Open education resources: Use with caution
The Singapore website Back To School (BTS) provides a repository of lesson plans, stories, discussions and ideas that educators can download for free. It aims to save teachers the trouble of creating learning materials from scratch, and in addition hopes to generate discussion on best practices and current issues in education. The online resources are crafted for Primary, Secondary, Junior College and Polytechnic levels and contributed by diverse individuals and organisations.
The jury is still out on whether BTS will facilitate or arrest educational innovation. If teachers were already overwhelmed with assignment grading and extra-curricular duties, would they be motivated to assess their students’ learning needs and adapt the ready-made materials accordingly? If there were no tangible rewards for contributing, can we depend on the charity of users to grow the website and keep it active and relevant? BTS certainly hopes so.
BTS’s defining edge is its collaborative system that provides an ideal platform for open and inclusive dialogue. Its partnerships with non-government organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) to generate lesson plans ushers in a new frontier in social and environmental education that before was delivered, if at all, in the traditional textbook, instructor-led mode.
What BTS is not meant to do is replace the creativity and motivation not just of the teacher but also of the students, since a good curriculum plan should also be derived from those receiving the lesson. BTS provides a good skeleton but its fleshing out still requires deliberation by the main stakeholders (school, community and government) to be effective. Teachers’ workloads also needs to be moderated so they can focus on planning and executing their lessons.