Saturday, May 21, 2016

Creativity and Community are the Nature of OER

Andy Hargreaves's eloquent essay published May 20, 2016 in RSA Journal is titled Blooming teachers:  The essay is subtitled: "powering teachers to embrace their creativity in the classroom is the route to creating educational systems fit for the modern era." Using Open Education Resources, OER, is by definition a way of allowing teachers to be more creative if not demand creativity of them. To be fair, creativity could be avoided when using OER but only by not taking advantage of all that OER has to offer teachers and their students.

Let's review the definition of OER as provided in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration: That declaration is:  "Open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet."

The Capetown Declaration declares that teachers should use, revise, translate, improve, and share. Except for using resources, the actions that teachers should do with OER are mostly, if not completely, prohibited by traditional resource publishing mechanisms. When teachers revise, edit, translate, improve and share resources they will be able to include students in the process of revising, editing, translating, improving and sharing those resources. Including students and the very acts of editing, revising, translating, improving, and sharing is creative and community building. 

As I said in my post six months ago about the OER business model: "The big value will be the community of teaching and learning that gets created in the process of sharing notes and stories about how the lessons worked. The curriculum I curate is just a beginning. It will be revised and improved upon, I hope, every time another teacher uses it." 

The additional uses possible with OER beyond the offerings of traditional publishing creates community, and it is also what creates quality. Traditional publishers are often heard saying that quality requires a for-profit corporate structure. But, that's only true sometimes and not true at all if teachers are creative and revise, edit, translate, improve and share the content and allow or encourage their students to revise, edit, translate, improve and share the content. Most teachers are excited about this new possibility for creativity and community.

OER wasn't really practical for most K12 schools until wifi became as ubiquitous as it is now and until the cost of student devices to access wifi dropped to current levels. But now it's possible to replace all of the textbooks that a student would need for their entire P20 school years with some space on their devices. No more lugging those 40 lb backpacks around middle school. No more "I left my book at home." OER makes lots of things about school easier. Teaching and learning is naturally creative and community building the way that OER are naturally creative and community building.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Learning Registry's OE_ Search App

I was in a Twitter discussion recently about just how free certain entities that describe themselves as OER really are. See the previous two posts for more on that.  The Learning Registry's Open Education Search App claims that it "enables educators and other users ... to search for and assign OER directly within an LMS."

The language of the anouncement makes me wonder if the app really does search for only OER. As a curator of OER digital science curriculum I only want material that is licensed with a CC NC SA or CC BY license. I don't want to sift through content that is either not free or doesn't allow me to revise that content.

And, why does the app need to use LTI.  I understand LTI to be a method to connect an LMS to another interactive web application. I don't need to do that. I just want to find the OER that I need and be able to install it in my course in my LMS. I've written previously about why I think LMSs are essential for more widespread adoption of OER. I don't want to use my LMS as merely a portal to somebody else's application that collects information about my 3rd grade students. The use of LTI as a search mechanism to find OER on the Learning Registry seems to me to be an inappropriate use of LTI.

The line that gives me pause to wonder is this : "Creative Commons will continue to work closely with both to integrate CC license choice and content discovery across platforms." That seems to me to mean that it's not now possible to search for only real OER.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Is OER Free ?, Part 2

It's been about five hours since I published Is OER Free? I linked to it in the Twitter discussion that's been going for a couple of days. Here's the bulk of the exchange that's been going on since mostly with Doug Levin. Steve Midgely had asked in a Tweet if the Learning Registry was a problem for me. I said:


Doug Levin: IP license is part of learning registry schema

Me: Can you link me to some clear directions for searching for OER only on the Lng Reg

Levin:  Details and docs up on Github: https://github.com/LearningRegistry/LearningRegistry/wiki . Feel free to join community.

Me: You're kidding, right? You think this is useful for a 3rd grade teacher in Mpls?

Levin:  Learning Registry is a tool for developers. Apps & services are absolutely of value.


Me:  so, Lng Registery is not for teachers?

