Instructor on Computer
Distance Ed, Teaching Advice

5 Great Sites to Help You Find Open Educational Resources (OER) for Your Course(s)

What is OER?

“Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium–digital or otherwise–that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions” (UNESCO, 2002).


Who’s using OER?

According to a recent national survey of more than 4,000 faculty and department chairs, “for the first time, more faculty express a preference for digital material over print in the classroom” (Babson Survey Research Group, 2019). In fact, 46% of faculty surveyed reported some level of awareness of OER (+12% since 2015), with 13% requiring an OER in one or more of their courses—almost 3x the OER required in 2015 (Babson Survey Research Group, 2019).


Where can I find OER?


Multimedia Education Resource for Learning and Online Teaching | California State University System | ~160,000 Contributors | 84,000+ Learning Materials




Openly Available Sources Integrated Search | SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library | 88 Sources | 352,000+ Learning Materials




Open Educational Resources Commons | ISKME | 60,000+ Learning Materials

OER Commons


OPEN TEXTBOOK LIBRARY | University of Minnesota | 625 Peer-Reviewed Textbooks

Open Textbook Library


PIXABAY | 1,000,000+ Images & Videos (No Attribution Required, But Encouraged!)



Small Teaching Tip 9 Self Care Strategies for Faculty
Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Small Teaching Tip #9: Self-Care Strategies for Faculty

For most faculty (and students), the end of the semester is an exhausting race to the finish.  Endless cups of coffee, maybe even a Red Bull or two, sustain you through grading marathons and conversations with students that begin with “I really need an A.”  Once you surface for a breath of fresh “I just submitted final grades” air, I encourage you to think seriously about instructor burnout and self-care.

Self-care is not limited to expensive spa retreats, Pilates classes, and bubble baths.  It simply refers to practices that enhance your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.  This may mean snuggling with your pet or child, baking 6 dozen cookies to give to colleagues, going for a lunch-time run, or playing Dungeons and Dragons when you get home from work.  Self-care also means implementing rituals and practices that make your life easier, such as time-management strategies.  Here are a few ideas for the overworked and exhausted faculty member.

Examine how you spend your time

Have you ever kept a log of how you spend your time each day?  I know what you’re thinking (“No, Jessica, I haven’t because I don’t have time!”) but since many of our habits are both unconscious and unproductive, it’s actually a useful exercise to determine where your precious time goes.  For example, how long are you really spending scrolling through Facebook in the evenings on the couch?  After completing your time inventory, you may be surprised by how many pockets of your day could be better spent.

Brainstorm ways you could eliminate those time-sucks or reimagine them.  For example, if you have a weekly meeting with a colleague, would it be possible to go for a walk rather than sitting in an office or conference room? (read about the benefits of a walk-and-talk)  For those who are easily distracted while using your computer, try an application that monitors your time, such as Rescue Time.  If you’re watching too many cat videos on YouTube, this app will tell you.

After completing an inventory of my own time, I started setting limits on how long I could spend on mundane tasks and setting a timer on my phone.  When that timer goes off, I must wrap up what I’m doing and move on.  I also find it useful to use Steven Covey’s time management grid, which characterizes tasks based on urgency and importance (refer to the image below).

Whatever the results of your own time inventory, make it a priority to reduce tasks in quadrants III and IV, delegate what you can, and create rituals that will help you stay focused on quadrants I and II.

Stephen Covey's Time Management Grid
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Grid. Image via Bruce Mayhew


Give the Pomodoro Method a try

As a chronic procrastinator, I have the bad habit of allowing grading to pile up until it becomes so overwhelming that I actually move through the stages of grief.  One of the contributors to procrastination is facing a task so large or complex that we don’t know how to start.  Feeling overwhelmed prevents us from taking action.

The Pomodoro Method seeks to remedy this by asking practitioners to break down tasks into manageable chunks and take regularly scheduled breaks.  When I first heard about this technique, I immediately thought it could make the grading process less painful.  So how do you begin?

