From Silos to Sharing: Why Are Open Educational Resources Still So Hard to Find?

From Silos to Sharing: Why Are Open Educational Resources Still So Hard to Find?

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For over a decade, plenty of time and dollars have been poured into efforts encouraging the use of open educational resources (OER). In 2007 the Hewlett Foundation’s funding helped create OER Commons. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education spearheaded the #GoOpen movement, a collection of efforts to spur educators, publishers and technologists to make OER more available and easily accessible.

Yet many teachers still ask: “Why can’t I find the open educational resources I’m looking for?”

From my experience, the answers usually are:

  1. OER resources are in silos
  2. Many of the silos are poorly organized

Let's examine these two issues:

Silos

You can find OER in dedicated online repositories including OpenEd, Curriki, and OER Commons. Several software companies have their own repositories, such as Microsoft’s Docs.com, Schoology’s public resources, Canvas Commons, and more. In addition, at least a dozen states and many districts have created their own repositories of educational resources, many of which contain OER assets. There is also the US Department of Education’s Learning Registry, which contains resources created by various parts of the US Government.

Yet these systems do not often talk to one another—and that poses a problem for teachers trying to find the best resources. As one example, there are a tremendous amount of high quality resources produced by various organizations supported by the U.S. government, such as NASA and Smithsonian, that are not available in most catalogs. These resources are all freely available in the Learning Registry and can (and should) be made available in any state or other registry via API.

Most of these repositories are also inadequately organized, making it difficult for the resources to be discovered. As I mentioned in a prior EdSurge article on metadata, most repositories are not tagged or properly organized by attributes—such as grade level or subject matter—that would make OER easier to surface. A common set of academic standards could alleviate the discovery issue, but several states have withdrawn from the Common Core State Standards and decided to adopt their own. (Forty-two states and Washington, D.C. were part of the Common Core initiative, but several have dropped this school year.)

Teachers should never click on a link in a catalog and find a dead web page. Online catalogs must improve their meta-tagging system to make resources more easily searchable.

Organization

Organization is a necessary first step for any OER repository. But it does not fully solve the problem of being able to find what one needs in a reasonable amount of time. Even if well organized, catalogs should be able to rank resources to help surface the best materials for any given search. As an example, a quick search in YouTube for “calculate the area of a circle” returns over 55,000 videos. How is one supposed to discern which is best?

There are different approaches to helping find teachers find the best resources. OpenEd ranks videos based on an analysis of how students do on assessments after watching them. Fishtree believes in giving students “voice and choice” to select the resource that matches their learning style. Other adaptive learning vendors claim they can choose the right resources automatically.

Often, finding the best open resources for a classroom is not enough. These materials need to be easily accessible for teachers and students—sometimes through the learning management systems used by their school. But that integration isn’t always possible; sometimes the content is available only through the publisher’s website. This is problematic; after all, asking students to memorize another set of login credentials can be a headache. (Some catalogs and publishers even send students to a signup wall only after their third or fourth visit of the day.) Fortunately, several catalogs now have APIs or one click share buttons to make the process smoother.

Calls to Action

Publishers, catalogs, nonprofits, and government organizations all have a part in making the right OER resources easier to find. Here is a prescription for each:

Publishers who have more technical resources and teams should publish their own metadata using schema.org. Smaller content providers who lack this capability can approach the catalog developers for help.

Online OER catalogs should continue to invest in metadata, categorization, rankings, and the overall quality of their resources. They also should share their goods. There is some progress made on this front: One current project involves Microsoft, OpenEd, Google and others working with the US Department of Education to push metadata on educational resources used back into the Learning Registry. If all goes as planned, this effort will let anyone see how often an open resource has been used across all of these platforms in one place.

Foundations and other nonprofits should invest in solutions to some of the harder problems that the industry faces. As one example, it would be helpful if someone developed an open source tool to classify educational texts by grade level.

The federal government is also facilitating the open resources via the #GoOpen project. Seventeen states and 56 districts have joined GoOpen, which receive training and #GoOpen launch packets from the US Department of Education.

And of course, educators and administrators should pressure vendors for better, more organized open resources than they are getting today.

Ron Drabkin (@DrabkinRon) is vice president of marketing at OpenEd, an ACT Assessment Technologies company

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