Levin :  it is an open source data service about education content for developers

Levin: the tools/services developers can create benefit many, inc educators and students


That exchange follows my complaint about the Learning Registry's inability to sort for OER only. I'm writing from the point of view of an elementary classroom teacher who is attempting to locate OER to use with my students, a role I lived for 16 years.

Doug Levin doesn't realize that an 'IP address being a part of a schema' is not standard terminology for most elementary teachers, and most teacher don't want to spend their time on any Githubs, unless they're teaching some form of computer science. Maybe Doug just doesn't care about teachers, the people who actually use OER. He goes on to stress that The Learning Registry is a tool for developers. Except the Learning Registry claims that it's goal is "making it easier for educators and students to access the rich content available in our ever-expanding digital universe." (see the links above) And, that makes sense as a goal, but it's not what Doug is claiming as the purpose of the Learning Registry.

I don't think the Learning Registry is deliberately trying to be confusing to educators. I suspect their motives are more about wanting to avoid potential conflict with legacy publishers and developers who won't want to participate in a registry if their content is singled out as costing money while other content is pointed out as obviously free. 

It turns out that there might be an easier way than Doug suggested. After a little searching on the web I found a paragraph in a document called the Go Open Fact Sheet that says that "Microsoft is committed to index content from the Learning Registry by creating a new app so educators can search and access openly licensed educational resources through LTI compliant learning management and publisher systems." That info then led me via a few Google searches to this page on Creative Commons that announces the Open Education Search App.   I wonder why it's not called the OER Search App. Does it not return only OER if requested? The language in the announcement suggests that a search using the Open Education Search App might not be able to filter out non-OER material.  As I said earlier, this discussion is not over, yet. Stay tuned.




Is OER Free ?


Is OER free? Well, let's look at some sources:

Wikipedia: (retrieved today.)
  • "The idea of open educational resources (OER) has numerous working definitions.[3] The term was firstly coined at UNESCO's 2002 Forum on Open Courseware and designates "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work".
Wikipedia then includes the he William and Flora Hewlett Foundation term which defines OER as:
  • "teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge".
Looking at the Wikipedia entry cited above will lead to some of the many issues that are not yet resolved regarding OER; there are many, but I don't think there should be any confusion about the idea that OER are NO-COST and available or FREE USE. That's how I read the above, anyway.

But there are some who offer different ideas. The company, PanOpen, says: 
  • "“Open” does not necessarily mean “free.” Not all OER materials are free and likewise, not all free materials are considered OER. Usage rights - not cost - primarily define OER. That said, when there is a cost, OER are typically significantly cheaper than textbooks - a factor students especially appreciate. 
  • panOpen has a growing library of high-quality peer reviewed and vetted open content."
Apparently, panOpen thinks that people don't understand the definition of OER as presented by the Hewlett Foundation, OER Commons, and the OECD.  PanOpen has a library and they want to get paid for letting you use it, which is not the idea of OER. Requiring payment for accessing free content makes it NOT free, therefore, not really OER.

The panOpen example is one of clear and deliberate confusion making. Another example of confusion in the OER universe is presented by The Learning Registry. The problem with the Learning Registry is that it's "an aggregator of metadata—data about the learning resources available online—including the publisher, location, content area, standards alignment, ratings, reviews, and more" except the 'more' doesn't seem to include whether or not the resources are OER or not. I would think that if they can sort the resources by all of those other ways, sorting the resources by OER or not wouldn't be that hard to do. And, it would be a really useful sort for those of us who only want to use OER and not content that requires payment to somebody.

