“Digital content’s interesting, but when you take away the book-based structures, teachers are often left hanging. Organizing OER helps teachers feel that the resources they’re using are a bit more structured,” Wilhelm said. “I think that OER, free content, is an amazing disruptor in a very staid industry that hasn’t changed much in a long time.”
Finding and evaluating content
Content is being developed at a rapid clip, and the issues has quickly focused on finding the right content for students and teachers, Wilhelm said.
And while there is plenty of free and fee-based content in general, and teachers can find it on sites such as OER Commons, Pinterest, Google, and Teachers Pay Teachers, curriculum directors might feel wary.
“Safety, reliability, credibility, effectiveness, accuracy – all these are things administrators are concerned about. I think teachers are in the Wild West, like a kid in a candy store–they’re creating great things, and more power to them,” Wilhelm said. “I think creativity is something that ought to be fostered. Finding a happy medium in there is going to be where the secret sauce is, where teachers have flexibility to feel freedom to do their work and administrators know the content they’re using is going to produce the right output. That’s where anyone who does a good job sorting, aligning and bringing value to a new asset comes in.”
Time is another challenge. Teachers’ time is already limited, and they often spend time at home searching for OER. “It’s across the line if we expect a teacher to spend more time teaching than they do already.”
And once a resource is located and bookmarked, there’s a chance it might disappear.
“In the course of a year, about 30 percent of OER content stops performing–so after two years, you’ve got a real problem,” Wilhelm said.
Proper support might be the key.
“This is a great thing for the marketplace if we can have it properly supported,” he said.
“I would love to see the OER movement be part of that lifting up, not part of driving down – finding ways and solutions for these teachers to save time.”
While OER offer a number of opportunities for school districts, they are not without challenges, said Mark Edwards, senior vice president of digital learning for Discovery Education and former superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District.
“OER obviously provide valuable resource opportunities for districts all over the country, and that’s a value-add and it’s exciting,” Edwards said.
But OER also offer very real challenges for districts, he noted.
Supporting teachers during implementation when OER are used as core content could prove difficult, especially if the staff available to guide teachers through implementation is small.
Professional development (PD) is key to any type of implementation, Edwards said. “The content providers we felt successful using provided outstanding PD. The pedagogical change requires support.
“Sustained, systemic PD, differentiated and aligned to district and school needs, is not an ancillary part of the package for successful implementation–it is essential,” Edwards said.
Most districts have a range of teachers, from first year to veterans. Supporting them and differentiating PD is a complex task.
“For every teacher you have with the independent will, time and resources to work in the evenings, there are 10 more teachers who don’t have the time or who need help.”