Supporting OER Adoption
13 Searching for Open Content
Abbey K. Elder
There are many reasons why OER might be difficult to locate, from content being locked in silos to a lack of consistency in the metadata used across repositories (See Chapter 4, Talking about OER). In this chapter, we outline a few places to start your search for OER and some tips for you to use during that process.The searching process may be handled by you, staff you supervise, or by faculty you have trained on the searching process. These tips can guide you through the search process, regardless of the individual executing the search.
Planning Your Search
Start your search by planning ahead based on what you already know about the instructor and course you are supporting. Take note of the following:
- Subjects covered: weekly topics covered in the course, and which topics are of particular interest to the instructor you are searching for or with
- Formats: the material types or formats that your instructor prefers to teach with, and any formats the instructor is interested in exploring in more depth
- Priorities: the most important criteria that the OER you find will need to meet, according to the instructor you are working with (e.g., the instructor might need a resource that is ready to adopt, available in a specific format, or that includes a particular focus)
- Minimum inclusion criteria: the minimum criteria a resource should meet to count as a successful find, based on your conversations with this course’s instructor
Much of this information may already be documented if you have had an OER consultation with your instructor, at which you should have received a copy of your instructor’s syllabus (See Chapter 12, Managing OER Consultations).
Use the Right Tool for Your Needs
If you aren’t sure where to start, use a metafinder that pulls in content from multiple repositories, such as SUNY’s Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS). If you are looking for open textbooks, try the Open Textbook Library or the Pressbooks Directory. If you are looking for videos, start with YouTube or Vimeo, which you can filter to search specifically for Creative Commons-licensed videos. A more comprehensive list of OER repositories and referatories can be found in Chapter 19, Hosting and Sharing OER.
Start Broad, then Branch out with Subject-Specific Terms
Use basic keywords rather than highly specific terms (e.g., “psychology” or “abnormal psychology” rather than “obsessive-compulsive disorders”). As you keep looking, use alternate search terms specific to the discipline you are looking for. You can identify terms by looking at the course syllabus or schedule provided by the instructor you are supporting. Weekly topic lists contain singular topics, which it may be easier to find individual readings for.
Save Useful Search Terms
Approach your search like you would approach research for an ongoing project. If a particular tool or search term provided you with good results, save those terms in your note-taking tool of choice so you can track back your results and try again later. New OER are being produced constantly, so you will want to check back for additional resources being shared online.
Review as You Go
Check the OER you find for basic accessibility markers, and make note of any particularly well-crafted content you come across for later. Basics such as specific file types and accessible PDFs can be a good benchmark for initial evaluations. For items with clear and present issues, like PDFs lacking alt text on images, make note of those and how they could be overcome or adapted for future use.
Where to Look
In this section, we’ve outlined a process for searching for OER based on where you should look first and how you can expand out from that starting point.
1) Use General OER Repositories
To get started and explore a wide range of potential resources, start by using general OER repositories. These contain a wide range of content rather than focusing on a single subject or format. Popular examples include OER Commons, LibreTexts, and MERLOT. Each of these repositories comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, so explore each broadly before you narrow your search any further.
2) Check What’s Been Adopted Elsewhere
Many OER programs have also begun to share lists of resources adopted on their campus or in their community. These adopted resource lists may include both open textbooks and ancillaries that are aligned to a specific course and commonly used together. Adopted resource lists may be live, interactive, searchable lists or they may be found through an “adopted” tag in an institutional repository for OER. For example, BCcampus includes a tag in its open textbook search tool for OER that have been adopted by instructors and a separate tag for resources that have been reviewed (See Figure 13.1).
Most adopted resource lists, though, can be found in a tabular format. Some more established adopted materials lists include:
- Open Oregon Educational Resources: A searchable list of free and/or open content adopted by colleges in Oregon. The interactive table can be sorted by course, material title, institution, and instructor name. As the site explains, it is best to search within the table by course number or by singular keywords rather than a full course title or phrase.
- USG Core Curriculum Courses: The University System of Georgia has shared a list of core courses that have OER aligned to their needs. This simple table is organized by discipline. The list includes recommended OER as well as OER created through Affordable Learning Georgia grants.
