History is an important topic

OER - material for everyone

"History is just boring" - this statement from his students was taken by teacher and blogger Daniel Bernsen as an opportunity to think about improvements for his history lessons. His solution: arousing interest in historical topics by creating free teaching materials together. In this interview, he explains how that worked.

Freer than free, opener than open license: cc by-sa / 2.0 / de (CC, Jessica Duensing / opensource.com)

Jaana Müller: You have been blogging for five years about your work as a teacher and the use of new media in history lessons, from apps and teaching units for interactive whiteboards to free educational materials. [1] What makes you work so diligently to test and disseminate the possibilities of new media?

Daniel Bernsen: The starting point was my dissatisfaction with my own history lessons. Some students, who had to put up with me in both my second subject, French, as well as history, told me at some point that French was much more fun, but history was boring ... But that wasn't because of me as a teacher, it was just the way it was.

Boring story? That sat down and really made me think, because history has always been an exciting matter for me and, from my point of view, also my “main” subject. As a result, the search for alternative forms of history teaching began compared to what I had learned in my legal clerkship.

In order to document this search and trying out new things, but also to get suggestions and feedback from outside the classroom, I started blogging about it. Of course, the workload as a teacher is very high. Reflecting on one's own work is still central. For me, blogging is a way of doing just that. Ultimately, the exchange via teaching in blogs or via social networks such as Twitter works in a similar way to the teacher's room, only that the circle of exchange partners is significantly expanded and thus further discussion partners and experts can be found for perhaps unusual and new topics.

Why are free educational materials an important topic in this context?

On the one hand, I see the work being made easier for colleagues who can use editable documents to create their own materials more quickly or adapt the existing ones better to their lessons. In addition, I think OER is important from a global perspective in the sense of UNESCO, because OER education can become fairer and new opportunities can be opened up. This is done through simple and inexpensive or even free access, largely regardless of place of birth or place of residence.

I find the UNESCO projects in this area, which combine free educational materials with mobile devices, impressive and groundbreaking. In places where no libraries could previously be set up, people now have access to the whole world via a smartphone; an access that is far more than the often cited “library in your pocket”.

Does that also apply to Germany?

Daniel Bernsen License: cc by-sa / 3.0 / de (CC, Daniel Bernsen)
Yes, OER can help to balance out infrastructural differences between urban and rural areas, for example with regard to the equipment and supply of libraries or other facilities. If the materials are also available free of charge, this potentially also applies to balancing out social differences in terms of learning requirements and access to materials and information.

For the German school system, OERs are initially justified for me in addition to the offers of the school book publishers. I also see the relationship between the two as less confrontational and more complementary. For the relationship between OER and school book publishers, I could imagine a development similar to that for open source and proprietary software: Both will continue to develop and change, but will still retain their justification with different advantages and disadvantages and be in a fruitful tension with one another.

You have reported on your blog and other portals about your experiences with free educational materials in history lessons. Why did you take on this topic?

In order to understand the importance and the potential of OER for the individual teacher, one only has to look at the development over the last ten years: When I started as a trainee lawyer at school, there were sometimes files in individual student councils in the teachers' rooms in schools which some colleagues had posted their own teaching materials, especially worksheets, for the benefit of all. I have seen several times that such initiatives quickly fizzled out because participation was low.

Now it looks different: When I, as a teacher, create materials, I can make them available to a much larger public myself and at the same time have access to the offers of many more colleagues. OER with the PD or CC licenses offer me an orientation in terms of formats and legal framework. In addition, appropriate networks or platforms such as the ZUM-Wiki help with dissemination as well as with finding in the "endless expanses" of the Internet.

One problem, however, is that many colleagues make good materials, but use copyrighted elements (e.g. photos). Therefore, they cannot share them publicly. Or they are not sure whether their materials are “clean” and then forego disclosure and publication due to legal uncertainty.

Can everyone just use free educational materials in a school context? When does this make sense and what do teachers need to know?

Yeah yeah Anyone can use the materials that appear didactically and methodologically sensible. Just like free educational materials, teachers are also allowed to use copies from other school books to a limited extent in their lessons.

