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17 things to know about K-12 OER textbooks

17 things to know about K-12 OER textbooks

Has your school district started to use open educational resources (OER) yet? Maybe educators in your district have collaborated on finding and curating openly-licensed nonfiction or fiction, videos, images, simulations or audio clips to add to lessons. If so, they’ve found out how many great resources are available online to use, share and modify. But has your school district considered K-12 OER textbooks? Printed textbooks have been used for centuries, and while they still work, there are many reasons why school districts are transitioning to OER versions. 

Here are 17 reasons why open educational resource textbooks work well for the K-12 environment. 

1. They’ll save your school district money

First, OER are free for anyone to use. You can find them in the public domain, or they’re available with a license that allows them to be freely used, shared and even modified. That’s right — OER textbooks don’t cost money. You can download the textbook and access it on a device, without needing to pay a fee for the book or a subscription.

Education funding is always top-of-mind. Think about all the money your school or district could save by transitioning to OER textbooks. Textbook funds could instead be used to help lower class sizes, invest in ELL assistants, build outdoor learning areas, take learners on field trips, purchase new technology or upgrade buildings. How would your team use the saved funds?

2. You don’t have to physically store OER textbooks

Because OER textbooks are digital, teachers and learners can access them online or download them to their devices. That means you won’t have to continue piling printed textbooks onto dusty shelves in textbooks rooms. 

Teachers also won’t have to stack up textbooks in their classrooms and physically distribute them to learners. Gone are the days of students having to carry heavy books around or store them at home.

On top of that, your teachers and learners will no longer have to deal with the problem of ripped pages, marked up books or missing books. 

3. You can fill in gaps from printed K-12 textbooks

Printed textbooks are usually updated only every three to four years. At that point, a textbook may be outdated. Ideas, theories, current events and new findings may need to be added to a textbook after it’s published and distributed. 

Rather than teachers and learners working with books that may not have current information, your school district can switch to OER textbooks instead. In addition, because these textbooks are digital, they don’t have to go through a yearslong process of being updated, published and printed. 

Instead, they can be updated quickly and education administrators can digitally add new information. From there, your school teams can share the new textbook versions and learners can access the current information. 

You can also use openly-licensed textbooks to supplement the printed textbooks you’re currently using in the district. For example, maybe educators need additional materials to more deeply cover certain standards. They could use textbooks they find online to fill in any gaps. 

4. You can differentiate instruction with K-12 OER textbooks

Every classroom has students with unique learning needs, interests and abilities. It’s essential then for educators to provide differentiation so students stay engaged and can succeed.

With easy access to OER options online, differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be complicated. Student groups can work with different textbooks, based on their learning needs. 

For example, some learners may need to review math skills, while others are ready to move on. In the same class, there may also be one or two learners who are ready for a challenge. With openly-licensed textbooks, educators can find options for each group of learners. On top of that, your school district doesn’t have to come up with the funding to purchase three different sets of textbooks for one classroom. 

5. The Every Student Succeeds Act encourages OER

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in 2015, and it encourages the use of OER. 

It emphasizes digital learning, explaining that it includes “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices, including— ‘(A) interactive learning resources, digital learning content (which may include openly-licensed content), software, or simulations, that engage students in academic content…’” 

ESSA also states that school districts can use program funds from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants for “discovering, adapting, and sharing openly licensed high-quality resources.” 

6. The U.S. government created a #GoOpen initiative

The federal #GoOpen initiative promotes the transition to using OER in K-12 school districts. School districts that participate are “committed to providing high-quality, openly-licensed educational resources for students and teachers.”

These #GoOpen school districts organize teams with teachers, curriculum coordinators, edtech leaders, librarians and administrators. Their goal is to plan and organize the district’s transition to using high-quality OER.

If you’re interested in becoming a #GoOpen district, OER textbooks could become part of your plan. 

7. You can use OER textbooks for in-person or remote instruction

One of the best reasons to use OER textbooks in K-12 is because educators and learners can use them anywhere. For example, if your school district has to switch to remote learning because of a winter storm, students can still access their textbooks digitally at home on a device. As a result, learning doesn’t need to stop just because students and teachers aren’t reporting to their school building. 

Once educators and teachers return to the school building, they can smoothly continue working with their digital textbook. There’s no disruption to instruction, and learners can pick right where they left off.

8. Some K-12 OER textbooks have interactive features

OER textbooks come in different formats online, including downloadable PDFs, OER-specific platform formats and interactive formats. The interactive designs are especially engaging for learners. Often, these interactive textbooks include video and audio along with the text. 

Learners can also highlight or take notes as they work their way through the textbook and interact with the material. Additionally, they can click on review sections for online formative assessments. They can also check out related content if they want to discover more. It’s a great way to put your students in the driver’s seat as they learn, allowing them to customize content and become active learners.

9. Students can learn executive functioning skills

With interactive OER textbooks, learners can also build executive functioning skills. They can practice flexible thinking, self-monitoring, planning, prioritizing and organization. 

