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Why OER and Formative Assessment are BFF

September 11, 2015

Author’s Note: Important ideas and examples were contributed to this article by Andrew Fondell and Glenn Blakney, talented and dedicated educators from St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts. Click on their names and connect with them today!

The title of this post might do two things: either make you think we’re speaking another language (OER? Formative Assessment?) or lull you into the misconception that it’s about ed tech tools.  More simply, it’s really about what’s possible for students when creative, thoughtful teachers use new technologies to provide the right materials and right feedback at the right time. Get ready to be inspired!

Open Education Resources

More and more, teachers are moving away from traditional text books -- even the electronic versions -- and turning to open education resources (OER). OER is the acronym for high-quality open-licensed educational materials that can be found online. They are also free, which means parents can often access them at home to see what their child is learning or help support their student.  Educators like using OER over traditional curriculum materials because they are are often more up-to-date, and teachers can pick and choose a personalized selection of content and activities that really fit their students. Searchable OER from all grade levels and content areas can be found at sites like Share My Lesson, OER Commons, and OpenEd. More content specific OER can be found in places like the National Science Digital Library for STEM or Library of Congress for history and culture.

Digital Formative Assessment Tools

So, once teachers and students have access to these amazing up-to-date resources, how can we be sure it is having an impact on student learning? After all, student learning and engagement are the most important measures of education.

Digital formative assessment tools answer this call. Imagine this: Students analyze the resources and complete activities with ed tech tools like eduCanon and others. The teacher has access to live data as the students work. The teacher then shares this data with the students and they discuss what next steps are needed to reach their learning goals. Together, they make personalized plans for what they will do and how they will accomplish it. This process of learning, assessing, discussing, planning, and learning again is continuous, real-time feedback loop. It leads to deeper understanding of content and mastery of skills.

Need some concrete examples? My colleagues Andrew Fondell and Glenn Blakney are happy to help.

High School English

Andrew Fondell knows how using OER in his classes has changed the students’ experience. He says, “The use of OER offers my students the opportunity for more focused, more engaging, and more active learning experiences.” One of his favorite types of OER is video. For instance, when teaching the specifics of iambic pentameter, he found a clever video from Ted-Ed and introduced his students to Poetry Pentameter Pirates.

But Andrew knows that merely having his students watch a video does not guarantee they’ve learned the concept. Andrew adds a formative assessment tool. He explains, “eduCanon allows me to select just about any video I can find online to use as a lesson for my students.” When his students experience this “lesson,” they are not only more engaged by the dynamic videos he chooses, they’re required to demonstrate learning when an embedded question -- designed by Andrew -- pops up on the screen. He says, “It only takes a few of these questions to convince my students that they need to watch and listen actively.” As evidence of student engagement, Andrew has observed almost all of his students take advantage of the pause and rewind options. Some even voluntarily take notes just to ensure they get the questions right.

As students watch videos in eduCanon, questions designed by their teacher pop up at preselected moments. Students must answer the question and learn whether they are correct before moving on to watch the rest of the video.

As his students carry out these eduCanon activities, Andrew can look at how they are doing with live data on his teacher screen. This is when the real magic happens. “I can get results to students when they are still pertinent to the current learning task,” he says. When he shares the data from eduCanon with the students, they are encouraged to ask questions and seek out extra help before the day of the unit test arrives. Andrew has found that “students actually begin to crave formative assessments.” The evidence from the eduCanon activity is proof for themselves that they are learning.

The powerful combination of creatively produced OER videos and real time formative assessment tools allows the teacher to customize student learning experience and enables Andrew's students to stay engaged and on track.

Middle School Math

When you experience a conversation with Glenn Blakney about math, you will want him to be your child’s teacher. He is passionate about making sure his students experience math, rather than merely learning it. OER makes this possible. Glenn says, with OER, his students can access a wide variety of mathematics resources and he “can differentiate by content, medium, and format.” What’s more, he says, “From lesson plans to individual problems to textbook-style definitions to curiosities, I can draw on an immense range of current, relevant material.” Some of Glenn’s favorite resources for math include Illustrative Mathematics and Numberphile. Thanks to OER, he is creating a class for his students that is virtually unique to them.

Glenn’s latest approach is combining content from these awesome resources with formative assessment tools. He explains: “I can use a picture or a screenshot, I can use a clip from YouTube, and I can add in my own material and modify it for the lesson. So, I can differentiate for the level of the class.” Not only is technology improving Glenn’s teaching, it’s improving his students’ learning. “My students can open it right up in the classroom, we can project their work on the board for discussion.  I can modify the questions on the fly, or probe their thinking in real time to correct misconceptions.”

Glenn has seen long term benefits to tracking student learning data with formative assessment tools as well. He explains, “This information can be displayed anonymously for class discussion, and it can be stored, tracked, and analyzed over time. I can feed it right back into my unit and lesson planning, adjusting my class in real time to meet my students’ needs.”

A Match Made in Ed Tech Heaven

With OER available in all subject areas at all levels, teachers have high quality resources at the tap of a keyboard and click of a mouse. Tech-savvy educators have also found a best practice in embedding OER into digital formative assessment tools. Students are more engaged and teachers are able to measure progress more precisely. Even parents can be better informed through the feedback teachers share with them thanks to these tools. As we launch this new school year, give this new couple -- OER and digital formative tools -- a shot in your classroom.