The Role of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Making Education Available to All (A Principal’s Reflections)

Juliana Meehan, English teacher at Tenafly Middle School in New Jersey, recently joined us at the LINC 2013 Conference to participate in a panel discussion titled ” The Role of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Making Education Available to All.” She was joined on the panel by Nicole Allen of Student PIRG and Philipp Schmidt of Peer 2 Peer University, and the discussion was moderated by MIT OpenCourseWare Director of Communications Steve Carson.

She has posted a wonderful summary of the event on the blog of Principal Eric Sheninger, her co-conspirator in creating an independent learning program for Eric’s students based on MIT OpenCourseWare materials. From her post:

I recently had the honor of traveling to the MIT campus in Boston and participating in a panel discussion on Open Education Resources (OER) at The Sixth Conference of MIT’s Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) with three illustrious advocates of these open resources: Nicole Allen, Philipp Schmidt, and panel moderator Steve Carson. The panel discussion, “The Role of Open Educational Resources in Making Education Available to All,” brought together the three of us who have been engaged in very different aspects of open and online education in order to share our respective OER projects and engage in an open discussion on the expanding world of OER with an audience of about fifty individuals from around the world.

“Open educational resources” (OER) here refers to the many free learning resources now populating the Worldwide Web. OER ranges from highly structured college courses (MOOCs) to less structured curricula from colleges and other institutes of learning (OpenCourseWare a/k/a OCW), to free online textbooks, and everything in between. The list is growing as are the populations who can benefit from these resources.

My LINC Conference Panel: Perspectives from IOCS, PIRC, and P2PU

Our panel was wonderfully (and serendipitously) poised to cover a wide array of circumstances. I work in K-12 education, Nicole with college students, and Philipp primarily with adult learners. My project is local; Nicole’s is national; Philipp’s is international. The discussion, which ran from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m., was largely driven by audience questions and comments.


My role was to present and discuss the Independent Open Courseware Study (IOCS) program that Eric Sheninger and I developed and piloted this year at New Milford High School in NJ. IOCS is a framework enables high school students to access OCW from prestigious institutions of learning like MIT, Yale, Harvard, and others and earn high school credit for their work. IOCS is aligned to select Common Core Curriculum standards for language arts literacy, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) NET.S Standards, and New Jersey World Class Standards in Technology. Going forward, IOCS plans to partner with MIT to offer New Milford students MIT’s OCW Scholar courses, which MIT defines as “substantially more complete than typical OCW courses and include new custom-created content as well as materials repurposed from MIT classrooms…arranged in logical sequences and include[ing] multimedia such as video and simulations.”

My take-away message to the audience: Visit the IOCS website. Use our model to bring OCW to your students; collaborate with us to refine it; adapt the materials to meet the needs of your students.


Panelist Nicole Allen discussed her work as Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)’s Textbook Advocate. Since 2007 she has been engaged in making free textbooks available to college students all across the country through PIRG’s “Make Textbooks Affordable” project. PIRG is a non-governmental organization that defines itself as “a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.” Nicole works with students, faculty, and decision-makers to address the relentlessly increasing costs of college textbooks. She explained that, while the choice of text is undoubtedly the prerogative of college professors, she seeks to inform them of the availability of comparable texts that are completely free of charge. The economics are staggering. College textbooks can currently run upwards of $200 each, and the average student now spends $1200 per year in texts. Nicole’s work has resulted in hundreds of professors across the country choosing free texts over traditional costly textbooks and lowering the cost of higher education for thousands of students. Read an interview conducted by Creative Commons with Nicole in 2010 and watch a webinar that Nicole presented with Cable Green of Creative Commons on the website of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an international alliance of academic and research libraries working to correct imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.

Our audience was greatly interested in exploring these resources.

My take-away: We must spread the word that there are thousands of free textbooks online available to our students.


Panelist Philipp Schmidt is the Executive Director of Peer 2 Peer University (a/k/a P2PU) a non-profit organization that offers OER to adult learners—or just about anyone—and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU defines itself as “a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. Learning for the people, by the people. About almost anything.” It is operates under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. P2PU is a place where anyone can put up free content, and anyone can take advantage of the learning opportunities available on the site and receive review, feedback, and opportunities for revision. The P2PU consists of six schools:

School of Data, Open Knowledge Foundation
School of Ed, K12 Handhelds
School of the Mathematical Future, Planet Math
School of Open, Creative Commons
School of Social Innovation, Citizen Circles
School of Webcraft, Mozilla

My take-away: Become a member of P2PU and explore the educational offerings; spread the word to thought leaders about creating new online material to share with the world. Read more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s