Instructors are increasingly using Open Educational Resources (OER), but many of those resources are lacking in quality or accuracy. So how do you judge the provenance of educational materials that you grab off the Internet? 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 quality materials. While there are countless examples of OER, many are poor quality: perhaps written as one big block of text, or dotted with spelling and grammatical errors, or available in formats that can’t easily be adapted. While protocols are evolving to ensure quality, they’re still a work in progress—and it’s unclear how they would work, given the nature of OER (where anyone can contribute).

So how can you tell if content is written by a competent authority? Here are some tips on finding good OER — and signs that educational material might not be up to scratch:

  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 poor-quality 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.

  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 incorporates them as part of the content workflow.

  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.


Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist based in Toronto.