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March 14, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 12
Table of Contents
Evaluating Open Educational Resources
A Guide for Teachers
Since 2010, I have collected and categorized more than 2,500 free online learning resources and technology tools in the K–12 Tech Tools Wiki to help teachers quickly access instructional technology materials to fit in their lesson plans. Throughout this process, I discovered that some tools deliver high-quality learning experiences, while others can inhibit student learning.
I developed a set of criteria for evaluating technology-related education tools to guide you in selecting the right tools and online resources to meet the needs of your students. The criteria for evaluating learning tools fall under three categories: goals and outcomes, instructional design, and interface.
Goals and Outcomes
A well-designed technology tool—whether it's a website, video, app, simulation, or tutorial—should display the learning goal so that students know what they need to master to achieve the goal. The tool should also provide a way for students to track their progress so that they know how close they are to finishing and how much more effort it will take to achieve the learning goal.
Look for a tool that displays the content in multiple mediums (i.e., video, text, and audio) and has activities and tasks that allow students to gain a more in-depth understanding of the content. A high-quality tool will address learners’ prior knowledge and help them integrate the new material with what they already know.
Determine whether the tool features one or more of Moreno and Mayer's (2007) five design principles: guided activity, feedback, control, reflection, and pretraining. Guided activity is when the learning tool provides learning assistance in the form of an online agent (i.e., intelligent tutor) or messages that pop up throughout the activity. According to Moreno and Mayer, students learn better with a guiding agent than on their own. Learning tools that provide an opportunity for students to improve their knowledge by receiving thorough feedback or by reflecting on their learning also strengthen information acquisition.
Moreno and Mayer also recommend that a tool provide an overview of the new information before the student learns the information piece by piece (e.g., a video showing the complete process of drawing a face followed by a tutorial of drawing individual parts of the face—eyes, ears, and nose). User control (e.g., pausing and rewinding a video) is also important for allowing students to learn at their own pace.
The interface of the learning tool should be optimized to reduce cognitive overload (Atkinson & Mayer, 2004). This means that there are no extraneous advertisements, links, images, or videos plastering the webpage or embedded within the tool. The interface should be clean, clear, and consistent from page to page. Users should know where they are in the interface. For example, there should be page numbers or the navigation menu should highlight where in the user is in the content.
The content should be easily searchable so that users can find materials when necessary to aid their learning. There should also be help available in the form of a help menu or pop-up box to assist the learner in navigating the learning tool with ease.
In addition, take note of how students interact with the interface (are students posting comments on a discussion board or just clicking through a tutorial?) and determine whether these interactions will help the students achieve their learning goals.
With thousands of open educational resources available online, it is crucial to select the tools that will maximize student learning. A high-quality tool will feature one or more essential characteristics in the three evaluation categories.
Although not all tools have all of these high-quality features, it is up to you to decide which features are necessary to help the students learn the content.
Atkinson, C., & Mayer, R. E. (2004). Five ways to reduce PowerPoint overload. Retrieved from http://www.pce.edu.bt/sites/default/files/files/Powerpoint%20Tips.pdf
Moreno, R. & Mayer, R. (2007). Interactive multimodal learning environments. Educational Psychology Review, 19(3), 309–326.
Torrey Trust is a doctoral student in Teaching and Learning at University of California, Santa Barbara's Department of Education.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 12. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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