There are plenty more examples of a line needing to be drawn between OER and non-OER, as was suggested by Nicole Allen @llen in a Twitter exchange that I've been involved in for a couple of days. How that line gets drawn and who and what is located on either side of the line will no doubt be a continuing conversation. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pearson's OER Plea




Curtiss Barnes, Managing Director, Global Product Management & Design at Pearson uses the 1st person personal plural pronoun, we, in suggesting  that  ‘We’ll just have to be careful that we’re not sacrificing the quality of the learning experience in the pursuit of lower cost.’ in the final sentence of his observations about OER. I think he really means ‘you’ better be careful if ‘you’ use OER because ‘you’ might be sacrificing quality if ‘you’ don’t keep paying us the exorbitant amount that ‘you’  have been spending on proprietary content.


Barnes is asking us to believe that the people he pays create ‘scaffolding that connects concepts and practice together, guiding students through the content in a way that maximizes learning’ better than the people he doesn’t pay to do that. But he doesn’t offer us any evidence.


Barnes also suggests that OER are ‘unlikely to deliver substantial savings over proprietary digital solutions in the long run’ because the people he pays make ‘core instructional content presented systematically and updated regularly,’ and implies that the people who aren’t on his payroll aren’t able or willing to present content systematically and update it regularly. Again he provides no evidence.


Barnes also suggests that people who use OER don’t understand that “open” doesn’t mean “free.” Barnes implies that proprietary content might be better at ensuring ADA compliance, and that it might integrate better with LMSs, and be easier to support technically. Since he isn’t bothering to provide evidence for any of those claims, it’s fair for me to say that just the opposite is true which is what my experience tells me.


Barnes admits that “When it comes to revising and remixing content, OER hold some advantages over the traditional textbook revision cycle. The ability to customize for a specific region or update to reflect recent world events is very academically appealing and can yield more relevant, up-to-the minute content.” But, Barnes suggests that doing all of the collaborating and creative work involved in doing that might be just too much for many faculty to handle. Maybe, but the teachers I know are more than willing to share and collaborate. The reason they haven’t been doing it in the past is because proprietary content made it too difficult to do. I might simply have a better opinion of most faculty than does Barnes.


In the absence of any evidence I’m inclined to give the OER buzz that Barnes is hearing the benefit of the doubt. The buzz is saying that OER offers more possibilities for good teaching and learning than Pearson’s proprietary content.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Messing with Blended


I want to take issue with a Mindshare Q and A that I saw today.

Horn and his co-authors didn't even get close to defining blended learning in Disrupting Class. After I called him out on it, they issued a new version of the book with their brand of blended.  Their definition of blended ignores the definition of blended used by Garrison and Vaughan and others  which works just fine in K12. Their messed up definition has only served to push the idea that teacher presence in the online part of the teaching and learning relationship isn't critical.

As I pointed out, Horn and Co.  didn't pursue how computers might enhance the student teacher relationship and improve both teaching and learning; they stuck with the notion of using computers to substitute for or replace teachers. That teacher displacement model continues, still. I've started calling the kind of 'blended' teaching and learning that began happening in my classroom over eight years ago a hybrid model. I now use hybrid to distinguish a model of blended that includes a strong teacher presence in the online portion of the learning from the Horn and Co model that pushes the teacher out of the teaching and learning relationship and substitutes a machine.

A hybrid model of blended learning is the model that will work best with the new breed of OER that is coming online now exemplified by the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum.

The melding of the term LMS with 'platform' also serves to reduce the focus on student teacher interaction in the online portion of blended learning. For more on this see this post - 
OER, LMSs and Platforms
I had originally titled this post 'The Smudging of Blended' but I decided to change it to 'Messing with Blended' because what we call things matters. The definition of smudging that I intended in my use in the title was - "make blurred or indistinct" which is what I think Horn and Co have done with the term blended. But I realized that some might think I might be referring to smudging that is used in some sacred rituals - I wanted to be clear that I was not.  Horn and Co have blurred the meaning of blended learning and made it less distinct. Messing with the definition of blended and conflating LMS with platform makes it easier to not pay attention to teacher presence in the online and to make paid published content seem more equal to teacher created or curated content and assessments.  Horn and Co like to pretend that teachers can't create or curate their content; that teachers need some for-profit business to do that for them, a company like Intellus who sponsored the Webinar that I also heard today.

