Open educational resources (OERs) are often cost-free learning materials that can be included in online courses. OERs are abundantly available and can help solidify concepts and enhance learning for students. But this abundance can be a benefit or a drawback. You may find many resources on a given topic, but not all may be high quality. In this sea of resources, how do you decide which ones are worth including and which ones are not?
We were tasked with developing courses that relied primarily on OERs in order to eliminate or reduce textbook fees. In doing so, we created a checklist of characteristics to look for when evaluating OERs for potential inclusion in a course. We drew inspiration from Quality Matters™, the MERLOT© peer review process, and personal experience in the instructional design field.
The evaluation stage is where you sift through the resources you have found to determine which ones fit the needs of the course. We've found that having the criteria laid out in an easily accessible format can help make the evaluation process much more efficient. The Learning Resource Evaluation Checklist is divided into three categories: Quality and Relevance of Content, Accessibility and Ease of Use, and Interaction. Each of these categories has criteria that will help you determine whether a learning resource is high enough in quality to use in your course.
The first category is Quality and Relevance of Content. This section is where you analyze the resource to make sure that it is accurate, aligns with the content being presented, is good quality, and is cited appropriately. The criteria in this section help pare down the number of resources to those that are accurate and current and cover the correct level of detail for the course.
The second category is Accessibility and Ease of Use. This portion of the checklist focuses on ensuring that the learning resources meet accessibility standards, that the layout of resources is consistent and visually distinct, and that the materials are easy to use and presented in a familiar and attractive way. Some resources are very simple, such as motion graphics. Others can be very complex, such as simulations or websites. In either case you want to think about how intuitive it is to use the resource. Does it contain adequate instructions, or will you have to create them for your students? You should also consider any technical requirements when thinking about ease of use. Does the resource require special plug-ins or programs to work? If so, this will diminish the ease of use considerably. Students are increasingly using tablets and other mobile devices as the primary way of accessing their course materials, and these devices may have compatibility issues with respect to OERs. For example, in the case of iPad users, Flash-based resources will be inaccessible.
The final category is Interaction. The purpose of this category is to evaluate whether the resource provides opportunities for student input and feedback. A resource that allows students to interact with the content in a meaningful way can be a nice change of pace and an effective way for students to learn the practical application of a concept that would be more difficult to learn by merely reading or watching. For example, imagine that you've found two resources covering the same content with a similar level of detail. One is a simple narrated lecture, and the other is a narrated lecture that has questions interspersed throughout. There is a blend of objective and open-ended questions that students answer as they move through the material, receiving preprogrammed feedback along the way. This feedback, while not customized, allows a student to gauge his or her understanding and application of the concepts in a risk-free environment.
For evaluating each of the criteria in the checklist, evaluation columns are available to help keep track of your impressions of the resource. Using these evaluation columns makes the comparison process between resources easier, helping expedite your decision-making process.
In creating the Learning Resource Checklist, our goal was to create a tool that will help you more effectively use OERs in your courses. There can be a lot of learning resources to sort through, and a tool to help you evaluate those will contribute to developing an engaging and meaningful course.
Eileen Horn is the senior instructional designer and team leader and Kristine Pierick is an instructional designer at UWEX Continuing Education, Outreach & E-Learning.