Sunday, December 18, 2016

Betting On Public Education - Part 2

We don’t need more schools. We need the ones we have to have teachers with the skills and expertise necessary for today.

In my recent Twitter exchange with Stacey Childress , CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, I said their publication, Reimagining Learning: A Big Bet on the Future of American Education  didn’t even mention #OER & was mostly about finance & governance of schools, not teaching and learning. Stacey said she disagreed but didn’t offer anything else beyond her best wishes on our efforts to improve teaching and learning. I appreciate her best wishes.

I think their proposal, or big bet, as they call it, is more focused on finance and governance than on teaching and learning because the word, teaching, is only used once in the entire document. It’s used in the sentence: “Most of our current K-12 schools were designed for a different time and purpose: teaching basic knowledge and skills to the vast majority of students destined for work in the early-to mid-20th century economy, with an elite few moving on to higher education.”

They talk about teaching only once when they propose a definition of the current system as being something that only works for an elite few moving on to higher education.”  Few teachers working in current schools think they’re teaching students who will be working in a early-to mid-20th century economy, with an elite few moving on to higher education.  Childress and Amrofell’s statement is an insult to all of the teachers who are working as hard as they can in today’s classrooms.

Childress and Amrofell are minimizing the work being done by today’s teachers in an effort to maximize their proposal for the 7% who go along with their view of how education should be.

They also make the outrageous claim that “Ed-tech is no silver bullet and will never be the primary mode of learning for most young people.” It most definitely is not a silver bullet, but technology is already the primary mode of learning for almost all people - both young and old. The issue is simply which technology and how effectively it’s used for teaching and learning.

We don’t need to spend $3 Billion to create new charter schools, or ‘redesign’ existing schools, or strengthen the ecosystem for innovation, or mobilize a diverse and effective coalition for change. Let’s just spend that $3 Billion to show our existing teachers how to use free digital OER curriculum on modern learning management systems with students who have wifi devices of their choice. Most schools already have the LMSs and students already have wifi devices.  We can use some of that $3 Billion for those students who don’t already have the devices, but most of the money should go to developing the skills and open pedagogical practice of the teachers who are already teaching in our classrooms.

Ubiquitous wifi, very affordable wifi devices, and digital OER are all very new. Using them in conjunction with any of the learning management systems that are getting better and better daily is the way to maximize the teaching corps and schools that we already have. Here’s a set of videos recently released by The Council of Chief State School Officers that explain what OER is and why it’s a good idea. The R & D portion of Childress and Amrofell proposal is not a bad idea but focusing more of it specifically on something that we already know has a good chance of returning positive results, OER, will strengthen the investment. I wouldn’t even call it a bet.

Betting On Public Education - Part 1

In a recent Twittter exchange  Stacey Childress, ‏@NextGenStacey CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, asked how I would frame OER "as bet w growth & learning outcome assumptions leading 2 an ROI forecast." I directed her to a post of mine from about a year ago.

I had suggested in a previous tweet that leaving OER completely out of the publication she'd coauthored, Reimagining Learning - A Big Bet on the Future of American Education, would cause them to lose big on a big bet by not even apparently knowing about #OER. Childress claims to know a lot about OER, but I don't see any evidence of that knowledge anywhere in their publication.

And, I don't understand the concept of betting on education. In their publication, Childress and Amrofell say talking about big bets is something that's currently common in the world of philanthropy. I've always understood that betting was about winners and losers, so I don't think it makes sense to use gambling as a model for education. Don't we have enough resources for all of our children to have a quality education?

It seems to me that Childress and the NewSchools Venture Fund are OK with not all schools being quality schools. In their paper about betting on education they say: 
"Twenty-five years from now, it’s possible for all students to have at least one school in their neighborhood that is designed to meet them where they are, help them figure out where they want to go and how they might get there. Today’s schools weren’t designed to accomplish this, so families and educators are tasked with squeezing as much as they can out of schools designed for a very different time and purpose."

What exactly does  "at least one school in their neighborhood that is designed to meet them where they are" actually mean? What about the other schools. Elsewhere in the paper, Childress and Amrofell talk about "with a total investment of $4 billion in philanthropy over 10 years, approximately 7% of U.S. schools could effectively make the shift to innovative models through investments in three key areas:"

The crap-shoot that Childress and Amrofell are pushing is about winners and losers, and that sounds to me like the other 93% of the students in the U.S. are losing the bet. I don't like those odds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

OER, Stormy Seas, Worthy Research, Sound Ideas, and Responsible Arguments

Education Next's mission statement reads,  "In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K–12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points."

That sets the stage for the piece that appeared in WINTER 2017 / VOL. 17, NO. 1 under the title, "Open Educational Resources, Is the federal government overstepping its role?" by the preeminent author Michael Q. McShane. McShane must be preeminent because he taught high school for a couple of years in a private school and he dropped a French term into both the second and third sentences - bĂȘte noire and cri de coeur. In the first sentence, he quoted Lois Griffin from Family Guy which means he's not only preeminent; he's cool.

It's too bad McShane doesn't understood open educational resources, though; he was off to such a good start. He thinks the most robust form of open educational resources is EngageNY's collection of PDFs that teachers are encouraged to print out and hand out to students to complete with pencil or pen. McShane also doesn't understand how the $17 Billion he quotes as the amount spent on textbooks could instead be paid to teachers to create the content that is used in their classrooms. He seems to think that only people paid by textbook publishers are capable of creating quality material. Here's the key to a responsible argument regarding OER - it's about license or use of the content, not about who creates the content. If a legacy textbook publisher decides to put a Creative Commons license on the book they publish in a Moodle format; it's OER. If a group of teachers get together and make a textbook and then publish it with a non-CC license; it's not OER.

