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OER stands for Open Education Resources. OER Commons is an advert-free portal created by The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME). ISKME is an independent, nonprofit research institute that helps schools, colleges, universities, and individuals expand their capacity to collect and share information. On this portal, content providers (namely educators) make available to others content they have created. On the receiving end, visitors to the site can call upon this material to use as teaching aids. One will find full courses, course modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab and classroom activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world.

On this site, information is catalogued by level. There are three levels: primary, secondary and post-secondary. Content may be linked to more than one level. Besides selecting the level, the educator has to select the subject areas the material falls under. Having defined the catalogue entries, the last entry is the licensing model under which the work is to be made available. The very popular creative commons (http://www.creativecommons.cc/) license model is supported as well as other lesser known restrictions.

In my opinion the success of any site lies in its search engine and on this front OER Commons is more than adequate. For example I typed in the word “photosynthesis”, selected the subject area Science & Technology and the secondary level grade. 10 documents came up ranging from the primary / secondary “A Beginning Look at Photosynthesis: Plants Need Light” made available by The GLOBE Program, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Colorado State University up to the “Virtual Cell” a secondary / post-secondary Java interactive tool uploaded by SERC.

If you like the material made available by a particular contributor, you can tag it for future recall. By clicking on a contributor you can see other material made by this person or entity. People who make use of material from here can rate the quality of the material using a star system. This feedback mechanism helps float to the top better quality material thereby making it easier for others to benefit from the experience of peers from all over the globe.

The great thing about OER Commons is that once teachers become content consumers they are encouraged to become content producers. The very popular share-alike licensing model of creative commons allows educators to take content, improve it and upload the improved version. Some teachers take their own lessons and put them on-line for others to use, improve and share.
The English author, critic, & lexicographer, Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) once said that “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.” OER Commons is modeled along this dictum. Go to http://www.oercommons.org to give it a test surf.