OER: how do students use them in the classroom?

A year ago this summer I began using Twitter in my classroom with the long term goal of implementing OER (Open Educational Resources). I attended all the teach-ins presented by Faculty Professional Development at my previous institution, and often heard professors struggle in the ed tech sessions with how students learn from technology. While I try to use technology for meaningful learning I struggled with a more basic problem: how do students learn from Reading Online. As yet I haven’t seen an answer. I haven’t even seen much of an engaged discussion about this in relation to OER (and I’ve found nothing on Pinterest but hand notes for K-12 reading, Pinterest is now failing me in sparking brilliance!!!)

Here I will outline my reasons for seeing struggle in a fairly one sided argument (with myself) to continue to move toward the adoption of OER in the classroom. I want to cut down book costs, but I’m still finding students learn better when I assign a book versus an article (accounting for equal level of density between the two). I see huge connections to information literacy development that is necessary outside the classroom, so this isn’t just a cost thing for me.

Problem #1: It’s RARE that  student will come to class with the article printed, while mine is all marked up, noted, questions listed for class on the front, and often color tabbed so I can direct the discussion, check understanding and use the article for engaged learning in game days. On Game Days when students were asked to reference sections of an article, students flipped through pages, back and forth, back and forth, with what seemed like little direction or idea on how to focus and find what they needed in the text.

Problem #2: I don’t know how to transfer my own reading process to an online resource – so how can I guide students to do the same in a freshmen comp course using only OER?

Problem #3: OER are not designed to be printed, so what is the relationship between reading and taking usable notes? Similar to other online debates in relation to education (how do you authenticate the identity of an online student? – ummmm do you check id’s in f2f courses? like that debate) – this is a fine point question. Students don’t always/usually know how to take notes on their reading in a usable way to begin with so why would they know online – so then what do I do?

So it’s problem #3 that I believe provides the entry point (and the connection between maker education, digital rhetoric, and education that I strive for in my research) to OER. But I feel like I need to *solve* #2 to address #3. I need to find ways to take and retain usable notes from all my online reading. I need to find a way to store and access information, article references, annotated bibs for all my school-related reading first. If I can model one approach, and recommend good approaches that didn’t work for me, I’ll be in a place to help guide students through OER.

I think this is a good time to jump in with the why – why is this important. When I first started working at ASU with the hopes of a job paying for my master’s I worked at the front desk of a department. I had calls for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week asking for information that could easily be found on the ASU webpages. I became really good at finding those sources and sending them. Information retrieval, search terminology, all of that is a necessary information literacy skill (yay one more thing that needs to be taught and discussed in an already jam packed semester). The good news here, if I have an ARG for this!! The point is, in a job, this was one of the first skills I was expected to develop, QUICKLY. When I mastered that skill, I was promoted because information retrieval is a skill not many fine tuned. Hopefully the connection here is a bit obvious, students may have to search for articles and ideas for school, but they’ll similarly search in the work world based on modern uses of computers. So reading the internet and retaining/using information read is both an important school-based AND work-based skill (we’re mattress shopping right now, it’s also an adult skill).

The difference here, using my example (and drawing from Gee’s works) is need – I needed to demonstrate strong information literacy so I didn’t sit behind a desk my entire career (plus moving on helped my grad class schedule – so double need). I retain articles and blogs better when I consider using the information in class. I remember romance novels in more detail when I imagine the blog review I would write when I work up the nerve to start my romance review blog. Just like in videogames (Gee) the need to use information increases retention.

So my struggle with OER won’t be solved today, because I don’t know how (similar to textbooks and in-class articles) to make it seem necessary to students. I also don’t think enough research has been conducted on how students approach reading OER versus textbooks to begin to know how to address it. Through my Twitter assignment, I assign necessary tweets reflecting on readings, connecting performance to grade to artificially inflate ‘need’ but I think there are better approaches. So for the next 3 months (Fall term) my goal is to find ways to use online resources without printing. Wish me luck 😉


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