- Cool4Ed: Cool4Ed, from California, provides two methods for locating adopted OER: Faculty Showcase, which highlights faculty who have adopted OER and the resource(s) they use; and Course Materials Showcase, which is searchable by Discipline and Course. Note that in this latter option, there are some disciplines for which 0 materials are identified. The number of resources available in each discipline and course is helpfully displayed next to the drop-down options in the search menu (See Figure 13.2).
Note that the featured resources on these lists are ones that have been used in the past, and may not include recently published OER or new editions of older open textbooks. Furthermore, the upkeep of these platforms depends on staff support and the accuracy and timeliness of instructor reports, which may be better on some platforms than others. If you use this method to locate potential OER for instructors, check other sources to see if the resource(s) you located have been adapted for other uses or if newer editions have been created.
3) Leverage Curated Resource Lists
Seek out lists of resources that have been compiled by instructors and OER professionals already. The number and depth of resources you find will vary widely, but it is a great way to quickly find any resources that have already been pulled together for a specific course. You can locate curated lists in a few different places. Keep in mind that the list’s location will likely reflect the person who pulled together the content to share. For example, Library Guides (LibGuides) are most likely created by librarians rather than instructors. A few places you can look for curated lists of content are provided below:
- LibGuides: As we discussed in Chapter 5, Common OER Projects and Programs, LibGuides are mini-websites created by librarians, primarily intended to share information on services and tools for library users or to host lists of resources on a specific topic. OER LibGuides are often the first place that information about OER is shared, before an institution creates a website dedicated to marketing its OER program. OER LibGuides may contain a list of OER repositories, or they may break down items by discipline. To find guides containing curated OER lists, use your web search engine of choice to look up “OER,” “LibGuides,” and keywords for your subject.
- OER Commons Hubs: OER Commons, a popular OER referatory and repository, provides two options for users to find lists of curated resources: Groups and Hubs. Hubs are smaller, searchable collections within OER Commons managed by statewide consortia, single institutions, and OER learning communities that have paid for their own presence on the platform. Groups are subsections within these Hubs, often used to house disciplinary or campus-specific content. You can browse or search the Hubs on OER Commons from the homepage, and you can bookmark specific Hubs for future use if you find some that are particularly useful for your context.
- BCcampus OER by Discipline Directory: BCcampus’ OER by Discipline Directory is an ebook that is regularly updated with new OER, categorized by discipline. You can browse through the book to find content in engineering, business, education, and more. Be aware, though, that this text requires manual updates and is not comprehensive for all resources in a given discipline.
4) Dig Deeper with an OER Metafinder
You may have noticed that the past two places to look for OER are both curated lists managed and updated by staff. The next options don’t require as much constant, hands-on support, which makes them a better option for locating a wider breadth of content that is always up to date. OER metafinders are tools that pull together content from other OER repositories in one place. In other words, they search all of the tools so you don’t have to search each site individually.
- SUNY OASIS: SUNY’s Openly Available Sources Integrated Search (OASIS) searches across 114 different sources to locate OER. The tool includes filters for regular searches (type, subject, source, license, and review). We recommend using the OER by Subject tab to get the most out of your OASIS results.
- Mason OER Metafinder (MOM): MOM was one of the very first OER metafinders created and contains the greatest breadth of content. Unlike OASIS, MOM is a real-time federated search that crawls through a set of public domain and open licensed materials to retrieve a wide range of materials. While the starting page may look complicated, the depth of options also allows for more personalization as you look for content. We recommend starting with a search of only the OER-specific sites, and then expanding your results as necessary
Metafinders provide a method of locating open content of various types, from OER to public domain content and images. Using metafinders can be a great way to pull together a lot of OER all at once; however, be aware that you may encounter duplicate results when the same resource is housed on multiple repositories. Furthermore, you may have difficulty narrowing your results since the various repositories being searched may use different metadata standards. Experiment with your search terms and the filters you apply to your search as you look.
