Monday, March 11, 2013

OERs vs. online content

Online content is crucial to teachers.  It does not matter if you have just one computer in the back of your classroom or if every student has an iPad 24 hours a day - online content will enhance the teaching and learning in your classroom.

+Edudemic  "How to Find Open Educational Resources"

There are several types of content.  The most common is, put simply, educational content which includes anything you would give to your students to read, watch or listen to.  This will include books/ textbooks, videos, audio recordings, maps, graphs, photographs and historical documents. This group could also include courseware which is typically an all-encompassing, pre-packaged set of instructional materials created by textbook companies like Pearson.  If Apple's iBooks ever hit their stride they will probably the best example of courseware where one iBook focused on a particular topic will include all the text, photos, videos and interactive animations in one tidy location.

(related article: Edudemic: The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools)

Teaching isn't just about providing educational resources to read and watch - good teachers design activities that go along with the resources.  This is why teachers should never feel threatened by technology.  Technology will not take away teaching jobs; it will help good teachers become even better teachers.  Some online resources that will help teachers design their lessons include teaching guides that have been written and tested by other teachers or professors.  Google has a lesson plan search that is still a little sparse but it is growing rapidly.  You can also find practice work which are the activities that your students will complete once after they have viewed the educational content.  You'll have to search a little deeper to find practice work that goes beyond typical review questions and worksheets, but it is out there.

Of course, teachers need a way to distribute the educational resources to their students in a logical and searchable format.  Using a Learning Management System is the best way to gather and present your materials, and LMSs also provide calendars, discussion boards, grade books and online assessments on top of it.  There are many free LMSs you can try, and I recommend you start by trying out +Schoology which is the best overall LMS package available - and it's free.

Curating your material by placing them in folders (by chapters or topics) in an LMS is effective, but it isn't very eye-catching.  Combine other methods of curation with your LMS to keep your students' interest.  A playlist on YouTube, a photo collection on Flickr, or a magazine-like collection on Flipboard are all ways to curate a collection of materials that look great - and hopefully they inspire your students to do the same on a future project.

What is the difference between OERs and online content?

Online content covers all the materials you pull from the Internet to use with your class.  You can use the material yourself and you can link to it so that your students can use it.  However, you do not automatically have the right to copy that material, make changes to it, or distribute it to others without permission of the person who created it.  YouTube is the best example of online content.  It has millions of videos you can watch or ask your students to watch, but most of those videos expressly prohibit you from copying them, editing them, or using them in any other manner.  Of course, there are even some videos that have been posted illegally and as a classroom teacher you are not permitted to use materials that break copyright laws.

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are materials that are written by educators (or educational non-profits) for the specific purpose of using them in the classroom, and the materials are often aligned to Common Core standards.  Most OER providers have a mission of providing high-quality resources for free so that all students in all cities and nations can improve their education. You see the same desire to improve education for all people in places like Harvard, Stanford, and Penn State. Professors in those universities are offering all of the course materials for free. (Check out a list of 700 free courses listed on OpenCulture.)

This is the mission statement of +CK-12 Foundation, a company that provides OER textbooks:

"CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to high quality educational materials for K-12 students all over the world. We offer free high-quality, standards-aligned, open content in the STEM subjects. By providing these free resources, CK-12 is working toward educational equity for all."

I've listed about some OERs on my Delicious social bookmarking page.  Do you like my not-so-subtle use of a curation site to list the resources? It looks much nicer than a bulleted list inside this blog.

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