Open educational resources: Tips for educators and administrators

July 10, 2019

While teachers are beginning to use open and freely available instructional materials—commonly referred to as open educational resources (OER)—, these materials are  still relatively unknown and misunderstood. In part this is because OER is a new kid on the block. OER’s toe-hold in the instructional materials marketplace is miniscule compared to the many publishing heavy weights.  However,  OER’s mystique also derives from the difficulty in defining it. Ask teachers about OER and you’ll likely get a range of responses: They’re free. They’re available on the internet. They’re used more as a curriculum supplement rather than the main course. Advocates for OER assert that the vision of OER is much grander. They maintain that OER is about helping educators become curators, curriculum designers, and content creators.

To better understand how open educational resources (OER) are used in California, we interviewed over a dozen teachers, district administrators and OER content developers and distributors about why they adopted, created, and use OER. Read more to learn about the benefits of OER and helpful tips around additional considerations for adoption OER materials.  if adopting OER materials.

Benefits of OER

  • OER provides the flexibility to customize through the 5Rs:
    • Retain – make, own, and control copies of the content
    • Reuse – use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
    • Revise – adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
    • Remix – combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
    • Redistribute – share copies of the original content or revisions or remixes with other people (e.g., give a copy of the content to a colleague).

“The ability to reformat was very helpful,” says Dennis Regus, Curriculum Coordinator for Menifee Union School District. “Our district mantra is that no curriculum, no matter how good, is ever going to meet the needs of all students so it’s expected teachers will alter it—make additions, subtractions, changes—to meet the needs of the students.”

Currently, many OER content providers do not customize instructional materials to fit local needs. Districts that are adopting OER will likely have to change or modify content themselves rather than rely on content creators.

  • With OER, no contract means not getting locked In. For example, Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District now has the flexibility to request additional consumables, teachers’ additions, or printed materials only when, and if, they need them.

“If our teachers still like it [the OER materials] after five years, we can just keep going. We don’t need to re-up with the publisher,” says Jennifer Roush, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Fairfield Unified School District.

“The fact that we can now evaluate our curriculum needs each year is a significant benefit to the district,” stated Mr. Regus of Menifee Union. “Workbooks are our biggest cost, and because we have one-to-one Chromebooks, some of our teachers opt to access the OER online.”

Tips for Adopting OER

  • Tip #1: Ensure you have strong district leadership in support OER materials. The OER materials market has grown and many OER materials in the market now are high-quality and aligned to college– and career–ready standards. It’s vital  to the success of your adoption that your leadership knows the potential benefits of OER and the importance of considering them alongside traditional materials in an adoption process.
  • Tip #2: Just like a traditional materials adoption, be sure to involve your teachers to lead the adoption process of new OER materials. “Teachers need to really believe in what’s being adopted,” says Jenn Roush, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction, “and they need to find value in it. We can’t forget that they’re our content experts.” Read more about how to engage educators throughout an adoption process from
  • Tip #3: Put quality before cost savings. While the majority of programs provide free instructional materials, there is often a need to purchase additional content or print materials when adopting OER. For instance, in English language arts, some literature texts under traditional “all rights reserved” copyright must be purchased in order to implement the OER lesson components. In addition, some OER materials lack pre-tailored professional learning components. Districts may need to purchase additional guidance, tools, or programs to support teachers with implementation.
  • Tip #4: OER does not need to be on the state adoption list in order for California districts to select OER programs. As the California Department of Education states, “a school district may utilize instructional materials not adopted by the State Board of Education, so long as the materials are aligned to state standards and a majority of the participants of any review process conducted by the district are classroom teachers who are assigned to the subject area or grade level of the materials being reviewed.” To adopt OER in California, learn more about the mandatory process that you should follow.