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Zero-Cost Textbook Adoption: Evaluating Resources

Defining Quality

A typical question asked about Open Educational Resources is: Are these quality materials?

Oxford defines quality as: the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something.

Consider another approach from David Wiley, a significant figure in the open education movement: “For educational materials, the degree to which they support learning is the only meaning of quality we should care about.”

No matter which definition is more meaningful to you, as the instructor you are best suited to evaluate teaching materials for your course. Evaluating open content works in essentially the same way as evaluating any other content. You, as the instructor and subject expert, know best if a resource is appropriate for your needs.

Format

Format is particularly important for OERs and other zero cost resources, as some are only available in certain formats online. Consider the following related to the format of the resource:
  • Are students able to access the materials in a quick, non-restrictive manner?
  • Is it available as a downloadable file accessible without internet access?
  • Is the interface stable and easy to navigate?
  • Is the format accessible to students with visual or hearing impairments?

Evaluation Tools

Here are a few rubrics you can use to evaluate OER.  The same evaluation principles can be applied to non-open resources as well.

"Checklist for Evaluating Open Educational Resources (OER)" by ACC Office of Instructional & Faculty Development is licensed under. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Context

Consider the following related to the context of your specific course:
  • Is the content presented at a reading level appropriate for your students?
  • How does the content align with your course learning objectives?
  • Is the content level appropriate for use in your course?
  • Is the content culturally relevant to your students?

Adaptability

Most course redesigns do not involve editing the textbook, but it’s important to remember that most OER can be modified to fit local needs if desired…that’s one of their best features!  Non-open resources cannot be modified.

Here are some important considerations for the adaptability of open textbooks, in case you want to modify the book:

  • Is the content available under a license which allows for modifications? (If you see the ND = symbol, it’s not.  Remember, this is the “no derivatives” clause).
  • Is the resource easily divided into modules, or sections, which can be used or rearranged out of their original order?
  • Is the resource in a file format which allows for adaptations, modifications, rearrangements, and updates?

Suggested Readings

Coolidge, A., Doner, S., Robertson, T., & Gray, J. (2018). Accessibility Toolkit. (2nd ed.)

Yuan, M., & Recker, M. (2015). Not All Rubrics Are Equal: A Review of Rubrics for Evaluating the Quality of Open Educational ResourcesThe International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(5). 
 
Wiley, D. (2013). On Quality and OER

Content

Consider the following questions related to accuracy of content:

  • Is the content accurate and adequately comprehensive, based on your expertise?
  • Are there any factual, grammatical, or typographical errors?
  • Are the links current and unbroken?

Consider the following questions related to clarity of content:

  • Is the content, including any instructions and exercises, clear and comprehensible to students?
  • Is the content well-organized in terms of sequencing and flow?
  • Is the content consistent with its language and formatting? (e.g. key terms are bold)

Authority

Consider the following related to the authority of the resource:

  • Is it currently in use at or affiliated with an institution of higher education, scholarly society, or professional organization?
  • Are the credentials of the author apparent?
  • Has the resource been peer-reviewed? Either:
    • ... pre-publication as part of the formal process that most commercial publishers and open publishers like OpenStax use ...
    • ... or post-publication in a public forum such as the Open Textbook Library (example below)

Open Textbook Library screenshot by Open Textbook Network. This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0.