Finding the Role for OER in Today's Classrooms

Guest blog post by Scott Kinney, Senior Vice President of Educational Partnerships, Discovery Education

Educators are among the world’s greatest optimists. Rightly so, we believe in every child’s capacity to learn. We believe that with enough patience, skill, and determination, every student can develop the best that is in them, regardless of the roadblocks encountered.

Our optimism is one of our greatest strengths. It is what drives us to work long hours, take short breaks, and continue to press on until our job of supporting the success of each learner, despite the obstacles thrown our way, is accomplished. As a result, educators are eager to embrace resources and tools to better support their students’ academic growth. An example of educators’ optimism can be seen in our response to Open Educational Resources or OER.

Initially, OER appears to hold promise in supporting teaching and learning, as advances in educational technology have empowered educators to complement their lessons with rights-free content. As a supplemental resource, I absolutely see the value of building space into curricula for OER. My optimism begins to fade, however, when we begin to talk about OER as a core instructional resource.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, OER is defined as, “Digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning, and research. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licenses.” Theoretically, this sounds very good.

In practice, the shortfalls of OER as a core instructional resource begin to surface. There is no guarantee the content presented in OER is accurate, appropriate for classroom use, and correctly aligned to standards. We know that the quality of the content is critical to students’ learning. To give users of our resources complete confidence in the digital materials we provide, Discovery Education’s curriculum team rigorously evaluate and review each piece of content we add to our online services and digital textbooks to ensure it is factually correct, current, appropriate for students, and properly aligned to state and national standards. District curriculum teams will readily recognize this alignment.

Members of Discovery Education’s curriculum team are among the best in the world at designing engaging multimedia content and devote all of their time to that task. Our curriculum team’s focus on creating innovative instructional materials allows teachers using our resources to focus on evolving their classroom practice and improving instruction. Through this division of labor, students benefit enormously from the expertise of both groups of professionals.

Another concern with OER is the consistency of delivery. If each teacher is left to create and deliver their own lessons using OER, not only is continuity in instruction jeopardized, educators also lose the support structures their school systems provide  through an established scope and sequence. Materials and resources must be embedded into a lesson and then part of the school system’s aligned curriculum, so that educators have clear guidance on what to teach and when. This ensures a system’s aligned curriculum and eliminates the possibility of redundancy of content from grade level to grade level.

Finally, I believe that it is a fundamental role of school systems to provide their educators with properly vetted, high-quality instructional resources. Before the rise of digital content, it was not efficient for teachers to individually cobble together curriculum from their local libraries, so why would we consider this same process with digital resources? We demand a lot of our educators. Each day, we ask them to serve as content experts, instructional masters, motivational coaches, language specialists, conflict mediators, as and many other demanding roles.  Time is an educators’ most valued resource. By providing educators with high-quality instructional resources, schools enable classroom teachers to focus their time on supporting academic achievement. 

A role exists for OER in education now and in the future. For example, OER can help fill the gaps in curricula by providing content on historically under-resourced topics such as STEM, financial literacy, and more. Likewise, OER can assist educators in customizing their lessons with supplemental content.

Advances in education technologies have created an environment in which change is all around us and I believe that development is largely a good thing. Yet, as more and more content is put at the fingertips of students and educators it is important all stakeholders work collaboratively to make sure quality, consistency, and improvement are not lost along the way.  As educators, we are optimistic in our ability to motivate student learning, provide results-driven instruction, and ultimately, improve learning. Let’s continue to be optimistic in our thinking, but also be thoughtful in what tools are best to get the job done.

An acknowledged thought leader dedicated to supporting the success of each learner, Scott Kinney has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of professional learning and educational technology. As Discovery Education Senior Vice President of Educational Partnerships, Kinney collaborates with educators around the world to develop and implement customized solutions that empower the creation of modern, digital learning environments that support student achievement. Prior to joining Discovery Education, Kinney spent 15 years in public education serving at both the school district and regional service center levels. In addition to his K-12 work, Kinney has taught undergraduate and graduate classes for Kent State University and Penn State University, and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.

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Open Educational Resources