Open Educational Resources

Two Independent Learning Courses – German for Reading Knowledge and Legendary Performers – incorporate Open Educational Resources, or OERs (links are included below). OERs are “are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.” (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

As they’re free, they can save students a lot of money. As they can be freely shared and adapted, it also allows you to pick and choose which subjects or topics you’d like students to learn about in your courses; perhaps you’ll use one chapter from one source and another chapter from another source. An additional benefit: you don’t run into the issue of a publisher no longer printing a textbook you’ve been relying upon, or have students accidentally purchase the wrong edition.

There are a wide variety of sources available online to find OERs. Some act like a search engine, while others include lists of courses with attached OERs. A by-no-means-exhaustive list includes:

The Center for Open Education with the University of Minnesota includes a library of free, downloadable texts that you can search through and a community of people sharing their expertise in OERs. Perhaps one of sources could work as a textbook in your courses.
OER Commons allows you to search for textbooks, activities, and courses by subject matter and education level, and includes Open Author to create and share resources, lessons, and modules. You can also make an account to collaborate with others.
Connected with the California State University System, the MERLOT system offers curated online learning, support material, and content creation tools. It could especially useful for supplemental materials for a course.
OpenStax CNX of Rice University lists courses, each one linked to a digital, OER textbook.
MIT OpenCourseWare offers online texts for STEM courses.
The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges manages the Open Course Library; the listed courses link to a google drive, which contains materials for the course.

UW Independent Learning OER Examples:
A Foundation Course in Reading German

Learn the Legends

Technology Services Available

As employees of UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, we have access to a wide variety of technology services for our Independent Learning work. Some of these services involve assistance with computer/network help or borrowing equipment like a laptop or headset and microphone. There are also resources to administer online surveys or tutorials for general computer tasks.

For those interested in content creation, we have resources and assistance to make teaching materials: possibilities include informal recordings, narrated slideshows, a course blog, and even open online textbooks and tutorials.

For more information, go to:

Resource: Internet Archive

During a course revision earlier this year, a member of the Extension Instructional Design Team made me aware of Internet Archive. It describes itself as “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”

It’s something of a resource of resources that’s user-friendly to navigate. There’s community-uploaded content alongside material from physical libraries and hosts of other sources. You can look through video, audio, patents and trademarks, journals, and even video game speed runs. Especially interesting is their Wayback Machine, their archive of websites as they have appeared throughout the years.

You can explore Internet Archive at:

Internet Archive also allows you search for media based on its distribution rights (for example, if it’s in public domain). To learn how, go to:

Instructor Media Examples

Our partners at UW Extension have put together a showcase of instructor media examples. From Instructor Welcomes to Course Guides to Lecturettes to Supporting Content, you can see what our peers have created with the Extension media teams to help generate some ideas on how you might incorporate media with your courses.

Do you have any other examples of using media in your courses? Let us know – we’d love to share your work!

Bucky’s Tuition Promise

Starting this fall, Wisconsin residents who are incoming or transfer students and whose household adjusted gross income is $56,000 or less will receive free tuition and segregated fees at UW-Madison. UW-Madison students (along with all full-time students in the UW system) can enroll in Independent Learning courses at no additional tuition costs, so low-to-moderate income families have free access to educational opportunities at both UW-Madison and UW’s Independent Learning.

Do you know anyone who might be able to take advantage of these opportunities? You can share more information with them from the link below:

LinkedIn: Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning

ADEIL (Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning), an organization for people involved in distance learning, has a LinkedIn page. With its strong relevance to the kind of work we do, it’s a great professional group to join. You’ll find articles and opportunities posted, along with the chance to connect with a wider distance/independent learning community, at this link:

Open Source Textbook: How to Give Feedback

One of the strengths of our Independent Learning program is instructor feedback. While we’re not explaining concepts in a face-to-face classroom, we can clarify and expand upon our students’ understanding of material with the feedback we provide; with assignment resubmissions, students can take our feedback and rework their assignments to 1) show a better understanding of material and 2) earn a higher grade.

The following resource, Improving the Feedback We Give Our Students, offers thoughts for providing more impactful feedback, to further connect with students, to maybe even bring our feedback to a higher level. It’s a pretty quick read and includes specific ideas.

Do you have other suggestions on how to really reach students with your four-star feedback? Let us know! We’d love to share your expertise.

H5P Content Creation: Image Hotspots

H5P offers course designers a wide variety of tools to create content. One of them, the image hotspots, allows you to reveal texts, images and videos over a background image.

To make something like this, you first create a new account. From there, click on “My Account” on the top row of links, and then click the link to “Create New Content.” Select Image Hotspots as the content type, choose a background, click on the image where you’d like to make a hotspot, and then provide additional content to be revealed.

Here’s a sample. It’s a map with important cities of rock music, with brief information and key musicians listed.

