The advent of the hand-held devices accessing the World Wide Web has reinvigorated the debate about how to best use technology to aid students in learning. Bishop and Verleger (2013), believe the rise of this technology permits information to be more widely disseminated at a much lower cost. Yet various researchers report free online education content to be of poor quality (Herreid & Schiller, 2013), inappropriate (Bugeja, 2006; Fang, 2009), or just too distracting (Bugeja, 2007; Fang, 2009, Fried, 2007). Fried’s (2007) study shows the use of classroom laptops actually decreased student achievement. Some instructors still ban devices and mobile phones to prevent interruptions or cheating, while others just contend with them (Campbell, 2006; Slomanson, 2014; Yee, 2012). Technology-ready schools jump on the bandwagon, hoping to take advantage of a plethora of available web ready content, but fail to take into the account the commercial nature and quality of the purportedly “free” content. Most early adopters discover developing online courses or content for use in 1:1 and flipped classrooms requires extensive hours of teacher-intensive preparation or customized software and infrastructure that is often cost prohibitive (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009; Phillips & Trainor, 2014; Sowash, 2012; Slomanson, 2014).
Open Educational Resources (OER) have world-wide hubs for teacher sharing of lesson and their number is growing exponentially. Specific issues and barriers can best be evaluated by searching the OER Research Evidence Hub. Despite a growing repository, besides games and simulations, OER generally lack student collaborative capabilities.
A New OER Platform
Exploros.com is a web-based company whose goal is to provide students, teachers, schools, and publishers a platform for hosting and obtaining quality lessons. The Exploros product, called a “learning experience,” is available for download (by subject) in a marketplace called the “Exploros Marketplace Exchange” (Fig. 1).
Fig 1. Exploros Marketplace Exchange.
Much like an ebook or music file, teachers can add an Open Educational Resource (OER) to their accounts. Experiences currently in the Marketplace Exchange are contributed by teachers, education partners, and the curriculum team at Exploros.
Learning Experience Delivery
Online delivery requires teachers and students have Exploros accounts and devices such as computers, laptops, or tablets (such as iPads or Chromebooks) with updated browsers and connections to the Internet. Once a learning experience is loaded into their account, teachers schedule delivery using a simple date and time calendar. Experiences can run for any length of time, as little as 10 minutes or many weeks. Students are notified of the opening of the experience in an automated email. Once a lesson is closed, students can no longer access it and the lesson is archived in the student’s account. Teachers can extend any learning experience if the preset time hasn’t expired.
To be invited to a learning experience, the “student” registers with a school email address and then “connects” to one or more teacher accounts using a unique identifying number assigned by Exploros. Exploros also supports Google classroom student account imports. (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Exploros web login.
Enrolled students perform a variety of tasks while stepping through scenes designed by teachers or affiliated authors. Students scroll down and encounter various “elements.” When completed, the student taps sequentially through completed scenes numbers, shown in the upper right. Unless a preset number of requirements are met, students cannot proceed to the next scene.
Figure 3. Sample content from Scene 3.
Exploros “elements” allow students to read content, view images, watch videos, listen to audio files, jump to hyperlinked sites, enter data into tables, submit photos, answer multiple choice and essays, plus download worksheets and other files for completion offline. What makes Exploros different is the ability for students to collaborate in real time and share their experiences. When students tap “share to group,” others can immediately view class word walls, the results of group polls, etc. There is even a simple drawing pallet for labeling diagrams or creating their own diagrams. When experiences are live, individual student responses can be viewed by the teacher and inappropriate comments deleted. The teacher view of the experience additionally displays the “note element” for teacher tips or answer keys. In addition to real time commenting capability, the footer menu allows selection of the Dashboard icon to review student scene progress and access downloadable Pack resources (Fig. 4).
Figure 4. Teacher view of an Exploros Experience showing footer icons.
Free Teacher Accounts and Subscriptions
Basic accounts are free to teachers and students. This permits access to all core OER in the Marketplace, dashboard and pack resources as well as integration with Google classroom and the ability to schedule and archive student experiences as a portfolio.
With subscripitons, teachers can clone the lessons of others or learn to author their own lessons from scratch, all without needing to know HTML programing language. Additionally, teachers can view individual student performance metrics.
To evaluate the overall experience, Exploros allows teacher feedback on the perceived value of the content and activities. Through the Marketplace Exchange, experiences can be compared, rated, reviewed, and referred via email.
Scripting Lessons and Subscriptions
Authoring leassons in Exploros can be as easy as “cloning” a previously downloaded experience, then adding a new “element” editing, or deleting one. However, for those people who wish to delve deeper into the experience, Exploros provides an extensive manual with scripting recommendations. Authors can choose to charge for their lessons, share them freely, or allow cloning. Uploading graphics or including hyperlinks to existing content is made easy. Students can jump out of the protected environment to specific web sites deemed “appropriate.” Exploros also permits embedding of video and/or audio elements for sites with stable urls. If starting from scratch, there is no need to learn HTML programming to instantly sequence online activities. Exploros provides tools to drop in these sequencial elements (Fig. 5).
Figure 5. Authoring with elements.
Just like a storyboard is used for shooting scenes in a movie, a running script of all content should be stored offline in a single document with accompanying graphics and supporting files. The storyboard is one way to track changes in online content that acts as the working draft and can be grammar checked. After edits are copied and pasted to the online text element, the content is pushed from the authoring account to the teacher’s live account. A record of changes can be a crucial time saver in instances such as the accidental deletion of an element, image or entire scene. Simple word processing software that enables hyperlinks and image placement should suffice. Exploros also allows batched html downloads for backups.
Exploros is a great way for teachers to access and share quality lesson plans and online content. Not only does it help to minismise class prep time so that teachers can focus more on teaching but it also provides schools with a way to track student progress, develop meaning full metrics, share and integrate new content and a whole range of other great benefits. What’s more, teachers can begin access content immediately at no charge. For more information visit exploros.com
Kathleen Mills, Miami University of Ohio