Supporting the Discoverability of Open Educational Resources: on the Scent of a Hidden Treasury

Cortinovis, Renato Mario (2020). Supporting the Discoverability of Open Educational Resources: on the Scent of a Hidden Treasury. PhD thesis The Open University.



Open Educational Resources (OERs), now available in large numbers, have a considerable potential to improve many aspects of society, yet one of the factors limiting this positive impact is the difficulty to discover them. This thesis investigates and proposes strategies to better support educators in discovering OERs.

The literature suggests that the effectiveness of existing search systems, including for OER discovery, could be improved by supporting users, such as teachers, in carrying out more exploratory search activities closer to their existing methods of working. Hence, a preliminary taxonomy of OER-related search tasks was produced, based on an analysis of the literature, interpreted through Information Foraging Theory. This taxonomy was empirically evaluated to preliminarily identify a set of search tasks that involve finding other OERs similar to one that has already been identified, a process that is generally referred to as Query By Example (QBE). Following the Design Science Research methodology, three prototypes to support as well as to refine those tasks were iteratively designed, implemented, and evaluated involving an increasing number of educators in usability oriented studies. The resulting high-level and domain-oriented blended search/recommendation strategy transparently replicates Google searches in specialized networks, and identifies similar resources with a QBE strategy. It makes use of a domain-oriented similarity metric based on shared alignments to educational standards, and clusters results in expandable classes of comparable degrees of similarity. The summative evaluation shows that educators do appreciate this strategy because it is exploratory and – balancing similarity and diversity – it supports their high-level tasks, such as lesson planning and personalization of education. Finally, potential barriers and opportunities for the uptake of OER discovery tools were investigated in a structured interview study with experts from the OER field. Identified issues included how to work across multiple OER portals, variability in the use of metadata and how to align with the working practices of teachers.

The findings of the thesis can be used to inform the research and development of methods and tools for OER discovery as well as their deployment to serve the needs of educators.

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