Reviewed October 2019
Michaela Keating, Open Educational Resources Librarian
Pollak Library, California State University Fullerton
OER Commons is one of the first online databases dedicated to housing and creating Open Educational Resources. Founded in 2007 by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), a nonpartisan education nonprofit, this resource was developed under the mission to inspire collaboration among educators and change the education sector by promoting the use of free materials. With initiatives aimed at cultivating a sustainable culture of sharing, OER Commons provides instructors and curriculum developers from a wide variety of subjects and education levels with the web-based infrastructure and tools needed to identify, create, and share high quality free educational resources. In line with promoting a culture of openness, there is no cost or membership required to find and use the resources. There are several advantages to signing up for a free account, such as creating and joining groups, and access to resource building and evaluation tools.
OER commons materials are populated by participants, rather than a dedicated curatorial team finding and evaluating contributions. With questions of resource quality as one of the most significant barriers to the adoption of OER among educators, a self-moderated database may not provide enough assurance of quality for hesitant instructors. However, the high-quality design and functionality of the website lend credibility to the database that some other wiki-based OER aggregators lack. The look and feel of OER Commons is intuitive, with a clean interface, and plain-language navigation points that steer users toward the resources needed, and several accessibility features under “display settings” that allow users to customize their experience.
One area lacking in OER Commons is at the heart of what makes a freely available learning tool an OER. With Open Educational Resources defined by the 5 R’s -- retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute -- OER Commons only serves as a place to retain, reuse, and redistribute. The two transformative aspects of OER cannot be completed on the website unless the content was originally created using OER Commons tools, otherwise the burden of finding the tools necessary to revise and remix falls to the user. However, the tools that OER Commons offers for creating original content can help users create media-embedded resources, lessons and lesson plans, and modules. These tools do not require any coding skills, and can be edited by multiple users through the creation of groups. Once created, items are available through OER Commons allowing for adoption by other users immediately. The website also provides simple-to-use tools for users to serve as evaluators, where members can review and evaluate original content created on OER Commons, or other works uploaded from outside sources.
As part of its mission, OER Commons seeks to reach the widest audience of educators possible, from kindergarten through the graduate level. An emphasis on Common Core and STEM literacy indicates that large portions of the website are dedicated to K-12 learning. The resources for younger levels of education are robust and varied, but as the education level increases, the availability of relevant resources decreases. Thus, while still a useful place to start a general inquiry into OER for a topic for post-secondary education, it is K-12 educators who will find the greatest amount of available resources here. For users looking for post-secondary OER resources, numerous other resources are available directly from institutions of higher education that develop open courses, several of which appear in the search results of OER Commons. From a content standpoint, going directly to these sources is more practical, but the usability of OER Commons makes this a simpler and more useful starting point for any educator. With additional contributions of resources for higher education, OER Commons could be highly useful for all.