First, set specific goals for what you want to achieve.  In the case of grading, maybe it’s “by Friday, I will grade 20 of my 40 research papers.”  Given your goal, how many pomodoros do you need (pomodoros = 25-minute segments)?  Perhaps you typically devote 15 minutes to each student’s paper.  That means you’ll need 12 pomodoros to reach your goal.

Next, set your timer for 25 minutes and work in a distraction-free setting.  When the timer rings, you must take a short break.  It’s required.  Get a cup of coffee; walk a loop around your neighborhood; play with your pet.  When you return, set the timer for your second pomodoro.  After four pomodoros, you must take a longer break (30 minutes is recommended).  Go for a run; cook dinner; watch an episode of a favorite TV show.  Maintain this cycle until you reach your goal.  If you have tasks remaining, set a new goal and determine how many pomodoros you still need.

Although not revolutionary, this technique can result in greater productivity by encouraging us to set concrete goals, commit to short segments of concentration, and take regular “brain breaks.”

Respond to students efficiently

One of the constant complaints faculty make about students is that they don’t listen.  They repeatedly ask questions that have been answered in class, in OAKS, in the syllabus, etc.  Thus, faculty waste a lot of time answering the same questions again and again.  It’s time to end this madness!

My first suggestion is to establish an “ask three, then me” policy.  This policy states that students should consult three sources before contacting the professor.  Those sources could be the syllabus, OAKS, classmates, the textbook, etc.  Explain to students that you will not respond to emails if the answer to their question is readily available from other sources.  As long as you have clearly explained this policy to students (and remind them of it multiple times), this isn’t as cruel as it may sound.  It has worked wonders in my own classes, promoting student self-sufficiency and initiative.

One way to encourage students to help one another is to set up a “course lounge” discussion board inside OAKS (for those who have taken our Distance Education Readiness Course, this should sound familiar).  This discussion board serves as a space for students to ask questions related to the course, such as due dates, clarifying instructions, and logistical issues.  You will find students are often willing to jump in and answer one another’s questions.

If a student asks you a question via email that the rest of the class could benefit from hearing the answer, tell that student to post their question and your reply in the discussion board.  And if you receive multiple emails about the same problem, rather than replying to each student individually, post the answer in the discussion board (or in the News tool).  If you’re not a fan of the OAKS discussion tool, there are countless other ways to facilitate the “course lounge” concept, including Slack, Realtime Board, Trello, and Facebook groups.

Make self-care a priority

When we’re facing a giant stack of student papers or a looming manuscript deadline, it’s easy for us to abandon self-care practices.  But when we’re stressed and overwhelmed, self-care is essential.  Make your mental and physical health a priority and schedule it like you would a dentist appointment.  It’s non-negotiable.  This may require you to say “no” to people from time to time (easier said than done, I know. But your health comes first).

Remember that self-care practices don’t need to be expensive, time-consuming, or elaborate.  For example, when writing, set a timer to go off every hour and walk around the campus (when was the last time you realized how beautiful CofC is?).  Or, establish a policy of not responding to emails past 9:00PM (and stick to it!).  Or, keep healthy snacks in your office to prevent you from either going too long without sustenance or stress-eating Cheez-Its by the boxful.

Self-care isn’t all-or-nothing.  Every practice makes an impact on your health.  Start small and work simple techniques into your daily life.  When one practice becomes habitual, incorporate something else.  While self-care will not eliminate stress, it will set you on a path towards greater vitality and job satisfaction.

If you’re interested in more productivity tips and apps, check out our session “Tips and Tools for the Busy Professor” on February 15th at 2:00 PM

This post is part of a series which presents low risk, high reward teaching ideas, inspired by James Lang’s book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.

Teaching Advice

What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You

One of the things that I enjoy most about being an Instructional Technologist is that I am constantly required to stay up to date on the newest learning technologies and instructional strategies. Part of my job involves designing and delivering professional development sessions to faculty at the College of Charleston. As we all know, technology is constantly evolving, new tools are being developed and released daily, and old tools are updated with new features multiple times throughout the semester. On several occasions, I’ve spent weeks or months preparing a session on a particular web tool, only to realize an hour before faculty members are set to arrive that the site navigation has changed, the tool’s features have been removed, altered, or upgraded, or the tool was pulled from the web. In those moments when I’m scrambling to pull together a session on something totally unfamiliar, it’s easy to become stressed or anxious, wondering whether attendees will see me as unprepared or unqualified. Surprisingly, some of these sessions have been among my favorites and have received the highest ratings, and I believe that the reason for this is that I was able to better understand how my attendees viewed the content since it was new to me, too.

