Opinion | Technology in School

OER Had Its Breakthrough in 2017. Next Year, It Will Become an Essential Teaching Tool

By Mike Silagadze     Dec 28, 2017

OER Had Its Breakthrough in 2017. Next Year, It Will Become an Essential Teaching Tool

Open educational resources (OER) have long been touted as “the next big thing” in higher education, but the drawn-out hype has led many educators and administrators to wonder if it would ever live up to its expectations. Those days are over: 2017 was OER’s breakthrough year.

Until recently, the use of OER—digital educational materials that are both more easily adaptable by instructors and more affordable than traditional textbooks—was being led by early-adopter professors driven by a desire to improve teaching and an interest in new technology. But it never seemed to gain broader adoption beyond that group of pioneers. To bring OER to more students and instructors, whole institutions needed to jump on board and plan for the widespread implementation.

That happened in 2017. This year, the list of colleges with “open learning initiatives” of various kinds has boomed, and much of that has been part of an essential drive to modernize their classrooms and push the cost of education down. For example, both the City and State University of New York systems are investing millions in OER. Ohio University is doing the same.

Meanwhile, at least 70 OER-related bills were introduced in more than half the country’s state legislatures in 2017. And at the last ASU + GSV Summit in Salt Lake City there was a clear consensus across the entire industry, from traditional textbook publishers to online renters to cloud-based platform developers, that the pace of adoption in OER is only going to quicken in the months ahead.

Now that OER has the backing of college administrations and state legislatures, it’s about to face a new spate of challenges in 2018. As its users move beyond the early adopters and into the mainstream, OER will be competing much more directly with traditional textbook publishing.

Here are the three key tests that OER itself will need to pass in 2018 and beyond:

  1. OER content quality needs to improve. Traditional academic publishing is a very mature industry that gives professors many options to choose from as they plan their courses. For OER, 2018 will be the year when the training wheels come off: the quality and breadth of its catalogue will need to match or beat anything available in print. To do so, OER’s pace of quality improvement will need to be even faster than its pace of adoption. On this score, OER’s collaborative nature gives it a distinct advantage. The community of academic OER creators and collaborators has reached critical mass. With real-time feedback and iteration, and no printing-press costs or production schedules, the turnaround time for new editions of OER textbooks is minimal. Traditional academic publishing can no longer keep pace with the thing it sells—knowledge—and it is losing ground to OER’s adaptability and continually improving quality.
  2. OER needs bells and whistles. Traditional publishers provide test banks, homework assignments, discussion questions and a slew of other ancillary learning materials for their products. OER’s offerings in this area must expand fast in order to match the traditional textbook’s value proposition.

    Again, OER has technological advantages it can exploit to achieve this. By developing formative assessment materials and other exercises that students can submit digitally, results can be compiled and analyzed in real-time, allowing faculty to shift lesson plans and improve learning outcomes. The technology is already making inroads as more faculty make their own digital course packs publicly available or share the ancillary teaching materials they develop with other OER textbook authors. The collaborative nature of the OER community quickens the pace of development.
  3. OER needs to be easier to find and adopt. As more and more colleges and state legislatures adopt OER initiatives, it seems as though each one is creating its own OER clearinghouse. The sector has no common platform, pricing or payment scheme. And not all OER materials are supported by all technologies, so not every platform allows students to use whatever device they own.

Because faculty are the ones who plan courses and teach using these materials, OER’s points-of-access needs to be designed for them. They need to know where to go to find the best OER materials. Once they get there, all the essential information needs to be at hand: which textbooks and resources are available, how to best combine materials, what devices are supported, how to get technical support, and what will the cost be for faculty and students. Support for this idea is already strong within the OER community, and it won’t be long before we’ll have an iTunes-style central repository for all OER materials in higher education.

These are the short-term challenges that OER providers will have to overcome. And since much of the groundwork has already been done, 2018 will be a growth year for OER, as its adoption curve begins to rise steeply. OER is about to become for course planning what LMS is for grading: the essential technology that every institution needs, and every faculty member’s de-facto tool for student learning and engagement.