As a disclaimer, the red squiggly spell check line does not appear consistently, so you’ll need to be especially careful for typos, etc.

Beyond including key cities on a map, you could have a painting with information about different objects, or maybe a photograph of a machine with explanations of different parts. How else might you use a tool like this? Let us know – we’d love to see your ideas!

Present at the 2018 ADEIL Conference

Madison, WI will be hosting the annual conference of the Association for Distance Education and Independent Learning (ADEIL) October 24-26, 2018. Do you have material you’d like to present? Potential topics to share your expertise include student outreach, revisions, aligning course objectives and assignments, accessibility/ADA compliance, game based learning, emerging research, creating online learning communities, etc.

Submit your proposal by July 31, midnight (Central Time) at:

Online Research

The DCS Independent Learning forthcoming publication, “Getting Ready for a Writing Intensive Course,” includes a section on online research. As an introduction to this publication and for a resource to share with your students right away, we have excerpted that section here:

Researching to Write

Writing often involves research. Before we can begin writing about the impact of Twitter in the 2016 Presidential election, the symbolism of bullfighting in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, or whatever topic our professor may assign, we need to get at the relevant information. However, as the advent of fake news stories clearly illustrates, identifying/finding reliable sources in crucial.

Considering the Source
We need a set of standards for evaluating the reliability and appropriateness of resources for college-level writing. Many universities recommend the so-called CRAAP test, originally developed at the Miriam Library at the State University of California, Chico. The letters in the CRAAP acronym refer to the five areas of the test: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. To see if a given source is appropriate for our scholarly purposes, we answer the questions associated with each heading. So, for example, under the heading of Currency, the California State University, Chico, lists the following: “When was the information published or posted?”; “Has the information been revised or updated?”; “Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?”; “Are the links functional?”
For accessing the CRAAP test, we can do no better than going to the original source, by clicking the above link. For a video overview of the test and its importance the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies provides:

Conducting Online Research
If we have ready access to the internet, in a matter of moments we can do a Google search and find an abundance of sources. And, we could use the CRAAP test to evaluate them. The trouble is that we cannot possibly apply the CRAAP to all of the sources that could pop up when we do a Google search. Suppose our professor assigns an essay on the symbolism of bullfighting in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises and we get started by typing the name of the novel into Google and searching. The result would be 7 million links. The reason millions of links pop up is that if we type in The Sun Also Rises, but do not put that title in quotation marks, then our search engine looks for any phrases with “sun,” “also,” and “rises.” However, these phrases could contain other words as well. For example, if there were an internet site with the sentence, “Picasso paints sun rises but also moon rises” the site would come up as one of our results.

To limit our results to just the words we want in the order we want them, we need to use quotation marks, that is, search for “The Sun Also Rises.” Searching with quotation marks, our results drop from 7 million to 557,000, a considerable reduction but still a wildly unmanageable number of results. We need then to be even more specific in our search.

Since our topic concerns symbolism in Hemingway’s novel, we can add the word “symbolism” to our search to reduce the results even further. Putting both symbolism and The Sun Also Rises in quotation marks, and joining them with and, that is, searching with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” reduces our results by more than 200,000, but still leaving us with an impossibly large number of sites, 321,000.

If we are ever going to arrive at a manageable number of relevant internet sites, we need to be increasingly specific. Searching with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” AND “Bullfighting” drops the number of sites down to 26,000; searching with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” AND “Bullfighting” AND “Critical Discussion” reduces our total number of sites to 240. So, by using quotation marks, AND, and adding search words, we have gone from 7 million results to 240. That is good but not good enough.

To get from good to good enough, we need to begin with a search engine that presorts sites so that many of the ones that would fail the CRAAP test never show up in the first place. If we switch from the Google search engine to the Google Scholar search engine (we can find it easily enough by searching with Google Scholar in the Google search engine) and repeat the above search pattern the difference in results in dramatic. An initial search of The Sun Also Rises in Google Scholar gives us 456,000 as opposed to 7 million initial results. Searching with quotations marks: “The Sun Also Rises,” yields 10,000 results instead of 557,000. Searching with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” gives us 1,450 sites in Google Scholar, as opposed to 321,000 in in Google. A search with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” AND “Bullfighting” in Google Scholar give us 233 sites as opposed to 26,000 in Google. Finally, searching with “The Sun Also Rises” AND “Symbolism” AND “Bullfighting” AND “Critical Discussion” in Google Scholar gives us 12 results instead of the 240 with the general Google search engine.

The moral from the above comparison is that where and how we search matters a great deal. General search engines are too general. We want to begin our search with search engines that have done a lot of presorting for us. Google Scholar is but one of these. For an annotated list entitled “100 Time-Saving Search Engines for Serious Scholars (Revised)” see For tips on how to search efficiently, using AND, OR, NOT (so-called Boolean operators), the following sites are helpful: “Database Search Tips” Boolean operators”