Freely available, open education resources provide opportunities for college students to strengthen their critical thinking and quantitative literacy skills using sophisticated active-learning strategies.
In a 2017 Wakefield market research survey, investigators found 85 percent of college students elected not to buy one or more required hard copy course textbooks. Students also are turning more frequently to their mobile devices to complete their coursework.
Their reasons included the high price of textbooks and the fact that they did not value textbooks as learning tools. Instead, students are enticed by online course content, which can be accessed anywhere on campuses equipped with modern network infrastructures.
This trend should be expected to continue as active-learning classrooms replace — or at the very least, supplement — traditional pedagogies that rely more heavily on textbooks.
The Inception of Active Learning in Education
In a recent article on active-learning strategies in the college classroom, English teacher Katelyn Sweeney recommended four strategies to build a modern, active-learning environment in higher education.
Active learning is part of a paradigm shift in higher education. The move kicked off with a 1995 article in Change magazine titled “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.”
Authors found that, at the time, the most popular teaching method was the “instructional paradigm.” This traditional style of teaching was structured around the goal of delivering information from professor to student, usually in the form of 50-minute lectures.
The second teaching method identified in the article, the “learning paradigm,” focuses on creating an active-learning environment.
Unlike the “instruction paradigm,” where teaching is judged based on a professor’s ability to tell students things, the “learning paradigm” focuses on the classroom environment and a professor’s approach.
The instructional purpose is not just to transfer knowledge, but to create learning environments and experiences that encourage students to gather knowledge for themselves.
What Is an OER?
Recently, open education resources have gained momentum as a significant cost-savings strategy for college students.
OERs are not bound by the same legal, financial and technical constraints as a traditional intellectual property, and are easily used, shared and adapted in face-to-face and online courses. In one recent statewide analysis, use of OERs saved North Dakota college students more than $1 million over two academic years.
UNESCO defines OERs as “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license.”
This means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and reshare them, according to UNESCO. OERs can encompass a wide range of materials, including textbooks, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and digital materials.
What UNESCO’s description of OERs does not include is online interactive resources that match the three levels of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: understanding, analysis and creation.
Potential Sources to Take Active Learning Online
While some faculty use interactive digital textbooks, other useful sources include data from online journalism sites, education foundation websites, and research tools from the U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Census Bureau to combine these three concepts in education courses:
“Understand” level: This stage focuses on digesting simple resources, enabling the learner to view descriptive, quantitative evidence online. For example, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “How Educated Are State Legislators?” includes an interactive U.S. map of state-level descriptive data on legislator demographics.
“Analyze” level: In this stage, students use interactive resources to perform data analyses to investigate issues within their individual areas of interest. On example would be the Education Trust’s College Results Online. Another example, the Institute for College Access & Success’ College InSight Spotlight data tool, lets the user choose a college, state, or institutional type and view a snapshot of relevant data.
“Create” level: Students use complex online resources to complete multivariate statistical analyses to answer sophisticated research questions involving prediction. The National Science Foundation’s Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System data tool contains longitudinal survey data on the education and employment of the college-educated U.S. STEM workforce.
Administrators may want to keep these levels in mind as universities strategize how to entice the next generation of students. After all, the demand for the convenience online academic resources offer — as well as their active, engaging content — will only continue to grow.