Choosing appropriate learning materials are a vital part of any course. Often the course uses a textbook, but increasingly online instructors are turning towards Open Educational Resources (OER), an inexpensive—or free—way to provide learning materials for students. OER may supplement or replace a purchased or rented textbook. Most of our MBA courses contain at least one piece of OER. They may be simple, such as a YouTube video or article, or may be complex, such as an online free textbook.
Considerations for Learning Materials
Whatever the source, the quality of the learning materials must justify its use. Paula Lentz, the UW MBA Consortium’s Academic Director, created this list of considerations for instructors to use when vetting textbooks or OER. She developed this based on our Design Standards and Delivery Standards.
Before reading the list, keep in mind that there are essentially two types of learning materials to be considered:
- Learning materials that that might be used in announcements, non-required course content, or supplementary materials that are useful for emotionally engaging students in the course content
- Learning materials that are required for the course to meet the course learning objectives and complete summative and formative assessments
Because students will be using those resources to complete assignments and meet course learning objectives, you must hold those resources in the second category to a higher standard than those in the first category.
Questions to ask yourself as you choose any learning material include the following:
What is the price of the text?
If the material has a cost, the cost should justify the value to the student.
- Relevance and Usability
How much of the source will you use? Does the content map to the course learning goals?
Assigning an entire online textbook when students only need a small part of it will add to their cognitive load. Likewise, if the OER doesn’t help students meet the course learning goals, it may not add to their learning experience.
Will all students be able to get and access the material? For example, if the source is a video, is it captioned or can it be captioned?
All required sources must be accessible for all students.
Is the material being used within the parameters of copyright law? Will you need any permission to use the resource legally?
We must abide by copyright law. Many OER make use of Creative Commons Licenses to indicate how they may be used. You may also be able to use resources under the Fair Use Law.
Is the content easy to read? Is it interesting?
Journal articles may be more difficult to read, but the value to the students may justify the difficulty. Either way, the materials should hold students’ interest and add value to the learning experience.
Will this resource work well for all instructors who will teach the course but who were not the developer?
Because our courses are often shared between instructors, the transfer of the course must be seamless to students. (This consideration is not required for announcements, which aren’t transferred across instructors.)
In addition to the above, learning materials that students are required to use to meet course learning objectives or complete formative or summative course assessments (the second category) must be held to the following two requirements:
A source should have been published within the last five years. If not, the material should be foundational or still relevant, and justification should be given to students explaining why it is still relevant.
A source must be credible. There are many ways to establish the credibility of a source. These are some of the common questions you might ask to establish the credibility. If it is a TED Talk or YouTube video, is the speaker credible in their field? Is this source a peer-reviewed article? Is the publication respected (such as the Harvard Business Review)? Is it a textbook published by a major publisher (usually these are peer reviewed)? If the instructor authors the materials, have they been vetted/peer reviewed, and if so, by whom? How widely is the resource used and by whom? If it’s in the OER Commons, is the source tagged as meeting any of the OER standards? Generally, any of the books in the “Dummies” series or similar sources will not work. If you question whether a source is credible, contact the instructional designer or the academic director.
We hope that these tips are helpful as you select your learning materials. As always, please ask your instructional designer if you have any questions.