These skills may include taking notes within a chapter section, highlighting important points, learning to search for the information they need or reviewing the material to deepen learning. 

For example, Demetrius can highlight as he reads an assigned chapter in his physics textbook, and if he decides to continue the next day, the tools will save the highlighting. From there, he may want to take a formative assessment to check his understanding. Finally, after Demetrius finishes, he may be encouraged to watch an additional video for extended learning. 

10. Your district can start using OER math textbooks

There are quite a few openly-licensed textbooks for math available online. One of the best organizations to check out first is CK-12. They offer interactive full-year math course textbooks covering middle school through high school. There are also teacher editions available. 

Each textbook aligns to the state standards, so your math teams can trust that the content is high-quality. They also offer Spanish language versions, which makes it easy to embed learning modifications.  

11. Your district can start using OER ELA textbooks

Core Knowledge is an organization that offers openly-licensed textbooks for English language arts and other core subjects. Their ELA curriculum covers kindergarten through seventh grade, and they are working on adding additional texts. You can use, share or adapt their resources as long as you attribute them to Core Knowledge.

OER Commons also has K-12 textbooks with open licensing. In addition, you can search by English language arts to find several textbooks covering literature, writing and grammar.

12. Your district can start using OER science textbooks

CK-12 also has excellent science textbook options that are free to use. They have interactive science textbooks online covering K-5, earth science, life science, physical science, biology, chemistry and physics. Plus, they’re aligned to various state standards, so your science teams can trust that the books are relevant to their curriculum. 

OpenStax is another website that offers science textbooks. Their textbooks focus on high school courses, are written by experts and go through a peer review process before they are put on the site.

13. Your district can start using OER textbooks for social studies

The Michigan Open Book Project has openly-licensed social studies textbooks for K-12. The subjects cover United States history, geography, world history and Michigan state history. 

Over several years, teams of expert teachers collaborated and developed each resource to use in classrooms around the state of Michigan. Although the program’s goal was to provide vetted, reliable materials for their state’s classrooms, educators around the country will find these textbooks useful. 

14. Your district can starting using OER textbooks for electives

There are also openly-licensed options for classes aside from the core subjects. For example, CK-12 also offers textbooks for electives courses like astronomy or photography. You can also search OER Commons for specific topics such as visual arts or creative writing.

15. You can create your own OER textbook

Did you know that your school teams can create OER textbooks and share them with educators across the world? ESSA encourages school districts to share their own OER, and your district may want to share a textbook written by teachers and curriculum leaders. 

There are platforms with tools that help you add the text, upload the book, add an open license and make it available for other educators to find. Two platforms for creating textbooks are Pressbooks and Wikibooks. For a fee, Pressbooks helps you develop interactive digital textbooks. On the other hand, Wikibooks has no cost for creating a book on their site.

MERLOT is an OER platform that allows you to upload your own textbook. Once you upload it, educators in other school districts can search for it on the site. 

There’s also OER Commons, where you can search for open educational resources, including textbooks. It also includes an authoring tool to build your own textbook and share it on their platform. 

16. You can equitably distribute K-12 OER textbooks with Hāpara

Once your teams have gathered the OER textbooks you want to use for instruction and learning, your school or district will need a way to distribute them. But how do you ensure that your school shares textbooks with the correct groups of learners? How do all your teachers easily access the books they need for differentiation?

Should your team post the textbook links on your school or district website? Is it better to email the links? Do teachers need to post the links on their board daily or have learners bookmark websites? Should you send parents instructions with the links? What if you need to distribute downloaded versions?

There is a solution that makes the process much smoother. That solution is Hāpara Student Dashboard Digital Backpack. This tool allows you to equitably and seamlessly distribute your digital textbooks across the school district. Within minutes, you can share textbooks with learning groups, grade levels or subject areas. 

It organizes your textbooks and other OER in one place, making it easy for any school stakeholder to find. So whether a curriculum leader, teacher, learner or parent wants to view the book, they can quickly find it in Student Dashboard Digital Backpack. 

17. Learners can access textbooks instantly with Student Dashboard Digital Backpack

Once a district distributes textbooks with Student Dashboard Digital Backpack, learners can access them right away from any device. When learners log in to their Student Dashboard Digital Backpack, they can find all their learning resources in one learning hub. Not only can they access their textbooks, but they can also easily find their Google Classroom assignments, Google Workspace files, Gmail and class assignments.

Students can customize their dashboard and organize their learning the way they prefer. While they can log in through their Chromebook, they can also log in through another device such as a phone. On top of that, Student Dashboard Digital Backpack formats content to be readable on any device. If a learner needs to pull up a textbook chapter, it will display in a mobile-friendly, easy-to-read format.

Hāpara provides schools and districts with a solution for distributing digital textbooks. Request a demo today to learn more!

Explore why educators are reviving the #GoOpen initiative to increase access to free high-quality learning materials.

The GoOpen initiative ebook

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