Creating content in Connexions is quite easy when using their provided templates. Using the templates provided by Connexions not only ensures uniformity across all material in their repository, but it also allows for an optimized experience for those who are searching for content using Connexions. Word, OpenOffice, and LaTeX templates are provided which means that content may be created using familiar software while the appropriate formatting is applied to the material once it is uploaded. After logging into your Connexions user account, the MyCNX tab is where you will find all of the content that you have created or edited using Connexions.
Resources in the Connexions repository are divided into what it calls “modules” which are units that are intended to be mixed and matched to create a custom resource. Modules can be organized into “collections” that contain resources that serve the specific needs of a particular user. OpenStax has put together a tutorial on creating modules and another on creating collections.
I used some content from the Biochemical Methods lab manual that we published last summer and quickly pushed it through the Connexions authoring platform. This platform does a good job of structuring content; however, using it is not exactly intuitive. In order to include images and other forms of multimedia, authors will need to reference Openstax’s guide to adding multimedia to your Connexions content and would be well prepared if slightly familiar with HTML markup. Even though this guide clearly explains how to accomplish this without any prior experience, it is not nearly as intuitive as using WordPress’s WYSISYG editor.
ComPADRE is a collection of resources from the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society, the American Institute of Physics, and the American Physical Society that aims to help both teachers and students find learning resources for their specific needs. Many of the resources within the ComPADRE repository take the form of simulations and other forms of multimedia. The ComPADRE Collection directs its users to external websites where the resources they are looking for are located. Upon creating an account, ComPADRE allows its users to organize their favorite resources into a file folder structure that it calls a “filing cabinet” that may be shared with the ComPADRE community. ComPADRE does not offer any authoring tools; however, it is a nice place to house links to external content.
Merlot allows its users to contribute to its collection in two ways. The first and most simple way to contribute is to provide a link to a resource that is hosted on an independent domain. Merlot asks that the submitted link be accompanied by a description of the resource, keywords associated with it, a category for which to place the resource and information about its author. The other way to contribute material to the Merlot repository is by using its Content Builder. Merlot’s Content Builder creates webpages via a Libguides-esque interface. On the pages created with Content Builder authors can upload their content or insert a link to their content that is hosted elsewhere. Aside from providing a webspace that hosts links to materials that are hosted by Merlot or otherwise, Merlot’s Content Builder allows its users to add a description of their resource, but not much else. Merlot has put together a site that highlights what it claims are exemplary uses of their tool. Again, I recommend authors interested in publishing OER use a tool that is already familiar to them and has more features than Merlot’s Content Builder or Connexions authoring tool.
OER Commons, by far has the best authoring tool of the repositories reviewed in this write-up. Their tool, Open Author, is a simple WYSIWYG editor. It looks like a simplified version of Microsoft Word, that has all of the most basic functionality that one would require of a word processor. In fact, it includes a utility that makes including images, videos, even embeddables, in your documents a breeze. To test the scope of the embed utility I simply pasted into its address bar the URL of a YouTube video as well as the URL of a Slideshare presentation. Both were embedded flawlessly. Open Author supports multiple authors and it also imports documents from Google Docs. I created a test document from a chapter of the Biochemical Methods lab manual using Open Author. Copying and pasting the content was quick and the tool’s automatic formatting feature made the process even easier as did its LaTeX insertion feature. In general Open Author was a pleasure to use.
Beyond the OER Commons authoring tool, their content is very easy to browse as its entries are required to be accompanied by appropriate metadata. Within the metadata authors may categorize their resources by subject, intended user, curriculum level, language, material type, learning goals, keywords, and educational standards. I think that that last field, educational standards, is especially interesting as I can imagine that teachers browsing OER would be thrilled to find a lesson or a set of lessons that are already aligned to the standards that they are supposed to be meeting. Within this field authors may choose Common Core State Standards Math, Common Core State Standards English Language Arts, or Next Generation Science Standards.
One might also choose to simply contribute a link to the OER Commons if the resource already has a host much akin to the way that Merlot operates. Contributing OER in this way is just as effective as using their Open Author tool with respect to metadata and searchability as is requires the same metadata be associated with the submitted link.