By Guest Blogger Becky Nation, Avalon Middle School (Santa Rosa County)
Due to limited funding and lack of supplemental resources, classroom teachers and teacher librarians increasingly turn to online sources such as Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) and Pinterest for lesson ideas. I’ve both fallen down the Pinterest rabbit hole and paid for lessons from TPT many times, so I’m certainly not saying these sites are bad. Quality materials can be gleaned from both sites; however, many vetted Open Educational Resources (OER) exist that can be used for free. In fact, the list can be quite overwhelming once one begins to explore everything available.
So what exactly is an OER anyway? An OER is any teaching, learning, or research source that is either in the public domain or is available through an open license. Being familiar with copyright laws and public domain materials, I will admit that hearing the first part of this definition was a bit of a turnoff for me since I felt like a lot of public domain materials harbor a few cobwebs that my middle school students struggle to disentangle. The second part of the definition sparked my interest and prompted further investigation. Open license materials differ from public domain materials, because the creator still holds the copyright. Typically, these are newer products that the creator has granted permission for no cost usage, adaptation, and redistribution. A creator can grant an open license for any type of created product: online courses, textbooks, lessons, simulations, videos, images… The list is endless.
Although many individual websites exist, I have found that the best place to start is at OERCommons.org. Curated by digital librarians, the site has become a hub for vetted OER resources, making the search for quality materials an easier, less daunting task. Video tutorials introduce resources and functions such as setting up profiles, searching the website, creating groups for sharing resources, and becoming a resource contributing author. Through the creation of groups, professionals have the power to collaborate to create curriculum, discuss resources, and harness the creativity of others at no cost.
While on the OERcommons website one day, one of my students asked me what I was doing. In explaining to her the concept of open educational resources and the idea that they are vetted, she got this “Aha!” look on her face. She then told me it was just like when I taught them to use the databases instead of just searching Google when doing research, because someone had already done the evaluation for them. That’s why this tool is so incredibly valuable. It’s a free resource that saves times, offers quality teaching materials, and just makes “Cents.”