Take the Red Pill

This week in ECI 831 we were given a long laundry list of resources to go through and evaluate. Each of them was an OER (Open Educational Resource) repository or something similar to that. Sapna does an excellent job of explaining what those are for anyone who does not know. Now, I consider myself to be a techie teacher aware of many online tools, but boy was I in for a surprise. I knew that theoretically there were free resources online, but most of the time when I went looking for them I came across piecemeal stuff of middling quality. I would find a worksheet here and a somewhat useful resource there. I had found a few go to sites for simulations for science classes, but I did not expect to find whole courses, well thought out lesson plans, and more online. At least I did not expect to find these things for free.

I am going to confess that I have not yet had time to evaluate all of the sites that we were given. For anyone not in the course, I have included a list of the resources.

    1. Connexions
    2. OER Commons
    3. Archive.org (and Archive.org Education)
    4. MERLOT
    5. Open Courseware Consortium
    6. CK12 Foundation
    7. Curriki
    8. Khan Academy
    9. Lab Space
    10. Open Textbook Library
    11. American Institute of Mathematics
    12. Open Learn
    13. TED Ed
    14. Wiki Educator
    15. P2PU
    16. OpenStax
    17. MOOC Providers: Coursera, Udacity, EdX
    18. A long list of many more repositories, directories, and resources here.

I made it a little over 75% of the way through the list and found myself enjoying one of the resources so much that I needed to just camp out there for a little while. There is some really useful stuff in this list and I do plan on evaluating them all for myself eventually. (I created a rubric that I am working on filling in, but it takes time.)

Here are my thoughts.

Wow, um. So why do I buy educational resources? Why do any of us buy educational resources? I mean I understand why the school would need to purchase physical resources like chemicals for my science lab, and equipment, but I no longer think that I could ever purchase another textbook, worksheet package, or anything like that unless it was absolutely magical. I weep at the fact that I have spent obscene amounts of my own money over my career so far on resources that are no better than what I found for free last week.

I would say that OERs are definitely the future. If you think about the cost for a province to purchase 10,000 textbooks (In a recent speech the minister of education said students should have access to textbooks) for a single grade in a single subject you are looking at a minimum of $600,000 if you can get the books for $50 each. The province would save money if instead it paid an expert teacher, or team of teachers, to develop a textbook and made it available online as an OER. Each teacher in the province could then access it and modify it as needed. You could have a shared repository for it and have teachers upload any lessons and modifications that they make. This would level the learning experience across the province much more. Since not every student has electronic devices available the province would have to print some copies of it, negating some of the savings, but even if you printed and coil bound 5000 copies at about $25 each you would still only spend $225,000 for the OER and the printed material. This would also mean that the textbooks and supporting resources would better match our curriculum than textbooks that we purchase that were developed for other larger markets. BC is already starting to do this as well as other jurisdictions. At a local school level, I know that I will never recommend the purchase of a textbook again without first scouring the internet first for appropriate free materials first. (I modified the image below to create a meme that expresses how I feel about this).

Adapted by Chris Reed from http://shamelesspride.com/red-pill-blue-pill/the-matrix-red-or-blue-pill_original/

So it is clear that OERs are awesome and exist in abundance, but what is the quality like? I really liked ck-12 because it focused so heavily on my area of teaching, maths and sciences at the high school level. Many of the other OERs were focused at the university level, which is great for me to review, but not so helpful to anyone other than my grade 12 students who are looking for supplementary material.

So what makes ck-12 great? Well, it has a teacher and a student side to it which means that there are different focuses on the kind of resources that it brings up for you. As a student it tries to bring up things that will help you learn the material. It is like a study guide or a tutor. It will suggest simulations and learning activities for the material that you are trying to master. It will also find groups to connect you with that are interested in the same kind of material that you are. There was a tool called stoodle that allowed you to ask for help, but also to offer it to others. It is like a big online study chat session. I can see this being really useful to students trying to learn more about a subject when they do not have access to a teacher. The teacher side presents resources differently. It is more trying to help you plan a lesson or a unit. It has a concept mapping tool to help you figure out how the ideas in a unit connect together. When you search for resources you can also narrow it by the type of standard you want it to match. While most of the standards are American you can still use them as a useful guide. I was able to find lots of material for the test concept that I looked up. I made a screencast of it below in case you want a quick peek at how it works.

I am converted to OERs and cannot see myself easily handing money over to anyone in the future for a resource without it doing a lot of things for me. At this point though I am still a taker. I need to learn how to help others by sharing my resources better. As a first step here is the link for the covalent bonding lesson handout that I developed for my class tomorrow. All rights granted. Have fun with it.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

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5 thoughts on “Take the Red Pill

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