5) Try a Web Search Engine
You can also use a web search engine to locate OER that may not be included in other repositories. There are many reasons why OER might not be findable through a basic web search. Perhaps a faculty member shared their course materials openly on their personal website, or the institution producing OER has an institutional repository for open learning content that does not link to any other OER search tools for findability. To help you find OER that might be a bit hidden online, you have two quick and (somewhat) easy options:
- Search for the course’s subject and “OER” in your web search engine of choice to locate resource lists and other secondhand resources for locating OER. This may retrieve results like curated lists of existing materials, or it may bring up WordPress websites and other standalone OER that have been created for a course.
- Perform an advanced search for the course’s subject and filter to websites and items with usage rights consistent with CC licensing. In Google, this option would be under the “usage rights” drop-down in advanced search. This process can help you locate openly licensed content that may not be tagged as “OER.” You can also use browser add-ons, like the Openverse Browser Extension, to locate openly licensed content using the Openverse search interface.
For most of this chapter, we have focused on locating OER for an instructor’s course. However, there is a part of the OER search process that we haven’t discussed in much depth yet: evaluating content. In our search tips at the start of this chapter, we mentioned that evaluating OER should be done during your search. What does this mean, though? Should you carefully review the content and course level of every item you find? Of course not! However, you should have a basic idea of what the course you are supporting needs, based on the early review you completed as part of your OER consultation process (See Chapter 12, Managing OER Consultations). You are probably not an expert in every discipline you will support in your time as a program manager. However, there are a few things that you and your team can do to ensure that the resources you share with faculty meet basic requirements for use. Below, we’ve pulled together a list of things you can review in the OER you find, and resources to help you approach that work.
Check OER for proper use of headers, alternative (alt) text, transcripts, captions, and other indicators of digital accessibility. Some platforms, such as BCcampus’ Open Textbook Search, have resources that have been checked for accessibility and are tagged as accessible, but tagging isn’t available on all platforms. Ideally, you should review each item for accessibility, because materials that are not marked as accessible may actually meet your requirements. Conversely, it is possible that materials marked as accessible may not meet your standards. If your institution has a department or staff member who works in digital accessibility, reach out to them to discuss your priorities and whether your institution has any policies specifically regarding accessibility evaluation. Checking resources and marking them takes staff time and effort, which is often in short supply. Resources to help you navigate OER accessibility are linked below:
- BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit, 2nd Edition (Coolidge et al. 2018)
- Cool4Ed eTextbook Accessibility Reviews (Cool4Ed, n.d.)
- Floe Inclusive Learning Design Handbook (Inclusive Design Research Centre 2017)
OER can be accessed in and adapted into multiple formats, but that doesn’t mean they are available in multiple formats from the start. Check content to see what format(s) are available and whether content can be downloaded for offline access. For content available in only one format, check if alternate resources cover the same content in other formats. The availability of alternative materials can help meet the “multiple means of representation” aspect of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines (CAST 2018).
When sharing content with instructors, ensure that the license applied to the content you have located is appropriate for the needs of the instructor. If adaptation is needed, ensure that the license applied to the content allows for the type of adaptation needed. For example, if the instructor needs to remix two or more materials by combining them, check that the licenses of materials are compatible using a tool like the CC License Compatibility Chart (Kennisland 2013)
A diversity check is important to prioritize content that displays the full range of humanity in its text and examples. When there is a clear gap between the content and the need to showcase a diverse example, consider ways that adaptation could fill this gap. The resources linked below relate to the topics of equity and diversity for OER:
- Equity & Openness: Perspectives from North American Colleges and Universities (West et al. 2018)
- Equity Rubric for OER Evaluation (Grotewold et al 2021)
Instead of trying to review content yourself, ask the instructor you are working with to review the content for fit in their course and for their teaching style. Instructional designers on your team or elsewhere on campus can help instructors review content to consider specific course needs such as consistency with a course’s learning objectives, and how the OER meets or needs to meet those requirements.
In Chapter 12, Managing OER Consultations, we discussed the importance of setting expectations for your work supporting faculty. When supporting faculty in the location of content, you should outline how much of the content evaluation process you will be responsible for, and how much of this work will be delegated to the instructor. Below is a set of expectations for OER program managers and faculty which can be adapted for your needs:
A cursory review of content for key components or components that you are more qualified to review. This may include:
- Accessibility: Check that materials meet national and institutional accessibility guidelines.
