10 Guiding Questions for Evaluating OER Lesson Plans

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The idea behind open educational resources (OER) is a good one, but open access sometimes means compromising quality. Especially when it comes to lesson plans. What you get with an OER lesson plan usually amounts to a seed of a good idea, but a lack of detail can make implementation difficult. There are a few reasons for that:

  • OER lessons plans are usually developed by content specialists
  • content specialists are not always well-versed in the design principles that underlie good instruction
  • content specialists often encounter the expert blind spot when putting together a lesson

That doesn’t mean you can’t use OER lesson plans. In fact, they can be a rich resource. It does mean that you need to approach OER lesson plans with the understanding that quite a bit of additional work may need to be put into them before they are ready for implementation. This post outlines the things you need to think about when choosing an open access lesson plan.

Here are 10 guiding questions for evaluating OER lesson plans:
1. What prerequisite knowledge is needed to successfully complete the lesson?

If students have any knowledge or skills gaps going into the lesson, it will not likely be successful.

2. Do the learning goals or objectives reflect multiple cognitive processes (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy)?

To determine the knowledge level of a learning objective, check out its action verb. The link above provides more information on Bloom’s action verbs.

3. Do the activities fully align to the learning goals or objectives?

The scope and nature of the lesson activities should be thorough enough for students to fully meet all learning objectives.

4. Do the activities reflect Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction?

This an important step in successful implementation.

5. Are the activities age- and stage- appropriate?

Every class or group has unique needs, so expect to tweak the lesson to reflect the maturity and interests of your students.

6. Are the activities relevant?

Sometimes activities veer away from the intended learning content. For example, a lesson in evaluating online sources that uses printouts of online content is not relevant — students need to be online to authentically learn about online sources.

7. Are the activities designed to meet multiple learning preferences?

One of the best ways to meet learners’ diverse needs is through multimedia design of instructional material.

8. Is instructional scaffolding embedded in the activities?

Scaffolding provides point-of-need guidance for learners during all stages of activities.

9. Do the learning goals or objectives AND activities align to the assessment?

If assessment is irrelevant to the learning objectives and activities, then you will not know what students have learned (or if they learned anything).

10. Does the lesson align to multiple learning standards?

It should. Too often, you’ll see a lesson aligned to a single standard (or maybe two). With CCSS and other learning standards that focus on deeper learning, there should be a cross-section of standards that align to a given lesson.

These 10 questions will not only help you identify the holes in OER lesson plans, they will also help you in designing your own lessons.

4 Barriers to Participating in Scholarly Communities of Practice

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Last week, I explored communities of practice in the context of the new framework for information literacy. Today, I am going to discuss the barriers that may keep students from actively participating in scholarly communities of practice. Recognizing such barriers is important because when students aren’t participating within their communities of practice, they aren’t learning. That affects more than information literacy.

Here are the barriers, with discussion about strategies for overcoming them:

  • Problems with motivation.

Learning-wise, students are motivated by different things, both extrinsically and intrinsically. This affects goal orientation. Students’ goal orientations are also situation-dependent (i.e. subject-dependent), so they can hold multiple goals simultaneously.

Extrinsically motivated students tend to be performance goal-oriented. This includes performance approach (motivated to appear competent) and performance avoid (motivated to avoid appearing incompetent) orientations.

Intrinsically motivated students tend to be mastery-goal oriented. This includes mastery approach (motivated to learn) and mastery avoid (motivated to avoid misunderstanding) orientations.

Whether extrinsically or intrinsically motivated, the motivational problems come from the mastery- or performance-avoiding students. These students avoid participating in the classroom, which means they also avoid participating in communities of practice. Avoidance means fewer opportunities for these students to practice their IL abilities.

How can we integrate these “avoiders” into an IL community of practice? Reference services is one way. Think of this as a tutoring approach. The library (for many) is a non-threatening environment, so in a one-to-one reference transaction, students do not have the burden of feeling incompetent in front of their teacher or peers. This gives librarians the opportunity to help turn performance- and mastery-avoiders into performance- and mastery-approachers.

  • Lack of self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to accomplish a task or goal. Students with poor self-efficacy don’t ask for the help they need.

As with motivation, self-efficacy is situational. For example, a student might have poor self-efficacy when it comes to Biology, but strong self-efficacy when it comes to Art History. This impacts motivation, so the student will likely avoid participating within the communities of practices that make up the subject areas where he or she has poor self-efficacy. That in turn negatively impacts the student’s development of IL abilities within those communities of practice.

How can librarians address poor self-efficacy? Once again, through one-to-one reference transactions. Students with poor self-efficacy will not seek out help on their own, so in courses where IL abilities are particularly important, classroom instructors should be strongly encouraged to send their students to consult with a librarian during the research process. As students become more comfortable asking for help, their self-efficacy will improve. Over time, consulting with a librarian will become an IL practice for these students.

  • Low transfer of learning

Transfer of learning refers to the ability to transfer a set of skills or knowledge from one situation to another. This has important implications for information literacy since it is practiced differently within different disciplines.

Transfer of learning of information literacy from one community of practice to another requires what is called “high road transfer.” For example, in order to transfer IL abilities successfully from a general core college course to a specific disciplinary course, students need to approach the task mindfully, looking for common connections between the two communities of practice. This is an abstract, meta-cognitive process and quite difficult to achieve. Most students are only able to transfer the more procedural skills of IL successfully (e.g. database searching). This is called “low road transfer.”

How can librarians help students transfer their IL skills when transitioning from core courses to major disciplines? A meta-cognitive teaching strategy such as the think aloud protocol is one way. Think aloud is a strategy that can be used both during reference transactions and in the classroom. Scaffolding is another approach that can help students make connections between the IL practices they are familiar with and the IL practices of the new specific discipline.

  • Poor reflective judgment

Reflective judgment is a developmental process, and quite possibly the biggest barrier for students to become participants in IL communities of practices. Information literacy requires a high level of reasoning skills. Based on King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Model, most students enter college in the pre-reflective stage of reasoning (i.e. knowledge is absolutely certain) and exit college with only having entered the quasi-reflective stage (knowledge is uncertain). More than anything, this affects IL teaching strategies and the design of learning environments.

Librarians can help students along this road of reasoning development by creating situations that expose students to ill-structured information problems (i.e. project-based or inquiry-based learning). The more exposure students have to such ill-structured situations, the more experience they get at exercising their IL abilities within a scholarly community of practice. Opportunities to participate in original research projects can be a particularly valuable experience for students at this stage.