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Refresh Your Course with Open Educational Resources

Course Design Online Teaching and Learning

Refresh Your Course with Open Educational Resources

A book lies open on the keyboard of an open laptop
Many faculty and institutions are turning to open educational resources (OER) to lower costs to students and improve instruction. While much has been written about the search, evaluation, and selection process for OERs, the need to produce a coherent and engaging design for OER delivery often goes unmentioned. Redesigning a course with OER requires time, planning, and expertise in course design. This process is best guided with a plan for evaluating the current course and incorporating OERs into the design.

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Many faculty and institutions are turning to open educational resources (OER) to lower costs to students and improve instruction. While much has been written about the search, evaluation, and selection process for OERs, the need to produce a coherent and engaging design for OER delivery often goes unmentioned. Redesigning a course with OER requires time, planning, and expertise in course design. This process is best guided with a plan for evaluating the current course and incorporating OER into the design.

First, find out whether support is offered on your campus. Libraries, centers for teaching and learning, and offices of online education would be the places to consult with. This is important because in addition to pure OER (both those licensed as such and works in the public domain), there are free materials available to students through institutions (for example, library subscriptions) and other agencies.

Many online educators mix and match OER and other free materials because sometimes it is simply not possible to use OER alone. You may then deploy your own lecture materials and commentaries to illuminate, enhance, and fill in any gaps in the coverage of topics.

Second, learn whether colleagues at your institution are adopting or creating OERs and inquire about their work. These colleagues can provide ideas about how different resources integrate into the institution’s learning management system, students’ perceptions of the resources, and how to make the most of existing resources and available services to redesign your course with OER.

Third, conduct an inventory of existing learning materials. List all materials required for each week of the course, noting those you are potentially targeting for replacement by OER. Use our OER Course Planning Document to guide this process. As you work with this document, make sure you select just one course to start with—ideally, one that already utilizes free materials. You even can try using the name of the course in your search for OER.

During the initial search you may want to look for an open textbook. Review the list of criteria in the OER Course Planning Document for the essential elements to guide you. Additionally, you might use a rubric to evaluate any open textbooks you do find. For example, Affordable Learning Georgia offers an easy-to-use rubric with guiding questions.

Compare a few textbooks. Note that you can mix and match chapters, sections, and additional resources from several sources, which will require additional work on your part. Of course, if you are able to find one open textbook that meets your needs, you can consider yourself lucky!

If you cannot find an open textbook, search for curated material for your subject. Remember to go beyond Google and make full use of OER repositories. For example, SUNY Geneseo’s OASIS and OER Commons provide rich repositories. As you make your initial search, take notes on your findings.

After the initial search, start working on the week-by-week OER Course Planning Document. Take an inventory of your course, and note the areas that will need attention, changes, or revisions. Following the path outlined in the document, identify your learning units, weeks, and modules. Whether it’s an accelerated six-week course or a regular 15-week course, it is important to fill this out diligently and pay close attention to the licensing conditions of the new learning materials you will adopt. While completing this exercise, you may discover that some of the content you use in your course does not relate to your unit’s learning outcomes. You can then either discard it or revise learning outcomes to ensure that they reflect the intended learning for the course.

If you are unable to find OER learning materials, you may need to create your own. As you do, consider making them OER and assigning appropriate licenses as well as contributing them to an OER repository such as MERLOT.

Once you have completed the week-by-week planning document, go back to the beginning and note the rationale for selecting your OER. Then use this completed planning document to revise your course. You will want to create a comprehensive project plan, adding a column for due dates and perhaps another for checking off each section as it is built out on your chosen platform.

If you would like additional guidance about search, evaluation, and planning or happen to lead OER faculty development at your institution, explore this website, which provides information about and the content for a two-week faculty workshop. This workshop is itself an OER, offering a deep dive into OER and showing faculty how to find, evaluate, and integrate OER into their courses with intentional course design.

Olena Zhadko, PhD, is the director of online education at the City University of New York’s Lehman College, where Susan Ko, PhD, is a faculty development consultant and a clinical professor in the Department of History.