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3 Evaluating the quality and relevance of OER

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Figure 4 Are the materials suitable for your specific purpose?

The next consideration regarding resources found online is to evaluate their quality and relevance.

In many cases, OER are as of high a quality in their production as any other educational resources. OER may be shared by some of the best managers, educators or educational support workers in the field. They may be the product of collaboration or feedback from individuals worldwide. However, there are as yet no common standards or guidelines for assessing the quality or accuracy of OER. A European Union (EU) report concluded that there are few national policies or guidelines concerning the validation or certification of OER (Cedefop, 2016), let alone multinational or global standards.

The first step in the evaluation process is to use your subject knowledge to check the accuracy of knowledge claims made in the resource. This is particularly important for sources that you have not encountered before. In academic papers, for example, knowledge claims are often located in the ‘Findings’ section and may be repeated in the conclusion of a report. Ask yourself: Are any items that are presented as facts, to the best of your knowledge, true? Are attributions made to experts whose names you would associate with that field of work? Supporting evidence should usually accompany each knowledge claim – a knowledge claim should be backed up with a response that can be used to answer the question ‘How do we know that?’

In addition to checking the resource for its factual accuracy, it is necessary to check it for accessibility. Accessibility will be covered in more detail in Week 7, but, for now, it is important to remember that any OER will need to be suitable for all your learners and whatever needs they may have. If a resource you want to use has not been made accessible, it must come with a Creative Commons licence that enables it to be modified, so that accessibility features can be added. If the licence says no editing is allowed and it is not already accessible, it is less likely to be useful to your students.

It is also important to evaluate how the form and content of an open educational resource fit with the rest of the learning experience. For example, OER in the form of a web-based short course could be combined with a weekly class to create an opportunity for blended learning. Equally, OER might use different terminology or introduce different concepts from an existing core text.

The ability to modify or combine resources is central to OER and is often supported by the licences used. However, it could take substantial time and effort to modify an existing OER to make it appropriate for a new educational use. These revisions may include removing any inappropriate content or creating additional content to introduce or add more detail to the existing resource (Coughlan et al., 2013). Therefore, another aspect of evaluating OER is to consider whether a specific resource is useful as is, or whether it will require revisions, and if so how those will be achieved.