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2.2 Evaluating open resources

A cartoon depicting a pen resting upon a clipboard bearing a questionnaire.
Figure 5 Do the materials fit the bill?

The next consideration you need to make regarding materials you have found on the web is to evaluate the quality and relevance of the material.

In many cases, OER are as rigorous in their production as any other educational resource. They may be shared by some of the best educators in the field, or they may have been the product of collaboration or feedback from educators worldwide. But there are, as yet, no common standards or guidelines for assessing the quality or accuracy of OERs. A recent EU report concluded that, as yet, 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 this process is to use your subject knowledge to check the accuracy of knowledge claims made in the resource. In academic papers, for example, knowledge claims are often found in a distinct ‘Findings’ section, and may be repeated in the conclusion of a report. Are any items presented as facts, to the best of your knowledge, true? Are attributions made to the kinds of 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, you should also check for accessibility. We will look at this in more detail next week, but for now, it suffices to say that any OERs that you choose to use will need to be suitable for all of your learners (both current and future learners) and whatever needs they may have. If the resource has not been made accessibly, it must come with a CC licence that enables you to modify it, so that you can add accessibility features. If the licence says no editing is allowed, then if it is not accessible, it’s probably not going to be useful to you.

It could also be important to evaluate how the form and content of a resource fits with the rest of the teaching. For example, an 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, an OER might use different terminology or introduce different concepts to the student from an existing core text. It could be important to be aware of this and respond in order to ensure a good experience for the learners.

The ability to modify resources, or combine them together with others, is central to OER, so this is often supported by the licences used. However, it could take substantial time and effort to make modifications in order that an existing OER becomes appropriate to a new teaching use. These revisions may include removing any inappropriate content, or creating additional content to introduce or add more detail to the existing resource (Coughlan, Pitt, & McAndrew, 2013). Therefore, another aspect of evaluating OER is to think about whether it's useful as is, which is an ideal situation, or whether it will need revisions, and if so, how those will be achieved.

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