Open Education Resources (OER) is all about free online textbooks, right? If you subscribe to Google Alerts and use the keyword “OER,” that’s the impression you get from the alerts Google sends. Every day I get G-alerts about “OER” from clippings that appear in online news. Mostly, it seems, from US news. And almost every one of those alerts, supposedly about OERs, is about eTextbooks and how a school board or college is promoting the use of OERs (i.e., free eTextbooks) to make education more affordable. But it seems from the wording of those press releases that most don’t understand that there are many kinds of other OERs that they also could be supporting, which would also help make education more affordable.
For those of us who practically live and breathe OERs – sad as it is to admit – it’s very disappointing to read these announcements and feel that these institutions are missing the opportunity to promote more widespread use of OERs, beyond just eTextbooks. This is particularly true when you compare these American promotions of OERs with the Europeans who for years have seemed to really understand the breadth of OERs and the opportunities they can offer – see, for example, http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/initiative. And then there’s Taiwan and Africa and even the UN which also appear to be able to organize government-level policies and programs geared towards a broader definition of OERs than just eTextbooks.
But don’t get me wrong. Policies related eTextbooks as one kind of OER are definitely worthwhile and can pay off in very measurable ways. But it’s kind of disconcerting to read the results of surveys of US instructors who don’t use OERs because they can’t find them, don’t trust their quality, don’t know how to use them, or simply don’t know what OER is.
We in MERLOT don’t really like to encourage Google searches for learning materials, mainly because we think that our collection is superior, being curated by subject matter experts who ensure the quality of the learning objects there. But it’s hard to believe that instructors who don’t know about MERLOT can’t just do a Google search on the term “OER.” Try it and guess how many hits you get. One million? Five million? Ten million? You’re not even close. How about 23,000,000!! Or if you need your hit list to have an element of entertainment, try YouTube where you’ll get more than 400,000 hits. Or if you need your hit list to have an element of quality for teaching and learning, just visit www.merlot.org or our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/MERLOTPlace.
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