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Friday, March 4, 2011

More on OER--Like Toothbrushes?

From the "Open Content" blog ( An analogy comparing OER to toothbrushes?

Remember the campaign by one company (I think it was Oral B) to distribute thousands of toothbrushes? The blog author in a February 28 post likens the distribution of these toothbrushes to the distribution of OER, saying that just because they are distributed does not mean that they are being used. . .and that there may not be data to support the continued financing (or even the validity) of that distribution. He makes some valid points, and it's an interesting post, bringing to mind the line from Costner's Field of Dreams: "If you build it, he will come." (My all-time favorite movie, by the way.)

It made me think, though, about ALL the "bells and whistles" that we incorporate into teaching/learning, particularly in the online arena. We work hard to incorporate interactive learning tools, to provide opportunities for students to engage with each other and the instructor, to streamline the navigation process, and to develop and deliver information that we believe is critical to student success in our courses. I'm generally confident that at least some students do derive benefit from all this hard work!

However, when several students in a row ask a question about something covered in one of those meticulously prepared documents or complain about something not working right when, if only they had READ the instructions/watched the video/completed the practice work, they would not have encountered that roadblock, I sometimes become cynical and wonder why I spent all that time!

Is there value in all these materials and activities? Is there data to support the work we put into this, or would the students who succeed in our courses succeed regardless of the "extras" that we provide? Ah yes, that's what data analytics is all about, right?

Ok, I know that there IS data to support a great deal of what we are doing in our courses, and I believe that we're on the road to gathering even more data, but I also believe that there is a lesson to be learned. The fact that we make learning activities available isn't enough. We can provide students with a plethora of engaging, interactive learning tools. . . but if we don't direct them in how and when to use them, they are likely to be either overwhelmed by the sheer number of available activities (as in some of the publisher-prepared sites), or underwhelmed by the usefulness of the activities.

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