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The Problem with OERs for English Language Learners

What are OERs?


What's the problem?

I am an advocate for Open Educational Resources (OERs), but the problem is that they are scattered all over the internet.  There are some websites or institutions that attempt to organize them, but many of these have difficulty keeping up or organizing them or making them user-friendly for teachers and students.  Even a simple web search for OERs for English language learners will show that teachers will have to wade through a large number of websites and websites within websites to find a nice clearinghouse of OERs.  For example, I found an open Google group chat that provided an excellent but daunting list at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-hvzoF-kWWZLacSiiRBYf9etmMtcUPsDQsPxarTZV3U/edit?usp=sharing

This illustrates the main problem with OERs in general.  It appears to me that it is up to the teachers or the department to organize the OERs for their purpose.  Looking at that one resource alone will take days, weeks, or even months to sift through to find relevant resources for an ESL program.

There's another problem

The field of English language learning itself is massive and not as neatly organized as other subject areas.  I have found that most OERs are for public school education, so ELA instructors in this area should not have to struggle as much as others to find good resources.  And I'm assuming some school districts have a person working on organizing them for teachers.

For adults, it gets more complicated because English could be learned in a variety of contexts: community college, 4-year university, graduate programs, English for academic purposes, basic literacy skills, basic conversation skills, basic workplace skills, face-to-face tutoring, online video tutoring, and English for specific purposes. Through my cursory review there seems to be more OERs for basic literacy skills and English for specific purposes, such as obtaining citizenship status. 

There are a few places that have attempted to list OERs relevant to their programs serving adult or higher education students, such as the University of West Florida and Ohio University.

A third possible problem

As many English language teachers know, our materials can become dated so quickly that even timeless lessons or activities can appear outdated if they are presented on an outdated platform.  These materials can become outdated for several reasons:
  • They are dependent on current events and issues
  • They are dependent on outdated technology or websites (for example, this blog post may be outdated by summer 2016).
  • They are dependent on English language teaching and learning "fads" that have gone out of style or shown to be ineffective by research

A solution or three

A professional organization, such as TESOL or NAFSA, or their affiliates can create a user-friendly clearinghouse of OERs.  TESOL kind of offers this at http://www.tesol.org/connect/tesol-resource-center, but some of the resources are only open to TESOL members, so it's not completely open or free.  And apparently these resources are written specifically for TESOL, so it appears that the organization does not seek out or endorse resources published elsewhere. 

Another solution is to have a department or program organize OERs by the student learning outcome for a specific English language proficiency level.  Perhaps other departments or programs with similar learning outcomes can use the same OER website.  Both of these solutions take a lot of time, mental work, and collaborative efforts, so I'm not surprised I haven't seen many good examples yet.  Many of us are too busy helping our own students develop in the classroom.

Finally, the best solution is to have an OER website that is designed very well so that it is easily accessible, user-friendly especially towards technophobic ELTs, and modern in aesthetic appearance enough to make oldies but goodies seem new and fresh again.  This is perhaps the most expensive solution, but may do the trick.

Questions

If you're an advocate for OERs like me, do you think it's worth your time to work on these solutions?  Is it worth your department, program, or organization's time and money?

And finally, if you know anyone interested in collaborating on an OER project for intensive English programs, please let me know.  I may follow up this post with a literature review on OERs and their effects, if any, on teaching and learning languages.

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