Reflections from the 2016 OER Convening, Washington, D.C.

Last month, the National Science Foundation, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, brought researchers and stakeholders together with representatives of #GoOpen states and districts. The goal? Advance a research and development agenda to investigate how open educational resources (OER) affect practitioners and students and discuss policy questions around issues of access.

According to a widely-cited definition, OER are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2013). In addition to full course and textbook replacement, OER can include:

  • course materials,
  • modules,
  • textbooks,
  • streaming videos,
  • tests,
  • software,
  • and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge,

and are credited with the ability to maximize education budgets and optimize resources across educational systems. For all of the heralded benefits and promising research to-date in higher education settings, navigating the OER landscape from conceptualization to implementation can still be a challenging endeavor.

The convening was focused on articulation of research questions and the identification of infrastructure needs with an eye toward exploring potential partnerships. Specifically, conversations were geared toward a crucial question: How can we study the impact of OER on K-12 education?Conversations around the room focused on several key areas:

  • Discovery — How can people find the right OER materials and guarantee their quality? Is there an OER vetting process that aligns to practice and pedagogy without being too cumbersome for practical use?
  • Implementation — How can educators find out what OER their peers are using and for what purpose, in order to help design better learning tools, teacher preparation materials, and best practices for OER use?
  • Measurement — How can we measure data use of OER in real time? How can we harness the impact of a data collection tool to see how OER are being used to have an impact on the field?

Anyone who works with OER has often heard the phrase that openly licensed resources are “free like a puppy.” Meaning, while OER is not restricted by licensing or royalty fees like traditional instructional materials, there are human capital costs associated with professional learning, infrastructure, and implementation-related tasks. And although not all OER is used through the conduit of a digital tool or product, it’s hard to imagine learning materials like these not having some kind of edtech connection. Online repositories abound with OER ready to be reused, redistributed, revised, and remixed; but there is still so much to learn about how OER looks and acts when scaled up from local use levels.

The LearnPlatform grading system for edtech products, designed to empower and connect educators through a research-based rubric, is leveling the field for educators who want to know what products their peers are using, how they are using them in the classroom, and what they think about them. The platform’s balance of rigorous methods-based data collection and analysis with easy-to-use functionality is the same combination needed for anyone wanting to understand how OER implementation and adoption can move education forward.