Opinion | Technology in School

OER Had Its Breakthrough in 2017. Next Year, It Will Become an Essential Teaching Tool

By Mike Silagadze     Dec 28, 2017

OER Had Its Breakthrough in 2017. Next Year, It Will Become an Essential Teaching Tool

Open educational resources (OER) have long been touted as “the next big thing” in higher education, but the drawn-out hype has led many educators and administrators to wonder if it would ever live up to its expectations. Those days are over: 2017 was OER’s breakthrough year.

Until recently, the use of OER—digital educational materials that are both more easily adaptable by instructors and more affordable than traditional textbooks—was being led by early-adopter professors driven by a desire to improve teaching and an interest in new technology. But it never seemed to gain broader adoption beyond that group of pioneers. To bring OER to more students and instructors, whole institutions needed to jump on board and plan for the widespread implementation.

That happened in 2017. This year, the list of colleges with “open learning initiatives” of various kinds has boomed, and much of that has been part of an essential drive to modernize their classrooms and push the cost of education down. For example, both the City and State University of New York systems are investing millions in OER. Ohio University is doing the same.

Meanwhile, at least 70 OER-related bills were introduced in more than half the country’s state legislatures in 2017. And at the last ASU + GSV Summit in Salt Lake City there was a clear consensus across the entire industry, from traditional textbook publishers to online renters to cloud-based platform developers, that the pace of adoption in OER is only going to quicken in the months ahead.

Now that OER has the backing of college administrations and state legislatures, it’s about to face a new spate of challenges in 2018. As its users move beyond the early adopters and into the mainstream, OER will be competing much more directly with traditional textbook publishing.

Here are the three key tests that OER itself will need to pass in 2018 and beyond:

  1. OER content quality needs to improve. Traditional academic publishing is a very mature industry that gives professors many options to choose from as they plan their courses. For OER, 2018 will be the year when the training wheels come off: the quality and breadth of its catalogue will need to match or beat anything available in print. To do so, OER’s pace of quality improvement will need to be even faster than its pace of adoption. On this score, OER’s collaborative nature gives it a distinct advantage. The community of academic OER creators and collaborators has reached critical mass. With real-time feedback and iteration, and no printing-press costs or production schedules, the turnaround time for new editions of OER textbooks is minimal. Traditional academic publishing can no longer keep pace with the thing it sells—knowledge—and it is losing ground to OER’s adaptability and continually improving quality.
  2. OER needs bells and whistles. Traditional publishers provide test banks, homework assignments, discussion questions and a slew of other ancillary learning materials for their products. OER’s offerings in this area must expand fast in order to match the traditional textbook’s value proposition.

    Again, OER has technological advantages it can exploit to achieve this. By developing formative assessment materials and other exercises that students can submit digitally, results can be compiled and analyzed in real-time, allowing faculty to shift lesson plans and improve learning outcomes. The technology is already making inroads as more faculty make their own digital course packs publicly available or share the ancillary teaching materials they develop with other OER textbook authors. The collaborative nature of the OER community quickens the pace of development.
  3. OER needs to be easier to find and adopt. As more and more colleges and state legislatures adopt OER initiatives, it seems as though each one is creating its own OER clearinghouse. The sector has no common platform, pricing or payment scheme. And not all OER materials are supported by all technologies, so not every platform allows students to use whatever device they own.

Because faculty are the ones who plan courses and teach using these materials, OER’s points-of-access needs to be designed for them. They need to know where to go to find the best OER materials. Once they get there, all the essential information needs to be at hand: which textbooks and resources are available, how to best combine materials, what devices are supported, how to get technical support, and what will the cost be for faculty and students. Support for this idea is already strong within the OER community, and it won’t be long before we’ll have an iTunes-style central repository for all OER materials in higher education.

These are the short-term challenges that OER providers will have to overcome. And since much of the groundwork has already been done, 2018 will be a growth year for OER, as its adoption curve begins to rise steeply. OER is about to become for course planning what LMS is for grading: the essential technology that every institution needs, and every faculty member’s de-facto tool for student learning and engagement.

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