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Open your mind to open education

There is little doubt that the criteria for judging learning - Ofsted, seasonal squabbles about exams and debates about lifelong education - are becoming both loftier and more rigid. At the same time, teachers are regularly bludgeoned (metaphorically, at least) for devising lessons that critics claim are neither creative nor demanding enough.

But there is no point moaning about this. It was ever thus. And there is little sign that things are going to change any time soon.

Yet for those who despair of fulfilling quotas and coping with paperwork at the same time as educating pupils - and inspiring them to educate themselves - help is at hand from a growing number of OpenCourseWare projects and massive open online courses (Moocs).

Teachers have long been at the cutting edge of open education by using sites such as www.tes.co.uk. But you may be unaware of just how many pupils are downloading university material to boost their schoolwork and even to explore new and diverse subjects.

Surveys for some of the higher education sites show that many teenagers - overturning popular cliches - are happy to spend nights indoors improving their education and learning new skills.

Schools can capitalise by using interactive guides they know will captivate their pupils in the classroom. According to The Open University, Australian schools have been quickest to pounce on their resources and incorporate them into virtual learning environments. And The Open University's distance-learning credentials mean it has great experience in creating resources for independent learners.

Much of the material overlaps with A levels, and British teachers, too, are incorporating it into their classes, leading to "a higher level of engagement". Or to put it bluntly, as one teacher did: "The moment (the pupils) realise 'I can watch this on a mobile' you're away."

Those who worry about the relegation of printed books to the dustbin of the past may not be enthused. But for teachers keen to stimulate their classes, spark a true desire for lifelong learning and, let's face it, keep up to speed with the way today's pupils prefer to digest knowledge, the growth in such resources is a godsend.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro

jo.knowsley@tes.co.uk @tes.

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