Guest Contributor: Cheryl Costantini, VP of Content Strategy, Cengage

About a month ago, the EdTechWomen organization in San Francisco asked if I was interested in being a panelist for a discussion on Open Educational Resources. I gladly accepted the opportunity; a chance to talk about my perspectives on OER, what they mean for education, and how they can help students is something I love to talk about.

A panel of pioneers

The event was hosted at the Udemy office. Two of my colleagues, Shuning Yan and Yuxi Liu are members of the group, and several other colleagues came to the discussion. The title of the session was “Exploring the Education Commons.” My fellow panelists were two pioneers in the movement, Candace Thille, Founding Director of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University and Senior Research Fellow, Stanford University and Cathy Casserly, Former CEO of Creative Commons and Special Advisor at Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Shuning Yan facilitated the panel and started out by asking us how we came to understand OER. I appreciated the tenure, deep history, and passion Candace and Cathy bring to the movement. They shared anecdotes of how OER was originally defined, why it started, and how it evolved to where it is today. As a relatively new follower, I’ve come to understand that OER started with the principle that learning materials should be created in a way so that they can easily be reused. As the VP of Content Strategy at Cengage, one of my areas of focus is enabling better content re-use, and I see OER as another form of content that can be used alongside Cengage’s content.

Improving access for students

We all agreed that OER has great promise to improve access to materials for students. Although I’m focused on OER content, Cathy talked a lot of about open access and the sharing of materials so that the democracy of education is supported. Candace shared her learning science experience, and when asked about how to judge effectiveness or quality, pointed to how data can be used to overcome instructor concerns. While data will be helpful, it’s not readily available for the vast number of resources available for use.

Curation and quality

From 2006 to 2016, the growth of OER has been exponential. In 2006, there were approximately 50 million OER learning objects, and now there are nearly a billion. The increase of available resources will continue to grow as educators and subject matter experts get more comfortable sharing their materials.

However, this growth is not going to help the well-understood challenges of discoverability in the short term as well the concern many Instructors have around quality. Instructors are accustomed to vetted and curated materials they can rely on. They need help navigating OER; finding the materials they need and figuring out how to deliver them in an instructionally sound way is not something many instructors have the time and expertise for.

Creation of OER

Although using OER can relieve some of the costs for students, placing the burden of course materials creation on individual instructors doesn’t seem like the best solution. While some schools may have the benefit of on-staff instructional designers and departments that create courses for instructors, those schools are the exception rather than the norm. If we are going to provide more affordable solutions that use OER that are tested, well-designed, peer-reviewed, and provide instructional support for assessment and digital tools like analytics, we need organizations that have national reach and expertise in product creation.

This is where companies like Cengage can have value. We are excellent curators. We know how to find, vet, and design, package, and deliver course materials. We have digital platforms that enable grading, LMS integration, analytics, and personalization. In short, we can provide value on top of OER that will bring durability and scale to their use.

Transforming education to support student confidence

In the end, we all agreed that OER has tremendous promise ensuring the content is shared and used to help students have access to materials and learn. This is just one way education is being transformed.

With passionate leaders like Candace, Cathy, and organizations committed to being student-centered and focused on solving learning challenges, we look forward to helping as many students as possible become confident and successful learners.