A Suite of OER Tools to Try in Your Courses

03.20_a-suite-of-OER-tools-to-use-in-your-courses

Two of the most important developments in education over the past 10 years are (1) the emergence of digital tools that allow faculty to assign students new and interesting learning activities and (2) the proliferation of open educational resources (OER) to broaden access to learning resources without costs. These movements come together in the Inspark Science Network at Arizona State University.

Inspark OER is a grant-funded initiative at a consortium of colleges that created four free tools to enhance student activity options and help them develop skills that they can use in the future. Each of the tools integrates into the major learning management systems, including the gradebooks. The consortium also created six free courses that instructors can use in their teaching. Let’s look at how these tools can be used to improve learning.


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Two of the most important developments in education over the past 10 years are (1) the emergence of digital tools that allow faculty to assign students new and interesting learning activities and (2) the proliferation of open educational resources (OER) to broaden access to learning resources without costs. These movements come together in the Inspark Science Network at Arizona State University.

Inspark OER is a grant-funded initiative at a consortium of colleges that created four free tools to enhance student activity options and help them develop skills that they can use in the future. Each of the tools integrates into the major learning management systems, including the gradebooks. The consortium also created six free courses that instructors can use in their teaching. Let’s look at how these tools can be used to improve learning.

Review It

Peer review is becoming more common in higher education as a means of providing students with additional feedback to improve their work. Review It facilitates this process by offering a platform for student reviews of each other’s work. To add peer review to an assignment, the instructor first opens the assignment in Review It and creates a rubric to guide student reviews. The instructor assigns performance levels to the columns, such as excellent, good, or poor, and then evaluation criteria to the rows, such as analysis, just like with any rubric. Then the instructor fills in the cells with descriptions of the performance level, such as focus is clear. Students click on the cells to indicate their reviews and can add comments. One nice feature is that students see the rubric before they submit the assignment and so can use it to guide their assignment development.

Once a student submits their assignment, the system assigns them one that another student has submitted. The instructor can do this after all students submit their assignments or on a rolling basis as submissions come in. Students then fill out and submit their reviews anonymously. When students get back their peer reviews, they can indicate the helpfulness of each review with a rating, which helps everyone improve the quality of the feedback they provide. (As an aside, this would be a beneficial feature for students to use on instructor comments as well; that way the instructor could see which of their comments are helpful and not helpful and where students do not understand the feedback.) The instructor then looks at the assignment to grade it using the same rubric, providing additional comments, including on the peer review.

Chart It

Understanding how to read and display data is an important skill in many professions and for being an informed citizen in general. Faculty tend to have students use Excel or similar spreadsheet software for creating charts, but this means that students often spend more time trying to figure out the program’s technical functions than on learning the concepts of data interpretation and display. Chart It solves this problem by allowing students to create different types of charts from the same data set with a click of a button.

Imagine that an instructor wants students to determine whether there is a correlation between average snowfall and total acres burned by wildfires in the following summer. The instructor puts the raw data into a Google Sheet, and then the student can click through various options for displaying the data using different chart types and formats. They also explain their eventual choice and submit the graph. In this way they can focus on comparing different chart formats and in doing so learn which format works best for which purposes.

Plan It

One of the fundamental purposes of assigning students projects is so they learn how to plan them. Plan It can help by providing students with a simple way to plan and monitor a project’s development.

The instructor puts their assignment into the Plan It app and then creates tabs within it representing the various stages in developing the assignment. Each tab has a title and directions from the instructor. The student reads the tab information and then creates steps within it for completing the stage. The instructor can also pre-fill the steps with specific action items, with the student filling in the information below each action item to further scaffold project development. Instructors can also allow students to create new tabs or edit the existing tabs to customize their plans. Students submit their plans, and instructors can provide feedback on them prior to or during project submission. Instructors can ask students to resubmit projects as well.

Tour It

The digital revolution has expanded the options for student activities and assessments beyond the traditional paper or exam. One option is for students to create digital tours using the Tour It app. For instance, a student doing a report on ancient Rome can create a tour of its various sites, allowing them to learn about ancient Rome as well as how to teach about a location using media.

To create a Tour It assignment, the instructor simply creates a tour template within the app and assigns it to students. Students then fill in the template with their particular content. Tours are built around 360-degree image panoramas that students either shoot themselves using a smartphone or get from the internet. They then add hotspots to the panoramas; these, in turn, open pop-ups that can contain text, images, or videos. For instance, one panorama image might be taken from the center of the Roman Forum, with the student adding hotspots that provide information about major structures. The tour would comprise multiple panoramas of different locations. The student could also make the project public and share a link to it with others.

These free tools make it easy for instructors to provide new ways to enhance student learning in a way that prepares them for the modern world. Visit the Inspark website to watch video tutorials on how the system works or sign up for a demo class to see whether these tools would benefit students in your courses.