#GoOpen: So you've embraced OER? Now what?

Commentary: Open education resources​ make massive amounts of free digital materials available for educators, but more must be done to realize their full potential.

Randy Wilhelm
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Randy Wilhelm CEO and co-founder

Randy Wilhelm is CEO and co-founder of Knovation, a pioneer and leader in helpi...

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A year ago, many states and school districts joined the #GoOpen initiative and determined that open education resources (OER) and digital learning materials are important for their learners.

Now, one question remains: How will districts move forward into the second year and assess the impact of OER?

Since the U.S. Office of Education Technology launched #GoOpen last year, OER has become a hot commodity. The good news: A massive amount of free digital materials and lessons are available for educators at all levels and for all subject areas. And today, states are looking to scale OER adoption to ensure more students and teachers have access to them.

We've learned a few things in the first year of #GoOpen.

1. Teachers who were eager to integrate OER into their instruction were thoughtful about finding high-quality resources, and began creatively developing plans to deliver those materials to learners. Unfortunately, many statewide and district-wide OER adoptions did not include guidance around how to strategically adapt learning resources to fill gaps in curricula or support individual student needs.

2. Not surprisingly, even the most technology-savvy educators struggled to locate materials for instruction in the open education ecosystem. A lack of systemic organization, poorly identified pockets of resources and the lack of qualified OER "curators" hampered their efforts.

3. States’ greatest benefit from having a year of experience in #GoOpen and OER is that they are learning what they need to achieve proper scale to have impact on learning. Instead of being mesmerized by the allure of OER’s free price tag and expansive offerings, they realize it is more like the Wild West that has to evolve through use to suit instructional goals and objectives.

Learning from their #GoOpen experience this past year, schools have also come to understand that:

Quality matters – There must be some system in place that helps them soften the OER "noise" and see the best resources for instruction more effectively.

Organization is everything – There is no impact for learners if resources aren't easily located; having a system in place that gives educators the ability to apply lenses to their results, and then organize those resources, allows for timely incorporation into their instruction.

Literacy is still king – Even the most dynamic and engaging OER can be completely devoid of impact with the literacy-challenged populations that many schools support; tools that assist learners at the point of use of OER are crucial to its success with these populations and personalized learning.

Maintenance and availability are a big deal – Now that teachers have started to find, save and utilize digital content, instability of the digital world is revealed: digital content can disappear or change in seconds. Teachers need to trust those resources will still be there when they are ready to use them and the integrity and high-quality of the resources remain intact.

In sum, using OER effectively remains a tall order for states and school districts.

This is where the education technology industry as a whole can help. Partnering with the right organizations can make a night-and-day difference for states and school districts in terms of how much impact the adoption of OER will have on their teacher and student populations.

School districts, for example, that have partnered with education technology service providers that curate, contextualize and manage OER for them are able to focus almost immediately on higher value tasks like teaching practice and student coaching strategies. If your district hasn’t established that kind of partnership, consider it.

With one year’s #GoOpen experience under our collective belt, we believe in its potential ­­– but now, the real work begins, including preparing for how OER will change many of our assumptions. These next few years, the promise and implementation of #GoOpen will cause us to review pedagogy, challenge curriculum, invest in professional learning, and maintain and improve the technology infrastructure in our schools and communities.

We owe it to teachers to support them in the valuable work they do one-on-one with their students and to our students to use technology to meet them where they are, and take them to their highest potential. To that we say, together we need to Go Now, Go Smart, #GoOpen.

Randy Wilhelm is CEO and co-founder of Knovation, a pioneer and leader in helping schools and businesses tackle the challenges of OER curation, tagging, alignment and maintenance.

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