Voice from the Industry

Emergence of OERs Part of the Solution to Improving Student Outcomes

Every year there seems to be a new movement in education, more specifically ed tech, that promises to address all the pitfalls that came before it, offering new hope to finding the elusive “answer” to the reason why so many students are failing to achieve the goals we expect of them. Current models, whether traditional textbooks, “set-in-their-ways” teachers, or large and bureaucratic organizations, are vilified, and the new model is always deemed the answer. Oftentimes, however, these models or solutions are started and offered by companies that have never spent a day in a real classroom, which is why they fail when the rubber hits the road.

The emergence of Open Education Resources (OERs) seems a bit different. For one, this is not a new model, although the moniker seems fresh and new. For as long as I can recall, teachers have been using outside resources, whether bringing in a print clipping from a newspaper to illustrate a point or showing a video in class. Now, with the prevalence of the Internet, the inclusion of such resources is more commonplace. What is new is the idea that an amalgam of these resources can finally make the leap from supplemental to core.

Before commenting on the validity and reality of such a leap, it’s important to understand what led core resources, such as textbooks, to become mainstream. The publishers will tell you it is the credibility of the content. It’s true that, with a few minor exceptions, textbooks are filled with credible content. But OERs also can be very credible, as is most published content that falls outside the textbook category.

The true value of the textbook, however, is that an entity spent the time to scope and sequence content, add all the necessary teacher resources, assessments, lesson plans, and activities necessary to give teachers a plug-and-play resource to teach their course. This is where most districts that try to fully move to adopt OERs run into surprises, since it is not an easy task and can be quite labor intensive. It requires master curation, exceptional organizational skills, and a deep understanding of how learning concepts tie together – beyond just standards.

At Follett, we think there may be a slightly different approach to how OERs could become mainstream. For one, we need to think of not just OERs but all of the content already within a district. Without investing another dollar, districts have access to significant digital and print resources, vetted and curated and offered through school and public libraries within the community. This includes aggregated databases, fiction and non-fiction ebooks and print, as well as multimedia resources and even assessment resources. Combined with OERs, this offers a vast pool of materials to help shape a strong curriculum.

The challenge is that all this material is in many different resources, which is why Follett has invested a great deal of time and effort in expanding Destiny, currently in nearly 70,000 schools, to be able to search and serve all this material. Through our partnership with the U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen campaign (https://tech.ed.gov/open/) and our support of districts and educators as they transition to the use of high-quality OERs in their schools, we now have openly-licensed educational resources sitting along with all the premium “owned” content in the district. We also tagged and aligned this content to standards and integrated our technology with all district learning management systems, making Destiny the ultimate content repository.

Second, we believe districts need to better utilize their librarians. Librarians are master curators by nature, and no team of professionals has adapted to the changing environment of technology to the extent that librarians have. Through Follett’s Project Connect, we are working on professional development for librarians to give them the skills they need to step up and partner with teachers, suggesting playlists of resources for teachers from which to build lessons. We also are adding this capability to Destiny (at no charge) so that librarians and teachers can collaborate on playlists of OERs and premium content around topic areas – within a school, a district, or even beyond.

Open Educational Resources are valuable. Premium content also is valuable. Through strong collaboration and facilitation through technology, we believe these resources can join forces to provide teachers with more engaging resources. The end goal is to equip teachers with what they need, without taxing their time, so they can spend all their time focused on how to improve instruction – which we believe is the real opportunity to improve student outcomes.

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Nader Qaimari is President of Follett School Solutions, a leading provider of educational content and technology to PreK-12 schools and districts. He originally joined Follett School Solutions in August 2014 as Senior Vice President of Content Services and Solutions. He was with Cengage Learning in a variety of capacities from 1999 to 2014, ultimately serving as the company’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing.