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Posted in July 2013

How can OER benefit formal learners?

As educators or (in my case) supporting staff in education, we are all ambitious in supporting our students to learn and excel in what they do. At the same time, every teacher I know has little spare time to design and create educational activities and (especially) materials which match these ambitions. Often it works, but in many cases we don’t have the time to create the materials we envisioned or we don’t really know how.

On the other hand, worldwide thousends of teachers in hundreds of universities have been sharing their educational materials on the Internet, openly available. Open in this case means anybody is free to use, re-use, remix, repurpose and redistribute the educational materials.

Given this fact, I became very curious in how we could (re-)use and repurpose these Open Educational Resourses in formal education settings in a way that benefits students in learning and developing the skills needed in today’s (21st century) society and could benefit teachers in reaching their ambitions as educators.

So we set up the TU Delft STUMBLE project. In this project we’d like to explore this -what I consider to be – interesting question. What I’ve noticed so far is that re-using Open Educational Resources others have shared on the Internet can benefit students in different extents, depending on the level of integration in education:

  • simply offer Open Educational Resources as additions to contents covered in lectures provides nice extra’s for students, but seems to be the least effective: students are (and they have every right to) focussed on the course goals as addressed in the final course exams. And the teacher and his or her lectures and contents are key, not contents created by (perhaps top-class) teachers on any other university.
  • Teachers can re-use Open Educational Resources shared by others to (up to a certain point) replace the contents he or she wanted to bring across in lectures or educational materials in stead of designing and creating them themselves. As long as students understand the teacher approves and advocates these materials and students know this is the content they will be tested on, this could work. It opens doors to my next point, and perhaps can save some time in respect of developing the course materials themselves.
  • What I think could be most beneficial to students, is placing the initiative with students, giving them the lead in finding, judging and relating the contents of Open Educational Resources to the course goals. This way students are actively involved in the learning process and develop important 21st century (perhaps mostly metacognitive) skills.One interesting idea’s I got comes from one of our professors, Prof. Mr. Dr. Ir. Sicco Santema, where students are asked to find course materials related to topics covered in class and bring in arguments about how this relates to the taught subjects. But Youtube Fridays (Colorado School of Mines) and Flipped Classroom models like Peer Instruction (Prof. Eric Mazur, Harvard) offer potential in this respect as well.
Last year I’ve found some evidence for the assumption mentioned in the first bullet. Hopefully in the upcoming academic year, together with a number of teachers, we will be able to test the other assumptions. And maybe even find new clues on the way Open Educational Resources can be used in formal education settings benefitting students and teachers in education.
New tools developed, such as Feedback Fruits might be interesting tools to support students in their search and sharing endeavors. But maybe I will be able to address this tool in more detail later.

Finding Open Educational Materials

We are not supposed to assume that any source Google delivers as a (default) search result allows you t0 re-use it. Copyrights may provide an obstacle: although the copyright protects the creator of content from others stealing or copying them illegally, it also prevents others from re-using them for educational purposes.

Then again, for more then a decade, universities worldwide have been sharing Open Educational Resources: educational resources anybody is allowed to re-use, remix, repurpose and redistribute freely as they please. This is because these educational materials have been published under a Creative Commons License, as legal exemptions on the copyright.

The more educational resources become available, the harder it can be to find the exact resources you’re looking for and allow you to re-use them. So a nice list of (good!) search engines for Open Educational Resources seems in order. I’m sure others have already found many more (like Willem van Valkenburg and SURF (trend report, both pdf: 2012, p. 39;  2013, p. 103), but here’s a shortlist I know is interesting.

Please don’t hesitate to bring in more (and better) if you know them, by commenting on this blog. But if you do, please add why you think your suggestions are great ones 😉

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