So, if you hear someone conflating LMS with platform, talking about how hard it is to find OER, or how hard it is to know which OER to use, check to see how their connected to a business that wants to make money doing that for teachers.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Let’s Follow the Lead of the ACPS.

This post is a response to the comments made by Anthony Cody to a previous post. Anthony made his comment via a link to his blog.


Thank you, Anthony, for articulating your fears and anxieties about CBE. I think you’re voicing concerns that are shared by everyone who doesn’t, yet, understand learning management systems. As I said in my previous post “Using a learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S. It's not taught in most schools of teacher preparation and not something that most large public school systems promote.” Let’s start with some of the basics. You’re correct that I didn’t define learning management systems in my post. I was referring to learning management systems like Moodle, Canvas, and Schoology which, I think, are the three mostly widely used LMSs in U.S. K12. It would have been more accurate to say that using an electronic web based learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S., yet.


The truth is that almost all teachers have always used some kind of learning management system. Some teachers are still using spiral notebooks or 3-ring binders to keep track of student learning and then they transfer that information to the forms, usually electronic these days, that their districts require. When my dad was Superintendent of a small school district in South Dakota 50 years ago, he and his teachers used faux-leather spiral ‘gradebooks’ and then transferred the information about student learning to cards in pre-printed manilla envelopes that were sent back and forth between parents and teachers until the end of the year when they usually went home with the student. Before the cards were sent home at the end of the year, the teacher was responsible for re-recording the information about student learning in the official file in the big gun metal gray cabinet in the main office. The information recorded was a summary of what the teacher had observed and documented about student learning over the course of the year. Student created artifacts were not kept by the school.


Now, as I said, school districts have only recently begun to implement electronic web based student learning management systems and few have yet to promote using them for teacher created assessments. It is now practical to use Learning managements systems for instruction and teacher created assessments because devices and wifi have become ubiquitous and less expensive than paper systems. In addition to being less expensive, the new LMSs enable enormous potential for teacher and student collaboration within the classroom and with the larger community. But, the LMSs that enable teacher created lessons and assessment are facing huge very well funded competition from LMSs that don’t promote teacher created lessons and assessments. In some cases, far too many in my opinion, teachers are actually discouraged from creating authentic learning experience and are steered toward adaptive or computer suggested next steps. That’s the trend I’d like to see thwarted.


The way to thwart the machine driven learning management systems is to use teacher driven learning management systems.  Teachers don’t need to build LMSs; they’re already built. Teachers just need to collectively decide to use them rather than having the machine driven systems forced into service. But, please, let’s not be so desperately naive as to think that most school systems will not be using some kind of electronic web based learning management system as soon as they can practically get them working. The simple fact that LMSs make OER so much more useable makes the use of LMSs essential for schools going forward from today. The question is very clearly what kind of learning management system will we use in our schools. The spiral bound gradebook - manilla envelope - gray metal cabinet system is no longer an option.


If teachers don’t learn how to use the LMSs that maximize their skills and authority, they will be required to use LMSs that minimize teacher skills and authority. Opting out of using a learning management system that permits the use of free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources is not the same as opting out of standardized tests that are created by for profit corporations and scored by for profit corporations. Let’s spend the $9 billion per year we’re currently spending on textbooks developing our teachers’ capabilities to use free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources on free open source learning management systems and keep for profit companies out of our public schools.

Having teachers masterfully using LMSs and OER is what will enable districts to choose to use competencies like the very enlightened ones the Albemarle County Public Schools use. The  ACPS has very wisely chosen to focus first on creating wise competencies and then on creating content that fulfills those competencies and including teachers in the process all along the way. When the ACPS is asked to report on those competencies, they’ll easily input teacher and student assessments of learning into the LMS of their choice. Learning to use the CBE features of an LMS is not going to be a big deal for the teachers of the ACPS. They’ve already got the competencies defined and processes in place to report on student achievement of those competencies. Let’s follow the lead of the ACPS.