It’s a busy time around here! With the fall semester starting and new competency-based program development in full swing, everyone is working hard to deliver the best learning experiences possible. Back-to-school season is exciting but challenging for learners, instructors, and those of us in supporting roles. Part of that hard work is curating learning resources—open educational resources (OERs). Today’s post will explore how some of our faculty are approaching OERs.
In the midst of all this preparation, I’ve recently heard conversations about how important thoughtfully curated learning resources are to a student’s success, and it occurred to me it might be interesting to look back at the transcript of a conversation I had with Kim Kostka about using OERs. Kim and her colleagues Tom Neal and Tony Millevolte assembled and annotated an array of OERs for one of our Flexible Option competency sets.
Here are some of the highlights from my conversation with Kim.
What was your approach for locating learning resources?
This was a team approach, so it was Tony, Tom, and I all working together. Our general approach was that we all scoured for our own references, from things that we already use in class, and compared them with each other. In those places where we saw gaps, we either asked friends who might be able to help us with things or looked around on the Internet. I also talked to our librarian here on campus a couple times.
Did you go to any specific sources?
We did have a commitment to try to make sure that all of the resources were free. So Tony, for instance, was in charge of looking for a free textbook, and he’s the one who found the one that we selected. I looked a lot at the OER Commons, set up an account, and started accumulating some things there. That was a helpful resource. I hadn’t really known that there was such a rich collection of vendors or channels on YouTube from people who really developed a nice collection of tutorials. Some of the YouTube channels that we found really did a nice job of explaining problem-solving in real time, talking through problems. We have three or four go-to channels that we really like, because they’re pitched at the right level. So that’s another thing that was really important to us is in all of the chemistry instruction content out there on the Internet—it’s pitched at many different levels. We didn’t want a high school level, and we didn’t want a general chemistry level, which is what prepares the science majors. We wanted to hit the right spot in between that would appeal to adult learners.
What criteria were you using to evaluate the materials?
We wanted the videos to be concise. Really granular little lessons, so if the student just needed to focus on one thing, they wouldn’t have to wade through 15 minutes of video to get to that one thing. And if we couldn’t find short videos, we would write down in the curation, “Go to Minute 7, right where this really gets started.” So we tried to limit the video-watching time to really just those particular lessons that we thought were most appropriate.
Did the needs of the self-directed learners influence the way that you curated them?
Yes, we made a habit of linking the learning resource to the competencies and outcomes. So what we try to do is make sure that each of those outcomes has one or more valuable ways for students to approach that learning. We supplemented the text with videos or animations or interactive tools. There are some that let you play around with a simulation and try it out. The textbook that we chose does a nice job of incorporating practice problems into the reading. That’s valuable for self-directed learners.
What will you do differently next time, based on your experiences this time?
When we curate things in the future, I think it would be easier for us if we would write down short descriptions as we’re collecting and evaluating. And bringing the outcomes or learning goal language into that description so it’s a little more obvious to students how they fit together.
What advice do you have for those wanting to incorporate OERs?
My advice would be to work with a team or get help, if possible. Individually, each of us found some good things, but with three of us we could compare with each other. If you don’t have a team, work with instructional designers right away. They are a great resource, too. Also, allow yourself some time to play around and really look through OERs before you settle on things. It’s also an ongoing process that you do while you’re thinking about your assessments and perfecting those. Maybe it’s not one first and then the other—it’s really a looping process.
Thanks for talking with me about your experiences a couple months ago, Kim! For those just starting to think about using OERs, it’s valuable to share strategies. The strategies Kim and I used were built on the work and experiences of the earliest Flex faculty. They are now influencing current faculty who are using OERs, too. Finding, selecting, and annotating learning resources are things that get easier as you do it more, and we’ve tried to help by creating tip sheets on locating and curating OERs that you may find valuable.
Have more advice for using OERs in your online programs? Share them in the comments below.