How to Find Quality K-12 Open Educational Resources

By Alex Lenkei — June 14, 2016 3 min read
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Open educational resources, or OER, have been around in one form or another for more than a decade. These resources come in a variety of platforms, including electronic textbooks, K-12 lesson plans, and worksheets. This trend has picked up steam in the past few years. OER gained federal support last September when the U.S. Department of Education hired Andrew Marcinek as the department’s first open education adviser. In October, the department launched #GoOpen, an OER initiative that encourages states, school districts, and educators to use openly licensed educational materials in classroom instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act may further help education officials adopt these open resources. The new federal education law includes language in support of OER and even allows districts to use funding to support their availability, although the exact amount of federal money is not entirely clear.

Many of the districts and schools that are choosing to transition to the free educational content are still in the early stages of that shift. One of the main challenges these districts and educators face today is finding the best resources and making sure those resources are aligned with their state’s standards. As Education Week previously reported, school districts in Houston and Gwinnett County, Ga., are currently facing this issue, with Houston contracting with outside companies to help curate and organize content.

Two school districts in Washington state—Bethel and Grandview—are also in the process of transitioning to a wider use of OER and cite the “large amounts of time” district leaders and educators often spend in finding appropriate materials as one drawback.

Organization vs. Educator in OER Creation

Private organizations are also grappling with how best to find and amass content and make it easily accessible to teachers. Educational content can be created in a number of ways, with organizations opting to create OER themselves while others, like Gooru, based in Redwood City, Calif., give educators the tools to create them.

I interviewed CommonLit CEO Michelle Brown by phone to learn how her organization helps educators find appropriate OER. Although CommonLit, a Washington, D.C.-based education nonprofit, finds many of the English/language arts texts currently on its site by aggregating them from publicly available lists, such as those from the Louisiana Department of Education, Brown describes the organization as an OER creator, not an aggregator.

The organization categorizes texts based on grade appropriateness and Lexile reading level, groups them by theme, and pairs them with OER, which educators can share and revise according to their needs. These OER take the form of text-dependent questions to develop students’ critical reading skills, as well as discussion questions to develop writing and communication skills.

OER Commons, launched in 2007 and run by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), takes a different approach to building its collection of resources. OER Commons functions as a digital public library, providing a platform for educators to collaborate, said ISKME CEO and founder Lisa Petrides during a telephone interview. While some resources are curated under popular categories, such as “STEM literacy” and “common core,” those resources can be created by anyone--states, districts, or even individual schools and teachers. OER Commons allows these groups to create, add, and remix resources and align them to any state or national standards they choose to follow.

Photo: Jonathas Mello, UNESCO, OER logo

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.