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Monday, 12 November 2012

How OER can impact the role of the adult educator

            The impact that OER have on the learning process is that the availability of material is vastly improved through repositories.  Quality concerns regarding the information and safeguards on sites such Wikipedia seem to have been largely resolved.  For example, in Time’s June 2, 2012 Edition, writer Dan Fletcher referenced a study which fact-checked Wikipedia’s level of accuracy on cancer against textbooks and compared its results with those of the National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query, a professional database that is professionally developed and peer-tested.  Interestingly, Wikipedia’s level of accuracy was virtually the same.  Similarly, in the February 16, 2012 edition of The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen makes a very compelling point:
“We hold this massive experiment in collaborative knowledge to a standard that is higher than any other source. We don't want Wikipedia to be just as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica: We want it to have 55 times as many entries, present contentious debates fairly, and reflect brand new scholarly research, all while being edited and overseen primarily by volunteers.”
            The end result is that the instructor is not necessarily confined to using textbooks where material may become dated quickly or is presented in a confusing way.  As an example, when teaching finance classes, there are websites such as investopedia or YouTube that will present several different approaches to understanding a complex theory. These can either take the form of a video or definitions with examples; and most have a comments section to communicate the usefulness of the information.
            The use of OER is also presents ways to engage technologically savvy students.  This will require a degree of open-mindedness from teachers when assessing submitted work, particularly when accepting the idea that hand-written assignments or face-to-face presentations are not necessarily the only methods for assessing student comprehension. For example, the availability of camera phones may eliminate the need for presentations to be held in person, but rather posted on YouTube.  Potential challenges may be the education of teachers to ensure they are versed in how to use different software packages and redevelopment of marking rubrics.  However, as electronic editions and sharing sites such as Blackboard become more commonplace, this may be a completely natural progression.
            The largest impact this would have on a constructivist like me is further moving the teacher into the role of being a guide and not the sole provider of information.  There is significant freedom of choice when looking at information alternatives, from both the student and teacher perspectives.  Encouraging the use of OER could elicit suggestions from students about effective sites they have used when researching different topics and tying these back into a cohesive course site.  This will require structure and discipline, as courses tend to have significant breadth with varying degrees of depth on each topic.  Caution will also be required as there are copyright and privacy issues that have to be followed.

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