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Homilies can be misleading. “You get what you pay for.” Or, “The best things in life are free.” Which is it? Clearly they can’t both be right. In the case of Open Education Resources (OER), the best things in life really are free. I am constantly amazed by discussions and debates about the value of OER. It’s pretty clear to me, and I can’t understand why it’s not clear to everyone, that OER is a free resource that anyone can voluntarily use, or not. If you discover something and don’t like it or think it is inappropriate for your needs, you can just ignore it. This is especially true if you are searching MERLOT (www.merlot.org) where you can often tell something about the quality and appropriateness of the learning materials that you find there.
A few years ago I taught an online course for Sloan-C (now known as Online Learning Consortium). One of the course topics concerned the use of repositories such as MERLOT’s, for instructors to discover and use OER. When I later asked the students of the course, all of whom were fulltime instructors at colleges and universities, if they found the course valuable, almost all said yes. When I asked them if they intended to use OER repositories in their own teaching, they were more equivocal. They told me that the felt they didn’t have enough time to integrate discovered OER into their everyday teaching activities. This is a pretty sad state of affairs because most of us, for whatever reasons, often cop out, and because of time constraints or just plain laziness adopt a course textbook that will wind up costing students $100 or more. This is particularly sad, since there are so many OERs available for free that would cost the students practically nothing. MERLOT contains, for example hundreds of Open Access textbooks that would satisfy many course requirements. Even when a conventional textbook is adopted, the MERLOT ISBN Finder can be used by an instructor or even a student to find supplementary OERs related to an adopted textbook.
If you are a user of MERLOT OER, I invite you to participate in a new survey co-sponsored by MERLOT and the UK Open University’s OER Research Hub in which we are trying to learn about the usefulness of OER. What are your thoughts about the usefulness of MERLOT OER? Participate in this survey and help us to cast some light on how we can make OER more useful and cost effective for both ourselves and our students. All comments are welcome!
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