were teaching English 1, World History, Algebra 1, Poetry, etc., why were they all writing their own lessons, searching for their own resources and materials? Hasn’t this all been done thousands of times before? The answer is yes, it has, and requiring teachers to waste their time writing lesson plans that already exist and search for resources that have already been found numerous times before is a colossal waste of time. Furthermore, if teachers were writing all these lesson plans and compiling resources, why on earth were we wasting countless dollars on dry, dull, and painfully BORING textbooks? It made no sense!

As I entered into the world of teaching I found something very disturbing and that was that many teachers preferred doing business in isolation, behind closed doors. Furthermore, I discovered that many teachers were very proprietary and did not believe in sharing their resources. While they may present to others about the work they had done, they were often loathe to turn over materials that others could reproduce with the sentiment that they didn’t want others taking credit for their work. This made no sense to me. Aren’t we all working together to provide the best materials, resources, and experiences for our students? Fortunately as the internet and social media have gained favor with innovative educators, there is much more sharing going on, but not to the extent that I had envisioned where central hubs would exist where materials are shared and used by any educator or learner.

Until now…

If you haven’t heard, there is a new movement in education and it’s called OER which stands for Open Educational Resources. I recently learned about this movement at iNacol’s Virtual School Symposium. This coordinated movement is backed by huge funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and they’re all moving toward a common goal of providing quality courses for learning for free. “At the heart of the movement toward Open Educational Resources is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general, and the Worldwide Web in particular, provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and re-use knowledge.” – The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

There are three categories that the resources are currently broken into.

1) Courses, Courseware, Content Resources

· Carnegie Mellon University (OLI)
· Curriki
· HippoCampus (NROC)
· OER Commons
· Open CourseWare Consortium
· Rice Connexions
· Free Online Course Materials | MIT OpenCourseWare
· 300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

2) Open Textbook Projects
· CC Consortium for OER
· CK12
· Flatworld Knowledge

3) Repositories, Referatories, and Specialized Collections
· ActionBioscience.Org
· Curriculum Pathways (SAS)
· Digital Library for Earth Science Ed
· GEM Referatory
· ide@s (U of Wisconsin System)
· Khan Academy
· Math Archives
· Mathalicious
· Merlot
· National Science Digital Library
· The PT3 Pathways Project
· Wisc-Online
· Top 10 Sites for Educational Resources by David Kapuler

If you are interesting in incorporating OER into the work you do, here are some resources to get started.
· Connexions online course about working with OER
· UNESCO OER Toolkit
· WikiEducator OER Handbook for Educators


  1. I'm sharing this with my staff today. Thank you so much!

  2. OER are great, and I agree that teachers do a fair amount of repetitive work. However, I think good teachers will continue to individualize and plan their lessons. Planning for me is like rehearsal for improv. In some ways, it may not seem necessary, but it hones my craft and makes me more able to respond creatively to students' questions, needs, and interests.

  3. @Meredith, that's the beauty of OER. It provides all the material needed to teach the course and the intent is to do so with quality, engaging, and interactive materials that teachers often have a hard time compiling and accessing on their own, but...if done correctly, the courses can be customized to the teacher's style and student needs.

    As a former literacy coach and librarian, I spent SO MUCH TIME just helping teachers compile the right resources that I knew were taught by thousands of educators all around the world and compiled already. I think there's great promise in this movement that will enable teachers and students to spend more time engaging in the process of learning with quality materials.

  4. I agree that sharing is great. However, student A and B aren't remotely similar within the same classroom, the same state, the same country, or the same planet.

    I have a completely scripted curriculum that I use for about 6 weeks every year with three separate classes. Every year, every class looks completely different. The underlying principals and content are the same but the delivery and understanding change completely.

    So, yes, let's share. We don't need to reinvent the wheels. We do, however, need to know our individual students, how they learn, and the best way to educate them.

  5. When I started teaching, I was given a book of lesson plans - one for each day of the school year. It became my bible for the year. It included ideas, examples, handouts, games, etc (8th grade math). In year #1 I followed them to the letter. In year #2 I started to personalize and alter them to fit my style and my classes needs. In later years electronic communications greatly enhanced this, extending the reach worldwide. Some of the first sites to do so were (still around) and others. Lessons, units, activities etc. for teachers worldwide to use. And amend, as Knaus says.

    The coordination now being provided does add a nice aspect to an endeavor that has existed and grown for many years. But the skeptic in me wonders if the backing of entities such as the Hewlett and Gates foundations will not ultimately result in the privatization and monetization of the effort. I guess time will tell.

  6. @knaus, I agree that we do, need to know our individual students, how they learn, and the best way to educate them. Better yet, our students need to know that. What's interesting, is with OER the teacher is no longer the gatekeeper of the resources and knowledge. Think about what happens when students have access to the same resources as their teachers and can begin taking control of their own learning. Students who've discovered OER are already doing this and demonstrating mastery of subjects on their own. In fact in addition to learning independently, students can form study groups learning together without the presence of a teacher. When we release the knowledge and materials to the masses to study topics they choose at their pace, an interesting shift is certainly possible.

  7. I love OER and online resources. Now everyone who has access to a computer and the Internet can learn from the best in the world at their own pace and convenience.

    Here is my list that I have compiled:

    Great post, thanks!

  8. @Jeff Branzburg, the progression you explain is right on target. As teachers are new to a subject they teach it in a standard way, then they begin customizing. The problem I found with the sites you mention is that they didn't really align well to courses teachers teach. For instance was mainly searchable by standard, which is not how teachers teach. They teach classes or units of study.

    As far as your skepticism, I hope you're wrong. Can't OER go the way of open source and options like Google for Ed and wikispaces where they realize giving back to ed is in the best interest of everyone??? I hope so.

  9. I agree and just checked out Curriki and it was wonderful! Thank you Lisa!

  10. I think that sharing of resources is a great idea. However, I don't want to think that if I don't do all of this as an educator and do do some work on my own, doing locally developed work with local information that it would be seen as limiting. I'm all for sharing but, as has been mentioned, every student that walks through the door is different and needs different things - some of them which cannot be found online.

  11. Great list! I'd like to add another one to the "Open Textbook" category - an open art history textbook that won the webby award for education in 2009.

  12. @kwhobbes, I'm not sure what "all of this" you are referring to. I propose that we all share and adapt materials to fit the needs of our students. I'm not clear where the idea that sharing negates the ability to differentiate instruction to the needs of students. To the contrary, it makes more materials, resources, and opportunities available.

    I also disagree that not all things can be found online. The internet is a repository to give anyone, anytime, anywhere access to anything and connect all those people with common interests from around the globe. If it's not online, then let's put it there. I think the proprietarization of education should be put to rest so the sharing, developing, and growing of ideas can flourish.

  13. @Jeff Branzburg, I just read this by Stephen Downes on HuffPo Ed and thought of your comment.

    We begin by copying successful practice, and then begin to modify that practice to satisfy our own particular circumstances and needs.

    We begin by copying successful practice,

  14. I know this post is old but I came across it recently and had some thoughts. Thanks!