What OER Has to Do with The Power of Choice

As edtech grows, teachers, parents confront how they produce, share, and build on knowledge.

GUEST COLUMN | by Hilary Scharton 

If you ask any teacher what is the most significant change they have experienced in their career, you are likely to hear one common answer: technology. Beyond the obvious transition from chalkboards and projectors to smartboards and Chromebooks, edtech has exploded and is transforming the way administrators and teachers support students — even for teachers who are relatively new to their careers.

However, as edtech grows, schools, teachers and parents are forced to adjust how they produce, share, and build on knowledge. While edtech brings efficiency and growth inside and outside the classroom, it also creates division between students who have access to laptops, tablets, and Wi-Fi at home, and those who can only achieve success if they stay at their school library where they can access these resources.

Technology and the Elimination of Barriers

Today, most U.S. schools have incorporated Chromebooks (or similar) in classrooms, and many students are given personal laptops or tablets to use throughout the school year — all of this to support students while they work to master any educational apps teachers choose for them. Technology once again has brought forth effective tools to eliminate barriers to high-quality content for all students. Tools can now be shared by educators and administrators across borders, allowing them to adapt content to fit the needs of their individual classrooms without running afoul of copyright laws.

Open educational resources (OERs) are one specific area demonstrating tremendous growth. OERs are dynamic digital libraries and networks that can be used to enable teaching, promote learning and gauge students’ comprehension of critical materials. Another key feature that OERs provide educators and administrators is the ability to custom-tailor materials and resources to fit their particular students’ needs. This democratization of the development of educational content allows teachers to become creators, adjust their approach based on the strengths of their learners and improve the quality of education for all of their students.

Aspects Making OER Possible

There are different aspects that make the OER movement possible. Importantly, all of these aspects work in unison to offer new levels of choice to educators and ensure access to high-quality resources regardless of geography or learning platform.

1. The leader in the OER movement is IMS Global, an organization working to advance scalable technology and improve educational attainment and participation. IMS Global promotes open standards, which allow for and encourage edtech interoperability. The standards IMS Global help create enable developers to use their preferred programming language to build educational tools that work seamlessly across platforms.

2. Critically, this has led institutions in both K-12 and higher ed to develop tailored learning modules and assessment tools, while allowing other institutions the ability to use or improve on those tools. Services like OER COMMONS and Open Ed give end users the opportunity to browse and evaluate a variety of educational resources, including full university courses, open textbooks, and K-12 lesson plans, worksheets and assignments, among others. OER COMMONS also offers a creative tool, giving educators the ability to create open educational resources and design lesson plans, learning resources, and even courses. These tools are then available to other educators, so teachers in New York, for example, can learn and collaborate with those in California and around the world.

3. Finally, there are resources available that anyone can use to search open tools. EduAppCenter is another platform offering users the ability to find open educational tools to suit their needs. The applications on EduAppCenter are searchable by grade level, subject or category and, most importantly, by learning management system. Functionally, EduAppCenter operates similarly to extensions on Google Chrome or the app store on your smartphone. For example, an eighth-grade math teacher can visit the EduAppCenter, filter their search by math resources for seventh- through 12th-grade students on whatever platform their school uses, and find tools to help build worksheets, develop lesson plans and even create courses — while offering educators the ability to tailor each piece of content to conform with their curricula. In addition, these tools offer administrators the ability to monitor student mastery by classroom, grade level and subject matter.

The Growing Power of Choice

Collectively, these new tools and resources represent a paradigm shift in the edtech world and the clearest evidence yet of the growing power of choice in education. While it is next to impossible to predict what the future of technology will mean for teachers, administrators and students, it is clear is that the advancements in open educational resources have dramatically increased the number of resources available to educators. These resources have also leveled the playing field by offering affordable, quality and standards-aligned resources to all teachers and students.

Hilary Scharton is the Vice President of K-12 Product Strategy for Canvas by Instructure, an open online learning management system (LMS) that makes teaching and learning easier. In her role, she sets the strategic vision for how Canvas makes its products even more awesome for students and teachers across the globe, while focusing on leveraging technology to support improved instruction and equitable access for all students.


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