- File Format: Note materials that are in a format the instructor prefers.
- License: Check that the materials are openly licensed and (if applicable) able to be adapted and remixed.
- Fit: Check that materials cover the subjects the instructor covers in their course.
A more informed and in-depth review of the content for fit in their course. This may include:
- File Format: Check the format(s) of identified materials to ensure that there are enough to meet course needs.
- Equity: Check that the content represents a wide range of perspectives and creates space for learners to feel included.
- Fit: Check that the materials are closely aligned with their course learning objectives and can support their teaching style.
If the instructor you are working with requests assistance in assessing the OER content you have shared with them, you can offer a couple of established OER evaluation rubrics. Be aware that these rubrics are not the be-all, end-all of assessing OER, and you should discuss other paths for reviewing content with the instructor during this process. While having a goalpost to measure against can make some instructors feel more comfortable with the OER you have provided them, you should remind them that OER should be judged on the same merits as commercial content.
In this chapter, we’ve outlined a general process for locating OER, from planning your search to sharing and evaluating content with faculty. Some of these tips will always be helpful. For example, looking at resources adopted at other institutions can help OER program managers advocate for OER adoptions in similar courses at your own institution. However, other tips may be contextual, and based on the makeup of your institution. As with much of the content in this book, this chapter should serve as a general guide, not a map. You can adapt and change these tips as you get more experience searching for content, and expand on them as well.
- CC License Compatibility Chart (Kennisland 2013)
- Faculty Guide for Evaluating Open Educational Resources [PDF] (BCOER Librarians 2015)
- Open Textbook Quality Criteria (Affordable Learning Georgia 2019)
- Open Textbooks Review Criteria (BCcampus, n.d.)
- When searching for OER, start broad and then narrow to specific concepts covered in a course. You might locate a comprehensive list of content perfectly mapped against a curriculum, or you could find a range of materials that can be pulled together and become the base for a new OER.
- Rather than searching every OER repository, look for content that has been adopted and implemented at other institutions already. This may give you a better understanding of the options available, though you could miss content that has been recently published.
- As an OER program manager, hold yourself accountable for locating accessible, appropriately licensed content, and organize the content you find to make it easy for faculty to review for their needs.
Affordable Learning Georgia. 2019. “Open Textbook Quality Criteria.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://www.affordablelearninggeorgia.org/find_textbooks/selecting_textbooksBCcampus. n.d. “Open Textbooks Review Criteria.” Open Textbook Library. Accessed January 29, 2022. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/reviews/rubric
BCcampus. 2015. “Faculty Guide for Evaluating Open Educational Resources.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://open.bccampus.ca/files/2014/07/Faculty-Guide-22-Apr-15.pdfCAST. 2018. “Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Version 2.2.” Accessed January 29, 2022. http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Cool4Ed. n.d. “COOL4Ed eTextbook Accessibility Reviews.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://www.cool4ed.org/accessibility
Coolidge, Amanda, Sue Doner, Tara Robertson, and Josie Gray. 2018. Open Education Accessibility Toolkit—2nd Edition. BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/accessibilitytoolkit/
Inclusive Design Research Centre. 2017. Floe Inclusive Learning Design Handbook. http://handbook.floeproject.org
Kennisland. 2013. “CC License Compatibility Chart.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CC_License_Compatibility_Chart.png
Grotewold, Kimberly, Rebecca Z. Grunzke, Patrick Ianniello, Ty Jiles, and Shauna Mayo. 2021. Equity Rubric for OER Evaluation. Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. Accessed January 15, 2022. https://www.oercommons.org/courseware/lesson/82102
West, Quill, Justine Hope Blau, Heather Blicher, Tonja Conerly, Jimena Alvarado, Kelsey Smith, Ursula Pike, Elvis Bakaitis, Luke Wood, Heather Ross, Lauri Aesoph, Kaela Parks, and Vera Kennedy. 2018. “Equity & Openness: Perspectives from North American Colleges and Universities.” Community College Consortium for OER (blog). https://www.cccoer.org/2018/10/09/on-equity-diversity-inclusion-and-open-education/#overview