Empowering College Students to be OER Creators and Curators

Student draws on board with creative and analytical creations

Imagine the possibilities if students learn not only how to use open educational resources (OER), but also how to curate and design OER in their college courses. This action of shifting college students from consumers to creators of OER can have positive impacts on their learning and it can break down the walls of the classroom by making the knowledge students construct publicly available online (Trust & Maloy, 2022).

We, as university educators, have been engaging in this kind of open educational practice (Beetham et al., 2012) for several years. In our courses, we have asked undergraduate and graduate students to add tool review pages to the Online Tools for Teaching & Learning OER website, make modifications and additions to the resourcesforhistoryteachers OER wiki, design OER online courses to support educator learning (e.g., Designing Digital Media for Teaching & Learning; PLNs for Educators), produce videos with OER materials for an interactive campus resources map, and craft multimodal chapters for the OER eBook Teaching with Digital Tools and Apps.

Analysis of post-course surveys from six of our courses in which students engaged in these projects revealed that students’ motivation and attitudes toward the course content improved when participating in these OER design projects. Additionally, students were able to develop several 21st century skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, technical literacy, creative thinking, planning) and gain knowledge that supported their ability to meet the course learning objectives.

Based on our findings, we believe that university students and educators alike can benefit from curating and designing OER. As such, we offer the following tips for university instructors to incorporate OER design projects into their classes:

First, use an instructional design model, such as the ADDIE model of instructional design (see Trust & Pektas, 2018) or the Design Thinking model, to strategically guide the design process. These two models encourage OER designers to start with identifying and understanding a problem or need rather than jumping right into building something. You might begin by asking students to identify a specific problem or need related to your course content. For instance, students in a teacher education class might identify the need for an OER about how to use technology effectively in emergency remote teaching or how to enrich writing activities with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In a science class, students might identify the need to improve the way the media presents traditionally marginalized groups of individuals in science videos, news, or textbooks. Then, during the design phase, encourage students to build a prototype of their OER on pencil and paper, post-it notes, or in a digital document rather than in the digital medium where it will be produced (e.g., Google Sites, Canva, Wiki). This makes it easier for students to make quick changes to their OER as they engage in usability testing and accessibility testing to ensure that their OER will be accessible by everyone. Then, implement or share the OER on social media and collect feedback to evaluate its success.

Second, provide learning opportunities and resources for students to develop their knowledge of open licensing, Copyright, and Fair Use (see Selecting Digital Media for Your Website), design techniques (explore the Web Design Basics for Educators eBook), and places to find openly licensed materials (e.g., A Guide to Finding Media for Classroom Projects). There is “a growing need to establish literacies around open education, copyright, social media and networked learning as a foundational skill” (Paskevicius & Irvine, 2019, p. 8) and OER design projects are one such way to address this need. You might start by encouraging students to remix OER created by others. They can begin by searching the OER Commons database or Mason OER Metafinder for OER materials. Then, they can analyze the license of the materials they find to determine whether and how they can remix and use the materials in their OER design project. They can also decide what type of open license to select for their OER design project (see Choosing a Creative Commons license).

Third, support students in building their information and media literacy skills, specifically in the areas of locating reliable online information and identifying diverse perspectives and media to include in OER materials. Given the amount of disinformation, misinformation, and malinformation (Shrader, 2021) online, students need to learn how to critically evaluate and identify information that they can utilize to design the text and multimodal content for their OER materials. The Check, Please! Starter Course and Critical Media Literacy and Civic Learning eBook offer several resources and activities to help students develop their information literacy and critical media literacy skills. Students should also learn how to design OER that are inclusive of diverse perspectives and voices. One of the many benefits of OER is that they open up access to learning for people around the world. However, when OER are predominantly written by, and feature the voices of, white, English-speaking, American or European scholars, this limits the “open” aspect of OER. Before you start an OER design project, ask students to explore Open at the Margins, an open access eBook edited by Bali, Cronin, Czerniewicz, DeRosa, and Jhangiani (2020), and then reflect on how they can make their OER materials more inclusive.

Fourth, provide an opportunity for students to learn how to work together during their OER projects to develop their teamwork, collaboration, and communication skills. Many students who worked on our OER design projects identified several benefits to collaborating with classmates, however, several students also mentioned that the challenges posed by working in teams negatively impacted their motivation and attitudes toward learning and toward the OER design projects. Before assigning group work, it can be helpful to start by discussing ways in which teams can be effective, productive, and supportive. For instance, you might encourage students to break down the assignment into smaller tasks, determine roles or tasks for each member of the group, and set up a communication strategy for group work. With some support, the gains from collaboration can outweigh the challenges of working with others.

Ultimately, creating and curating OER offers a way to expand the scope and depth of learning for college students in every major and field of work. OER creation and curation prepares students to be active knowledge producers rather than passive knowledge receivers. It guides them to be ahead of the curve – to become innovators for change who think outside the confines of traditional practices. It empowers them to expand their skills and become creative designers of knowledge and producers of materials that open up access to learning. Given our highly technological and interconnected world, creating and curating OERs are an essential experience in a true 21st century college education.

Torrey Trust, PhD, is an associate professor of learning technology in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her scholarship and teaching focus on how technology shapes educator and student learning. In 2018, Dr. Trust was selected as one of the five recipients worldwide for the ISTE Making IT Happen Award, which “honors outstanding educators and leaders who demonstrate extraordinary commitment, leadership, courage and persistence in improving digital learning opportunities for students.” www.torreytrust.com

Robert Maloy, EdD, is a senior lecturer in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he coordinates the history teacher education program and co-directs the TEAMS Tutoring Project, a community engagement/service learning initiative through which university students provide academic tutoring to culturally and linguistically diverse students in public schools throughout the Connecticut River Valley region of western Massachusetts. He is co-author of two recent open books, Building Democracy for All: Interactive Explorations of Government and Civic Life and Critical Media Literacy and Civic Learning.


Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: Briefing paper. JISC. https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/51668352/OpenPracticesBriefing

Paskevicius, M., & Irvine, V. (2019b). Open education and learning design: Open pedagogy in praxis. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2019(1-10). https://doi.org/10.5334/jime.512

Schrader, J. (2021). The intent behind a lie: Mis-, dis-, and malinformation. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/misinformation-desk/202112/the-intent-behind-lie-mis-dis-and-malinformation

Trust, T. & Pektas, E. (2018). Using the ADDIE model and universal design for learning principles to develop an open online course for teacher professional development. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 34(4), 219-233.

Trust, T. & Maloy, R. (2022). College student engagement in OER design projects: Impacts on attitudes, motivation, and learning. Manuscript submitted for publication.