I recently had the opportunity to read “Teaching What You Don’t Know” by Therese Huston, who is the Founding Director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (now the Center for Faculty Development) at Seattle University. As the title suggests, the book provides strategies to help faculty members who are tasked with teaching outside of their areas of expertise. As part of her research for this book, Huston interviewed 28 faculty members on topics related to teaching what you don’t know, which seems to often be the norm in academia.

While Huston understands the disadvantages of teaching what you don’t know, she also identifies some of the benefits to being what she calls a “content novice” early in the book along with a reminder that instructors should focus on creating an environment conducive to learning rather than feeling discouraged because they see themselves as givers of information.

How can your lack of expertise in a certain area actually help you in the classroom? According to Huston, some of the advantages are:

  • Content novices can better predict the steps that it will take a beginner to complete a task. It makes sense that someone who has only recently studied a topic in depth would be able to predict the steps that a student would go through to learn the same information.
  • Content novices are capable of relating difficult concepts to what the student already knows. Without higher level knowledge in a particular content area, content novices often make sense of difficult concepts by considering how they apply to everyday scenarios rather than connecting them to abstract theories.
  • Novices are better able to assess the amount of time it will take a learner to complete a task. Because they are rather new to a particular topic area themselves, content novices remember the amount of time it takes to learn new concepts, and according to research, people who have a little experience in a particular area are actually better at estimating the time that it takes to do something than both people with no experience and experts. In fact, experts were actually worse at predicting the amount of time it will take a beginner to complete a task than someone who has never completed the task before.

So next time you’re tasked with teaching a class that may be a bit outside your comfort zone, remember that there are benefits to your situation. That new course that you’re prepping may just become one of your most successful due to your ability to reach your students in a different way.


Huston, T. (n.d.). Teaching What You Don’t Know. Cambridge, MA 2009: Harvard University Press.

Small teaching tip number 8: incorporate informal early feedback rather than rely solely on end-of-semester course evaluations
Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Small Teaching Tip #8: The Problem with Student Course Evaluations

We are rapidly approaching the end of the semester.  Soon, faculty will receive the results of their course and teaching evaluations. . . Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say some will receive evaluations of their teaching.  Many more will receive evaluations of their personality, wardrobe, voice, sense of humor, and physical attractiveness. . .

When I first began teaching, I agonized over my students’ evaluations.  I can still quote some of their comments five years later.  Some evaluations made me feel like I could soar while others crushed me.  I’ve since learned to take student course evaluations with a grain of salt.  There are simply too many flaws that make these evaluations an unreliable measurement, including that they are administered at the very end of the semester.

This is problematic for numerous reasons:  First, human memory is notoriously unreliable so student recollections may not be accurate.  Second, the end of the semester is when student stress peaks, which could result in venting negative feelings about their professors.  Finally, students’ opinions can only be used to change future courses rather than being used to improve the course during the semester.

Despite these weaknesses, student perceptions matter and it’s important to provide a platform for their voices to be heard.  What can we do as individual instructors to better assess student learning and satisfaction?  I believe the simplest and most effective solution is to administer student evaluations throughout the semester.  This is sometimes called “Informal Early Feedback.”

