While the use of OER (open educational resources) is often praised as a low-cost and more accessible alternative to physical textbooks, there’s still a lot of criticism surrounding OER courseware.

Many educators are concerned about issues such as compatibility with existing learning management systems, quality of materials, course customization options, and more. But there is an often-overlooked middle ground between OER and traditional textbooks: enhanced OER courseware. This type of digital solution builds a course on a foundation of OER materials, then enhances it with ancillary materials such as analytics, assessments and videos.

Related content: OER courseware can boost student engagement

As program coordinator and professor of the criminal justice department at Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s (KCTCS) Somerset Community College, I’ve used enhanced OER courseware from BNC OER+ (previously known as LoudCloud Courseware) to increase affordability and accessibility for our students in courses such as history and criminal justice. In fact, in one year of use in Somerset’s history courses, student savings totaled $135,660.

Beyond savings, the use of this enhanced OER solution has helped faculty members track student performances with better data and analytics, improving outcomes for students and faculty alike. OER courseware sets students up for success by arming them with all the resources they need on the first day of class, so faculty members don’t have to waste time waiting for students to order textbooks.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few common misconceptions about OER, and how to best integrate it into your curriculum:

Common misconceptions about OER courseware

● OER isn’t supported by technology. Given the reliance on learning management systems (LMS) and other technology in the classroom, faculty members might worry that OER presents another headache to deal with (or at least a steep learning curve). However, it’s easy to upload enhanced OER courseware directly into existing platforms. In my department, we used BNC OER+ courseware, which integrated directly with Somerset’s LMS.

In fact, because courseware is digital, it’s often easier to integrate resources with LMS platforms (and eliminates time-consuming tasks like scanning pages of print textbooks to upload resources).

● OER courseware isn’t properly vetted. Because many OER respositories allow any user to create an account and post material, there can be concerns around the quality of the content. If anyone can contribute to OER courses, how do faculty members know they are using credible resources (without taking the time to vet them themselves)?

Fortunately, there’s no need to start from scratch. As more institutions adopt OER in their classrooms, the available courses already vetted by subject matter experts is increasing. If you use the right resources and partners, you’ll be able to provide access to learning materials at the similar quality as a traditional textbook publisher – but at a fraction of the price for your students.

3 tips for improving your curriculum with OER courseware

If you’re interested in improving outcomes across the board for your students, here are a few tips to consider when implementing OER courseware:

1. Define your goals. There are many benefits to implementing OER at your institution, but it helps to start by defining the benefits that are most important to your students. Are you looking to increase affordability and accessibility? Are you most interested in courses you can modify and create yourself? Do you want better methods to analyze student success and engagement?

All these questions and more are critical for understanding what you want from OER. Clear goals make adoption smoother and clarify any questions or doubts from other university decision makers.

2. Use the right tools. Many of the challenges associated with implementing OER — quality concerns, time-consuming course development and maintenance of materials — are alleviated by OER courseware technology. Using a courseware solution ensures you’re using quality, vetted materials and eliminates licensing concerns. Additionally, many solutions offer learning analytics capabilities so you can more easily gain insights about where your students are excelling and where they need additional help.

3. Personalize learning content. One of the biggest advantages of OER is that it is crowd-sourced, which means you can gain information and insights from a more diverse crowd of experts than ever before. OER empowers you to become a thought leader and add your own voice to the conversation, whether you create your own materials or supplement existing materials with your own notes, lectures or video content. BNC OER+ courseware allows you to share your expertise and tailor course content in ways that work best for your students.

As the cost of college continues to rise, it’s critical that we do all we can to make support students. That includes making course materials as accessible and affordable as possible. Armed with the right technology, you can incorporate OER content in your curriculum and not only save students money, but also personalize your course content, increase efficiency, and prepare students for success from day one.

About the Author:

Brandi Thomas is program coordinator and professor of the criminal justice department at KCTCS Somerset Community College.

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