OER Commons a step forward, but needs improvement | Opensource.com

OER Commons a step forward, but needs improvement

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Teachers and students have a new portal to find open educational resources: OER Commons. It is the first comprehensive open learning network where teachers and students from kindergarten to graduate school can access OER materials, share, and work together. Users can search, browse, and discuss over 32,000 open educational resources. Examples include: university courses, math or physic stimulations, digital textbooks, and elementary lesson plans, worksheets, and activities.

OER Commons offers new ways of teaching and learning from kindergarten to higher education. Elementary students, for example, can learn about the ancient city of Petra from the American Museum of Natural History, forinstance, by navigating through an archeological tour of Petra's ruins. Alternatively, elementary and middle school students can learn about building skateboard ramps, tracks, and jumps and kinetic energy from PhET interactive simulations from the University of Colorado at Boulder. For college students, there are numerous lectures or courses from Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative to MIT OpenCourseWare and the University of Hong Kong. Numerous non-profits, such as the Saylor Foundation, and international organizations, such as UNESCO and the United Nations, have contributed as well.

OER Commons offers materials that are freely available and accessible but have limitations on its use. With some of the resources, you may download and share. With others, you may be able to edit and re-post. OER often have a Creative Commons or GNU license that specify how the material may be used, adapted, and shared. Users, however, can contribute to the OER Commons by submitting resources to the collection or participating in discussions.

OER Commons is a step forward with some caveats and need for improvement. First, not every OER is included on the site. Moreover, non-profits, such as the Annenberg Foundation or Meet Me at the Corner, may have high-quality, free educational materials online but lack a Creative Commons or a GNU license and therefore will not be included on OER Commons.

The inconsistencies with tagging and subject headings on OER Commons are more problematic. The ancient city of Petra example mentioned above is tagged under ancient civilizations, anthropology, archaeology, Jordan, and science as an inquiry, but not under history or world history. Likewise, a link to Helen Keller is tagged under Alabama and US history, but not under the blind, women, Harvard, or tags relevant to Helen Keller's life.

Overlaps and inconsistencies with subject headings, especially between thehumanities and social sciences, can lead to mislabeling and confusion.

Much of OER Commons is aimed at American teachers and being aligned with the Common Core State Standards in the United States. An advanced search enables users to refine a search, but the material type section is couched in teacher terms, such as readings, training materials, and lesson plans. Although there is much material that would benefit libraries, parents, home schoolers, and a broader US and global audience, at the moment it is squarely designed with American teachers and a teacher-driven education in a classroom setting.

Overall, at the moment it's debatable how simple and user-friendly OER Commons is. There is still a considerable amount of vertical scrolling and searching to find materials rather than use of sifting materials in a horizontal format. It's debatable first how much of it is accessible to those with print disabilities. An advanced search permits users to select a media format such as audio, but there is no icon or way to indicate the appropriate media format when search results are retrieved. As a result, it's debatable whether users will be able to find the necessary material needed. Nevertheless, OER Commons is model for the discovery, production, and dissemination of open textbooks and many OER materials.

As the first comprehensive open learning network, OER Commons is a step forward.


About the author

Carolyn Fox - Carolyn Fox is an educator, librarian, historian, and an un/homeschooling mother. She lives in Massachusetts with her UK husband and son.