How to Incorporate Informal Early Feedback

Gathering students’ opinions multiple times during the semester solves many of the problems associated with end-of-term evaluations.  Also, responding to students’ comments by discussing them in class and making changes as appropriate can have a powerful and positive impact on the classroom culture.  Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your classes:

Exit Tickets:  These are quick formative assessments that allow instructors to check students’ understanding and identify areas of struggle.  They’re called exit tickets because they are typically administered at the end of each class period.  They can take any form and ask any question.  For example, some instructors simply ask students to write responses on scrap paper.  Others incorporate instructional technologies, such as Poll Everywhere, Socrative, Plickers, or Google Forms.  These are two of my favorite exit ticket prompts:

  • 3-2-1:  Ask students to list three concepts they learned, two ways they contributed to today’s class, and one question they still have about the material. This allows the instructor to compare the learning outcomes he/she set for that class with what students are actually retaining.  It also provides insight into how students perceive their participation as well as identifies concepts that students may need further help understanding.
  • Muddiest point: Ask students to identify the most challenging concept discussed in class or in the readings.  This provides a safe way for students to communicate what they’re struggling with so you can determine if additional class time is warranted or if individual interventions are needed.

Keep, Stop, Start:  Ask students to write on a Post-It note one thing they wish would remain the same, one thing they wish would stop, and one thing they wish would start happening.  For example, a student may comment that they like the flipped classroom structure, but they wish the weekly quizzes would be eliminated, and instead be replaced with journaling.  I ask students to not write their names on the Post-It and to stick them to the wall on their way out.  This helps to ensure anonymity and, therefore, more honest feedback.

Post-it notes with students' feedback about the class stuck to the wall outside the classroom door.

Describe Our Class:  Around midterm time, I ask students to compose a letter to a friend who is interested in taking the course.  I ask them to describe the class, including how each class period is typically structured, how I interact with students, what types of readings are assigned, what types of assignments are completed, what he/she is learning, and whether or not he/she is enjoying the experience.  This exercise gives me fantastic insight into how students’ perceptions compare to my own.

It’s easy to allow student course evaluations to distress us.  When so much of our identities is connected to teaching, it’s painful to be criticized or even attacked.  If you receive negative evaluations, seek out the counsel of your Department Chair or ask a colleague to observe your teaching.  And instead of relying only on this one snapshot to assess your teaching, consider implementing informal early feedback throughout the semester.  I’ve found that these exercises have actually improved the quality of my end-of-semester evaluations.

This post is part of a series which presents low risk, high reward teaching ideas, inspired by James Lang’s book Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.

Small teaching tip number 7: allow yourself to be a beginner
Small Teaching Tip, Teaching Advice

Small Teaching Tip #7: Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

This week’s Small Teaching Tip is less of a tip and more of an observation and some encouragement. . .

As an instructional technologist, I support faculty’s endeavors to expand their teaching repertoires.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered that many faculty are hesitant to try new technologies or teaching strategies.

For some, it’s simply a lack of confidence.  During graduate school, most of us were not taught how to teach and so we reproduce the methods we experienced as students.  In the United States, we require rigorous training for our K-12 teachers but, strangely, we assume professors will magically know how to teach without such training.  For example, when I was a 22-year-old Masters student, I was handed a textbook and class roster and told to “go teach.”  Is it any wonder many of us sometimes struggle?

For other faculty, there may also be a fear of losing control or credibility.  Exploring new pedagogical approaches or instructional technologies requires patience, flexibility, and persistence.  For example, when I first flipped my classroom, it was a disaster.  My students were frustrated and I was exhausted.  But I learned a lot and didn’t give up.  After much trial and error, I’m now happy with my flipped classes and my course evaluations reflect students are, too.  But getting to that point required I let go of control and risk damaging my credibility.  Not all faculty are willing to do this because we don’t want to be perceived as a novice.  After all, we’re expected to be experts.  It’s difficult to say “I don’t know” or “this didn’t work out as I planned.”

So if you are hesitant to experiment because you fear failure, chaos, poor teaching evaluations, or just looking like a fool, grant yourself permission to be a beginner.  Teaching is a continuous process of learning, growing, and challenging oneself.  It’s okay to not know how to do something.  It’s okay to feel uncomfortable or awkward.  It’s okay to make mistakes.  When we try something new, we all start at the beginning.

Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to change every aspect of your teaching in order to improve student learning and engagement.  We hope the Small Teaching Tip blog series has made it clear that we can all take small, strategic steps to improve our teaching.

