[3/11/16 UPDATE: In honor of Open Education Week 2016, and as alluded to in this post, the FAQ: OER for K-12 Educators has been updated with the collaboration and support of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Creative Commons (CC), Creative Commons – United States (CC-USA), the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). As such, I have closed this post for further comments.]

I’ve established that I am a fan of open educational resources (OER) and think that K-12 educators and policymakers would benefit from thinking more deeply about the ownership of instructional materials. I’ve even offered up ideas on issues the K-12 OER movement needs to confront and work through in the coming years as it struggles with the success of greater adoption.

At the same time, I get that there are those that disagree with me and oppose granting educators the freedom to use OER, most especially the lobbyists and trade associations representing commercial publishers of content. Some who disagree have even suggested that “there’s some debate about just what we mean by ‘open’ in the context of education.” It’s almost as if they are confused about the definition of the term. To what degree this confusion is genuine or something less savory (inconceivable!), I’ll let others judge (but I’d recommend reading David Wiley’s take – and I paraphrase here – “you keep using that word ‘open.’ I do not think it means what you think it means”).



For me, while this back and forth is great sport (yes, even policy wonks can break a sweat), I am actually less interested in what OER advocates say on the one side and defenders of the status quo say on the other. I’m a pragmatist: I think we need to do a better job of  listening to what educators and students need and want and to engaging with them over time to iterate toward something better. For the foreseeable future, I imagine this is a blend of proprietary content and open content, but that’s just my opinion.

At the same time, given the volleys of accusations from the two sides about what ‘open’ means (including intentional efforts to obfuscate its real meaning), the question remains: As an educator, how can I be sure that a lesson plan or activity is actually open and not just pretending to be open?

That is a fair question and – in honor of the U.S. Department of Education’s support of school districts efforts to Go Open – one I want to address directly. To that end, I present the first draft of “#GoOpen: OER for K-12 Educators – Frequently Asked Questions.” It addresses in a simple FAQ format questions including:

  • What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?
  • How does OER help educators and students?
  • What is the difference between ‘free’ and ‘open’ resources?
  • Are all OER digital?
  • How do I know if an educational resource is an OER?
  • What are best practices for hosting OER in online or digital platforms?

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As a first draft, please be sure to let me know what other questions you have about OER, if you have suggested edits, or any other feedback that may help to make the piece more useful for K-12 educators and related audiences. You can do so by leaving a comment on this post below or by visiting this Google document version and commenting directly on the text.

Together, we can help clear up this little (spurious?) debate about what the ‘open’ in open educational resources actually means. In the coming weeks, I’ll make sure to post an updated version (openly licensed, downloadable, and editable).


P.S. A big tip of my hat goes out to @sandramc59 for inspiring the theme of this post. Thanks!