With the emergence of digital learning materials and open educational resources (OER), instructors have a wealth of instructional course materials at their fingertips. But just because something is free and in digital format doesn’t mean it passes muster.

“At some institutions the review and selection of course materials involves faculty collaboration and a shared responsibility to ensure course materials meet agreed-upon learning goals for students. Ideally, the decision on which course materials to use is based on the needs of the faculty teaching the course and the desired learning outcomes for the often diverse group of students taking the course,” according to a course materials guide from the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).

The guide offers a brief overview of OER and notes that there are always costs associated with free materials, such as costs to reproduce resources or costs associated with the manpower necessary to maintain an OER repository. Despite the costs, though, OER are a viable option for course materials.

When it comes to identifying high-quality content for courses, then, “the effectiveness of course materials is dependent on the expertise of the individual(s) who create them and the skillfulness in which the material is presented. When selecting course materials–whether OER or commercially developed–faculty should determine if the materials meet high-quality standards, including clearly-articulated student learning objectives; well-designed content that is engaging and relevant; and expertly-sources content that is comprehensive, accurate, objective and reliable.

(Next page: Seven musts for evaluating course materials)

In addition, seven questions can help faculty evaluate the quality and appropriateness of course materials.

1. When downloading freely-available content, you can determine if the material is protected by copyright.
• Is all of the content (e.g. photograph, art/graphical illustrations and text) licensed for free use,
modification and sharing?

2. The materials are current.
• Can you determine if the material will be updated or revised in the future?

3. Materials are expertly-authored and reviewed.
• Are the author’s qualifications and expertise in the subject area listed?

4. Materials are recommended by people or organizations you trust.
• If the materials are new, can you examine the author’s or publisher’s track record?

5. Supplementary materials are available. Study guides, tutorials, homework resources, tests and quizzes are available to support the course materials.
• Is there a cost to students or to the institution either for acquiring supplementary materials or for
integrating them within a learning management system?

6. The materials are designed for all students.
• Does the content incorporate features that help make it accessible to students with disabilities?

7. Materials have been field-tested.
• Have the materials been demonstrated to be effective in the university classroom?

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura

Add your opinion to the discussion.