When looking at the list of Open Education Resources (OERs) this week, I wanted to take a look at something that I do not have a lot of experience with and that I may actually use in the future, I am all about practicality in assignments where possible.
I already have some experience with some of the OER repositories such as Khan Academy and TED Ed which I use in the classroom as supplemental support and visuals for my students. Khan Academy has great videos for mathematics where concepts are mapped out and taught in a method that I would use, but often with much better drawings. TED Ed also has great lessons for that “filler time” at the end of a lesson in their puzzles, my students LOVE them, but I find that although many these lessons come complete with Questions, Dig Deeper, and Discuss sections (see link for example), they are often what I refer to as “island lessons” where there is no way to make them all flow together to create a unit of sorts.
I first looked at American Institute of Mathematics. I found that they had quite a few open textbooks available but that most of the content was at a university or college level meaning they are not overly useful for a K-12 educator, outside of some of the Precalculus 30 outcomes. I did look through two of the textbooks, Precalculus and Precalculus – College Algebra – Trigonometry, and found they were not bad but were very wordy, something that I often find students struggle with.
Next was MERLOT, I had never heard of this one and I was drawn to its name for some reason……… I did not like the look of this one, it was not very user-friendly in my opinion as there were a lot of things going on and it was not very easy to tell what type of resource each item was before clicking to open it. Probably the most critical downfall was that most of the math resources I clicked into were applets and interactive, needing Adobe Flash Player, and support for Flash Player is being phased out, my division is not updating our Flash versions any longer.
Then I hit the open jackpot (for math anyways). I took a tour through OpenStax and I loved the layout, it was very easy for me to find an area that contained their math resources. I skimmed through all of their Algebra textbooks, through their Precalculus and the first two Calculus textbooks and, I was impressed.
- The textbooks were available in several formats: PDF (with high and low-resolution options), web-based, and print for a small fee.
- Textbooks cover content from my Grade 7 to university Calculus, meaning that I could find outcomes from every curriculum hidden in one of the courses!
- The PDF was hyperlinked so that you did not have to do the “long scroll of death” to find what you were looking for.
- There was a good balance of visuals and text through the textbooks, enough visuals to keep you engaged and to understand concepts but nothing for the sake of an image.
- Textbook examples and solutions are well-described, colour-coded to help with understanding, extensive and thorough.
- Problem sets contained a comprehensive list of types of questions including word problems, real-life applications, technology applications, review of basics, and the list goes on. This is the part that I was most impressed with by far as often I find that textbooks do not contain enough varied practice for students.
- Odd questions have answers provided to help students guide if they are completing the exercises correctly.
- At the end of many sections, especially in higher level courses, there were links to Youtube videos which further described certain concepts that may be difficult to comprehend if just reading examples.
Overall, I was very impressed with the diversity of these textbooks and their quality and will 100% be sharing them with my math colleagues for additional exercises and supports for students. My only critique would be that I would like to be able to download portions of the PDFs at a time instead of the whole thing but, all in all, I don’t really think that is a true thing to complain about.
I took a peek at the Physics textbook which seemed good for the above reasons but I do not teach Physics so feel that I was not able to state whether it applies to our curriculum, it is for AP Physics so there may be some units that would apply. The Social Science and Humanities textbook offerings do not align with Saskatchewan curricula so I did not look too far into these.
I love the idea of OERs but unfortunately, our educational system has become very monetized, I am afraid to know how much is spent on textbooks each year in the North American K-12 system. Getting a textbook on the “approved” list for a curriculum is not always the easiest and some of the approved textbooks are less than desirable. What benefits do you see to moving towards OERs in Saskatchewan in our current economic situation? Do you think that they would be a “hard sell” to prove that they are just as valid as textbooks from the “big companies” or do you think that most people would accept them easily?