Flexible, editable, changeable. These are words not typically associated with K12 educational materials. However, with shifts in the development, access and implementation of digital instructional materials, the inclusion of Open Education Resources (OER) in our nations schools is on the rise. OER content, from chemistry to history to language arts and mathematics, has spiked across the country as teachers find value in the ability to use, edit, remix and share OER to personalize learning.

What is OER?

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines OER as, “Teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” While open does not mean free of all expenses, OER materials are freely accessible and the costs of access and hosting are far below the costs of traditional textbooks or other educational materials. OER materials may include virtual labs, videos, textbooks, supplemental materials, software, apps or full online courses.

Chain reaction

The shift to digital instructional materials and the new flexibility in state and district instructional material policies have sparked a trend in OER implementation. Multiple states, including New York and Washington are promoting OER through state level initiatives. In addition, 12 states are participating in the K12 OER Collaborative to develop and distribute reviewed, high quality OER for K-12 language arts and mathematics.

"To help ensure success, states and districts need to establish clear vision for quality, accessibility and alignment to the standards."

As highlighted in SETDA!/s OER Case Studies, local school districts such as Yonkers Public Schools in New York, Nebo School District in Utah, Bethel in Washington State and Spokane Public Schools in Washington State are taking advantage of state policies that support OER and making these resources available to their teachers and students.

Government support

Lately, federal support for OER has surfaced as both the House and Senate approved amendments to make OER an allowable use of key Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funding. “This bipartisan, bicameral support for OER represents a potential turning point for OER policy and the digital transition, and we expect the language to be well received by the Senate-House Conference Committee to resolve differences between Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) and the Student Success Act (H.R. 5),” shared Reg Leichty, Founding Partner, Foresight Law + Policy.

Flexibility and success

In the classroom, teachers leveraging OER materials are able to access appropriately licensed materials, make and share revisions, resulting in customized course materials to best meet the needs of their students. When vetted for quality, OER materials provide the flexibility for educators to both personalize instruction and share successes with their fellow educators. To help ensure success, states and districts need to establish clear vision for quality, accessibility and alignment to the standards.

For example, since 2012 teachers in Utah have collaborated to develop and update OER chemistry and biology materials. Teachers value the ability to organize the materials in the order that they plan to teach. “The real growth in the Biology OER came when other teachers brought their experiences to the table, each adding to the content,” says Brian Blake, Payson High School Biology Teacher. One Utah chemistry student shared, "I really liked how the example problems were explained step-by-step so that if I missed a class, I could use it to teach myself or review a subject.”

All in all, OER provides innovative access to instructional materials that can leverage the flexibility of digital materials and the ability to share content online. When coupled with leadership, policies and professional learning, OER materials help to ensure the ability for educators to customize content to best meet the needs of individual learners.