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Comparing OER Repositories Part 1 - Interactive Chemistry Material

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There are, as a quick search of this blog will show you, any number of websites available which aggregate OERs and educational course materials. However, as we often find with the internet, just because something is available doesn’t mean that it’s useful, and it can be difficult to sift through the sheer volume of available information to find what’s really useful for you. For college-level instructors navigating the world of OERs, some of the obvious concerns include finding sites with thorough and extensive libraries, finding resources at college level (not just K-12), making sure that resources are reviewed. To get a sense of what’s available and where to find it, we will write a series of posts combing through four different OER repositories – OER Commons, Khan Academy, Connexions, and FREE – looking for three very different sets of material and evaluate the results as well as ease of use.

1)      Interactive materials for chemistry students reviewing volume-related concepts
2)      Video lectures on introductory economic concepts
3)      English grammar and style exercises that faculty can use to evaluate and target students’ specific writing issues

This post will focus on the first set, interactive materials for chemistry students reviewing volume.

OER Commons:
To find materials relating to volume, I simply searched “chemistry volume” in the search bar. To refine the results to fit our criteria, I limited the Grade Level to “Post-secondary” and the Material Type to “Interactive.” Narrowing down the results to only the specific resources I was looking for was easy and intuitive, since OER Commons’ search engine has a pretty extensive number of clear and simple options. With all of those constraints, the search turns up three resources, all from PhET Interactive Simulations. The three are “Gas Properties,” which teaches about the relationship between volume, heat, temperature, pressure and gravity; “Balloons & Buoyancy,” which experiments with how different gases will buoy or fail to buoy spheres made of different materials; and “pH Scale,” which allows students to visualize ions while pH testing everyday liquids.  Of the three, only the first would be particularly useful for reviewing volume concepts. While there are no hosted reviews of the material, a quick look at the Gas Properties resource reveals that it comes from University of Colorado at Boulder, which at least provides one college-level institutional endorsement. Overall, this search did not reveal much.


Khan Academy:
The Khan Academy search engine is powered by Google Custom Search, so it will look pretty familiar to most users. A search for “chemistry volume” turns up a total of 959 results, but there is unfortunately no way to conduct a more advanced search limiting the results. The only options are to narrow the search to display “Videos,” “Exercises,” or “Programs.” Since I am looking for interactive material, the Exercises tab seems like the closest fit, and produces only four results: Solid geometry, Units, Area 1, and Equation of an ellipse. None of these results look useful. A search for “volume” turns up a program on basic geometry which includes a “Perimeter, Area and Volume” series of videos, including the option to “Practice this concept” with some interactive questions. Students might be able to review formulas for volume this way, but there is no material connecting the math related to volume to its chemistry application. The reviews seem to be primarily from students who, to be fair, mostly seem to be pleased with their newfound grasp of volume formulas. Based on this cursory search, it looks like Khan Academy is far better suited for students teaching themselves entire units than for instructors looking for material to integrate into their own curriculum.


There are a number of different ways to search Connexions’ library of modules. You can conduct a cold search, or browse by subject, language, popularity, or a category dubbed “title, author, etc” if you know exactly what you need. For our purposes, we will test two methods. For the cold search, I’ll use the same terms as on the previous sites, “chemistry volume.” These terms alone turn up 159 matches. A quick scroll through the results reveals pretty disparate results. Some of them are high school level, while others appear to be high-level analytical and biochemistry.  From the titles alone, it’s difficult to figure out the content of the resources and whether or not they’re interactive. Since the “Search for Content” feature doesn’t seem ideal for our purposes, I switched to “Browse for Content,” refined by “Keyword” and then selected volume. This turns up a total of just eight modules. Unfortunately, none of these modules are interactive, though they may be useful tools for students wishing to brush up on particular skills involving finding volume and considering volumetric relationships.


The new version of FREE provides several methods for searching the database, including a cold search, browsing by subject, and browsing by standard. The preliminary cold search for the term “chemistry volume” turns up a staggering 5,020 results. These results can be filtered by Photo, Video, Animation or Primary Source. Unfortunately, none of these filters suggest that we’re likely to find interactive content. However, some of the resources which turn up, such as the Chemistry Hypermedia Project, incorporate some interactive material. While FREE doesn’t necessarily provide vetting from other educators (though many of the courses it aggregates are from academic institutions), it does gain a little bit of credibility from its .gov address.

Conclusions: Interactive resources are fewer and farther in between than strictly instructional materials. Sites devoted to amassing OERs, in general, do not seem to do particularly well with collecting interactive chemistry resources. However, this doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless. There are a number of sites dedicated entirely to STEM resources, and there seems to be a reason for that. Some of the resources we’ve reviewed may be able to provide materials where the four reviewed here can’t.