Supplementary materials make sense at all times, for example as methodological alternatives, updates or suggestions and, in particular, for opening up lessons and individualising school-based learning. OER form part of the necessary infrastructure, combined with the possibility of editing and adapting these materials as a teacher without having to reinvent the wheel. Learners can also use the materials to create learning products.

Especially for history, the Wikimedia Commons, the Europeana collections and others, as well as the video portals that have been in existence for a number of years, offer huge amounts of sources and representations with which teachers and students can produce their own learning materials. The forms can be very different (from http://dasalteaeggyptimunterricht.wordpress.com/ueber/, developed as part of a state project on the subject of heterogeneity and differentiation in specialist teaching at grammar schools through to videos on YouTube).

These materials can be used, changed, rearranged and passed on. A wide variety of approaches are offered and the response from learners to these offers is very good, despite the in part not very professional implementation. And that far beyond your own classroom.

It seems like you have to be on the topic first to know where to find free educational materials. What could a solution to this problem look like?

In fact, finding the many decentralized offers seems to me to be a central problem area. Country solutions make sense in terms of acquiring licenses for protected material; There is less for the collection and provision of free materials because they are not country-specific and also require a lot of time and effort.

An OER portal could be structured in a similar way to e.g. chefkoch.de: The users make their materials available and searches are made for ratings, individual ingredients, editorial articles or specific recipes. Even if there is of course no “recipe for good teaching” and the metaphor is by no means new, it can still be helpful as a concept to make an OER portal offer for teachers and learners (!) As user-friendly as possible and not too complex.

However, since OER users not only upload their own recipes, but also deliver the ingredients, teachers need to have a basic overview of license models and terms of use. However, it is just as realistic as it is not very dramatic to assume a comparatively small group of material "producers" and a majority who only use the offers as recipients. It is no different with recipes.

And what about the students? They emphasize that portal offers should also be designed for learners. How can they benefit from something like an OER movement emerging?

Pupils can benefit from OER in several ways, e.g. for their own self-organized learning, whether in the context of school or beyond. With the spread of OER, more appropriate materials are easily accessible and free of charge. By the way, free of charge is a controversial feature of OER, but it applies to the vast majority of. Students can also create learning materials for classmates themselves and publish them. The learning apps, for example, offer a nice way to do this. In class, I have so far used these almost exclusively to enable students to create their own exercises for the rest of the class at the end of a topic or repeatedly, which are also available online for other learning groups at the same time. The creation of specific products, which are also used and published, can be very motivating and is definitely profitable for in-depth discussion of an object.

What would your dream vision for the future of free educational materials look like? What do decision-makers, material producers, reporters and co. Have to change in order to discuss the topic with the teachers and not bypassing them?

Instead of a vague vision, I would like to show a concrete example in which I see great potential for OER: In the federal states there are various institutes for teacher training. Handouts of teaching materials are regularly prepared there. These are created during service by employees of the institutes and by teachers in corresponding working groups. For a long time these publications were only distributed to schools in print. Some of them are now also made available online as PDFs.

Even that only happens partially: The problem here is that protected materials are also used here and the institutes have to acquire the appropriate licenses for their own publications. This is possible in the print sector. However, the rights for online publication are often too expensive.

How about now, if the goal is first of all set for such handouts that they are published online as OER and thus, above all, are ubiquitous in a changeable format? If the creation of materials as OER were the rule in the federal states, there would no longer have to be a separate clarification with the individual handout, but OER would be the normal case and the deviation from it would have to be justified. However, this requires a rethink, both among the decision-makers in the institutes and ministries and among those who created the materials.

If the many handouts that are created in the countries were available to colleagues not only in printed form or as PDF, but as editable files, their benefit would be many times greater, since the materials and tasks are very easy to adapt to your own type of school, Age level and study group could be adjusted. It shouldn't necessarily be a goal, but it could be a positive side effect that the production could also become more cost-effective for the countries because the print version may be dispensed with entirely and no more rights to individual materials have to be acquired. The state institutes have had a great deal of experience in producing teaching materials professionally for decades. In any case, the countries are not pursuing commercial interest with their offers. In this respect, there is great potential here for the OER approach.

The interview was conducted by Jaana Müller.