One step you can take is to attend the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Conference on March 7-9, 2017.  This conference will feature dozens of faculty-led sessions during which your colleagues will share teaching strategies, best practices, and lessons learned.  Be on the look-out for more information about TLT Con in the new year!

Best Practices, Pedagogy, Teaching Advice

Making the Most of The First Day of Class

The countdown to the fall semester has begun.  I’ll give you a moment to sob or stomp your feet…

Despite our wish for a never-ending summer (perhaps without the humidity), the reality is classes begin soon.  As you work on your syllabi and OAKS courses, give some thought to how you approach the first day of class.  Do you read the syllabus to your students line-by-line?  Do you have students play an icebreaker game that makes them sigh and roll their eyes?  Or do you simply introduce yourself, tell students which textbook to buy, then let them go after 5 minutes?

When I first began teaching, I admit to doing all three of these.  I was young and nervous and awkward.  But in the years since, I’ve learned to embrace the awkwardness of the first day and use that class period to set the tone for the rest of the semester.  So I challenge you to give more thought to what you do on the first day of class to set expectations and start building your classroom culture.

In a previous post, I discussed why you shouldn’t treat your first day as “syllabus day” so I won’t belabor those points here.  But I will offer a few additional suggestions:

Introduce yourself as a human being.  If students are so inclined, they can look up your bio on the department’s webpage.  They can Google you.  So instead of telling your academic story, consider telling a more personal story.  Share your hobbies and passions or something students would never guess based on their first impressions of you.  This is more than being personable; it’s about being authentic.  When I introduce myself to the class, I share quirks and pet peeves.  These usually get a chuckle and make me seem like a human being rather than a lecturing and grading robot.  I once had a professor who played a piece of music he wrote as a way to introduce himself.  I still remember him vividly 12 years later.

Find an icebreaker that isn’t trite.  I know, I know.  Icebreakers are awkward and many of them are incredibly boring.  But there are ways to encourage your students to get to know one another that don’t make them want to gouge their eyes out.  Remember, by the time students get to your class, they could have already suffered three or four terrible icebreakers.  So rather than the usual “let’s go around the room and each person tell us a little about themselves,” spice it up with an activity or game, even something silly.  For example, I have had students engage in “speed dating” where they have 2 minutes to chat before the bell rings and they have to move to the next classmate.  We’ve also played “6 degrees of separation” where they make a list of 5 things they have in common with a classmate, then they have to find someone else in the room who has at least one of those things in common.  Then those two students make a list of 5 similarities and the game continues.  Students may roll their eyes at first, but by the end of class, they are laughing and I notice friendships forming by the next class period.  So try something new this semester to encourage your students to talk to one another, rather than spending the minutes before class begins texting on their phones.

Establish intentions.  Rather than spending time listing policy after policy, consider setting intentions for the semester and involving your students in this process.  What do you hope they accomplish and what do they want to learn?  What do you expect from them and what can they expect from you?  Is there a way both parties can be satisfied?  For example, after I explain a few of the more important policies, I ask students to compile a list of what they would like from me.  Punctuality, availability, and fairness are usually mentioned and these are qualities that I already deem important.  But because students composed the list themselves, it gives them the sense that I’m willing to share my power and that I’m open to their perspectives.  We also spend time establishing a classroom code of conduct.  Some of you may find this infantile, but I believe it’s one of the best and easiest ways to establish a respectful classroom culture.  When students generate the rules, they own them.

Showcase course content.  Some of you may disagree with me on this point as well, but sometimes we have to convince students to buy what we’re selling.  The first day is all about introductions and the course content should be included.  But rather than provide a regurgitation of the course catalog description, pitch the course as something students will find exciting and, yes, applicable to their lives.  And just as important, tell students why this is content you love and why this is a course you want to teach.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  I also recommend you start teaching the first day.  Students may look at you with incredulity, but it communicates that you take the course and their learning seriously.  In contrast, if you let them go after ten minutes, it communicates the course isn’t important.  So use this time to jump in and provide an outline of the fantastic content you’ll be sharing.

The first day of class is ripe with possibilities.  Make the most of it and it will set you up for a successful and enjoyable semester!