Instructors are increasingly using Open Educational Resources (OER). But given the wide variety of materials available, how do you judge their provenance? What defines good OER?

OER includes educational materials in the public domain or with an open license that anyone can freely use, copy and adapt. They range from textbooks to lecture notes, examinations and assignments, but the idea is to adapt the materials to your needs and share your modifications with the community.

Often the issue, however, is finding materials that work well with your course, and historically, quality has been uneven. Is there an easy way to tell if you’re on the right track? Here are some tips on finding good OER.

  1. The sniff test

  2. Trust your gut, and your training: If the content doesn’t appear entirely accurate (based on your knowledge and expertise), fact-check it, or don’t use it. Grammatical or typographical errors may not be an indication of the quality of the content, but they can sometimes be a red flag.

  3. Adaptability

  4. If the content is licensed in a way that doesn’t allow for modifications (or is in a file format that doesn’t allow for modifications, such as a PDF), that demonstrates a lack of understanding of how OER is meant to work. Sure, you can copy and paste content, but the idea behind OER is to adapt and modify content to meet your specific teaching objectives and encourage active learning. An excellent benchmark for this is the CARE Framework — which mandates that good OER must be attributable and can be developed beyond the platform that is was created on.

  5. Peer review

  6. Just because you’ve Googled it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Look for legitimate authors and institutions wherever possible. Peer reviews, though not the be-all-end-all, can be useful, and many open education projects are incorporating OER assessments to help you judge the quality of the materials. BCcampus, Open Textbook Library and MERLOT are known for encouraging peer reviews. Top Hat Marketplace also allows you to include OER in your course materials — and assigning pure OER to students attracts no platform fee.

  7. Accountability

  8. Use rubrics. Achieve.org, for example, is a nonprofit education reform organization that has developed a system that defines good OER; its eight rubrics are designed to improve both assessments and accountability. Rubrics can assist you in determining how much an OER aligns with Common Core State Standards.

To learn more about Open Educational Resources, and some straightforward ways to find good OER, then develop and implement it into your class, download Top Hat’s OER guide.

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Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist based in Toronto.