​A Playbook to Go Open: 5 Steps to Adopting OER

Open Educational Resources (OER)

​A Playbook to Go Open: 5 Steps to Adopting OER

By Randy Wilhelm     Nov 19, 2017

​A Playbook to Go Open: 5 Steps to Adopting OER

Adoption of digital learning resources is taking hold in schools and districts across the United States. Public schools now provide at least one computer for every five students and spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content, according to Education Week.

As momentum for digital learning builds, some districts—80 percent according to the 2017 Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) K12 IT Leadership Survey Report—are using open educational resources (OER), which the U.S. Department of Education defines as, “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with others.”

Advocates of OER boast that in addition to being more affordable, these resources can provide more up-to-date content because digital OER can be updated more frequently than traditional textbooks.

When digital learning was in its infancy in the early 2000’s, there were few platforms or tools available to help educators decipher and select quality online content—nor was there a direct need for them. Now, a seemingly limitless amount of robust digital content is available for educators to tailor content to individual students. The Department of Education has its own OER initiative, called #GoOpen, which aims to promote equity for all students to have access to high quality learning materials.

But while many benefits of OER are visible on the surface, we must notice the fine print.

As schools move away from purchasing traditional textbooks, teachers have inherited the time-consuming task of sifting through all the available digital content to design an effective curriculum. With few (if any) guidelines to identify and implement high-quality learning content, educators are in need of processes to guide digital content curation to both save time and maximize the impact of their efforts.

Here are five key strategies to bring OER from concept to practice:


As with any wide-scale initiative, it is vital to have complete staff buy-in and overall understanding of the purpose, or the “why” behind OER content curation. In this step of the process, develop a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Results Focused, Time Bound) plan, so that the common goal is easily understood and improvement can be made along the way.

By establishing a purpose statement for the use of digital content, the rest of the SMART plan will fall into place. A solid purpose will give way to processes for implementation and how to measure its impact on teaching and learning.


Transitioning to digital content usage on a district-wide scale also requires defining the “what” of the overall plan, or the parameters that the school will be using and implementing OER.

For example, the program can first focus on subject areas like STEM or language arts, or grade bands like elementary or high school. Select an initial focus that is limited enough to complete in a timely manner, but will also serve as an exemplar for your next focus area. Each iteration should be evaluated to make improvements in the next iteration.

Once you’ve defined your first program, the next step should be to assess technology infrastructure. Make sure district policies, telecommunications networks and device programs will support your planned use for digital content.

Next, evaluate curriculum as it relates to content. What areas of the curriculum need to be designed or redesigned in order to fully implement digital content in a way that will achieve learning goals? Districts should evaluate what types of content will be used in the program. Will it be commercial content, free digital content, OER, teacher-created content, or a combination?


After understanding the purpose and program for digital content use, establish a process, or “how” educators and students will find and use OER.

While educators have increased autonomy and flexibility selecting OER, it is the responsibility of the district to provide guidelines to implement OER in ways that support district learning goals and standards. Consider developing a rubric for educators to vet the resources they select, like this one from Knovation.

Developing your district process for quality assurance is perhaps the greatest hurdle to adopting a OER program. It helps to learn from the experiences of others, like the #GoOpen Ambassador districts.


A digital content portfolio needs a virtual catalog to satisfy the “where” component of the five elements to adopting OER. When considering a platform to house all the content and metadata, think about what tools are already being utilized, such as your district’s Learning Management System (LMS), Learning Object Repository (LOR) or Content Management System (CMS). Explore cataloging options within those platforms.

If nothing in the current technology portfolio has the desired functionality, other tools, such as icurio, can also offer this feature,.


Establish a group of staff members and experts, the “who,” to lead and advise district’s new digital learning mission. Consider appointing a program manager for digital learning and curriculum, or developing a staff committee that curates digital content for designated programs. A committee may also be assembled during planning stages to collectively understand how OER will be put in practice.

Because the nature of digital learning is ever-changing, invest in annual professional development events, like regional #GoOpen summits and district leadership events like the annual CoSN conference.

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