I was hired last year by a venerable textbook publisher to show the publisher's software development team how to move one of their textbooks, previously a proprietary title selling for $225.00, into Moodle so that it could be eligible for California’s OER initiative. Not only did the venerable textbook publisher want to re-brand their content as OER, they wanted it available as an instance of an open source learning management system. I was happy to assist them. When I asked when they would be doing this conversion for more of their textbooks, they answered “not until the market makes us.” That, at least, is an honest answer if not a sound idea.

McShane also seems to think it's not possible to make OER that aligns with standards.  He says,  "Just how “open” can resources be if they operate within the strictures of government-regulated scope and sequences? That is, if the state sets the topics and the order in which they must be covered via prescribed standards and assessments, how much room is there for improvisation?" A scope and sequence is not the same thing as a learning activity. States prescribe standards, but they don't say what kind of learning activities or assessment, even, is required to meet a standard. The options are as many as teachers and their students can create; it's open.

I don't think McShane understands Twitter, yet, either, because he described the DoE's branding of #GoOpen as stylized. (I'd call it incorporating a Twitter hashtag.) His closing quote of McGuffey’s Third Eclectic Reader  suggests he might be stuck a century or two back.  The cold water he throws on the flames of the #GoOpen movement is justified in his mind because he thinks that proprietary textbook publishing might come back some day when OER burns out and then what would we ever do; there wouldn't be any textbook publishers to save public education by charging them $17 Billion a year. Is that a responsible argument supported by worthy research?

The folks at Stanford where Education Next is published may be hearing some stormy seas, but there's smooth paddling up here in the headwaters of open educational resources. Here, where all the women are strong and all the children are above average, OER are empowering both teachers and students and saving school districts money.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Evolution of OER in K12

In his post last week, Patrick Larkin usefully moved the collective understanding of OER ahead. Sharing his district's lack of satisfaction with their initial attempts with OER is a great service to other districts who will be using OER in the days and years to come. Not getting it right the first time is not failure; it's learning.

 Larkin correctly noted that most teachers haven't been trained to create or curate curriculum, but he didn't talk about the other necessary elements of successful OER implementations. There was no mention of any ongoing support being provided to teachers throughout the year; no talk about a common learning management system, which is critical for successful implementation;  a clear pedagogical objective wasn't mentioned for either students or teachers; and the roles of the district IT department, Curriculum and Instruction and administration didn't appear to be well articulated.

He also didn't talk about money. OER is free, but teacher time needs to be compensated.  Professional support for the crucial work of designing new student-centered learning environments that effectively incorporate technology, are aligned to some set of standards, and allow for open-walled learning will cost money. But, that's money spent on strengthening capacity in the district instead of sending it to text-book publishers.

OER used with a well supported LMS will naturally provide greater opportunities for learning that is Personalized, Relevant, and Contextualized. Student agency and social learning are also essential components of the learning environment when students, teachers, parents and the larger community all have a stake in re-making the content to provide maximum local benefit.

Larkin put in a plug for  Open Up Resources (formerly the K-12 OER Collaborative), a new, nonprofit provider of openly-licensed full course curricula which will be published under the most flexible license - CC BY. Open Up Resources is a good option for middle school math.

If you're interested in any of the elementary content areas, I'll invite you to attend the workshop Seth Leavitt and I will be leading at this year's TIES 2016 Conference on Sunday, December 11. I'll be doing a regular break-out hands-on session on Monday, too. We will examine digital online curriculum as both a student and a teacher. We'll do an overview of the digital content available to schools by examining Open Educational Resources (OER), school district self-created content, subscription, and non-subscription commercial content. Techniques to evaluate digital curriculum will be next, and you will take away a workable evaluation process for your classroom. Examples of digital content implementation will be explored, and in groups you will create checklists and implementation plans for each of your schools along with action plans.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Horn Leaves out the Teacher, Again

In a recent Edusrge column, Michael Horn, urged the Los Angeles Unified School District to focus on actual learning—and not the time spent pouring over course material. Horn is urging this in response to the LA Times’ editorial calling to the University of California to set “clear and rigorous rules governing how much time and effort students must put into make-up courses in order to earn credit.”

Horn is right in pushing to have the focus be on actual student learning instead of some measurement of how much time a student spends on an assessment. But Horn makes the mistake he has so frequently made in the past; he leaves the teacher out of the teaching and learning process and substitutes a machine. Horn likes the idea of replacing teachers with machines; he’s a business guy, not a teacher. He can’t quite get his head around how technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning that includes a human teacher. He’s stuck on ways to use technology to replace teachers.

Assessment of student learning needs to be based on the student’s demonstration of learning. That student artifact of learning needs to be assessed by a teacher who knows the student and all of the various things that are particular to that student. The work the student uses to demonstrate their learning needs to be connected to their personal learning journey, not that of some arbitrary machine algorithm. Technology can, indeed, make assessment of student learning better than using measures of seat time, or screen time or mouse clicks I get that. But, we can’t leave out the teacher.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Paid vs OER in K12 - Part 2

                                                                   My previous post on Paid vs OER in K12 is here.

@McGrawHillK12  jumped into a recent Twitter conversation that mentioned one of McGraw-Hill's K12 products. I (as @Sabier) had encouraged a California elementary teacher to take notes on his implementation of a new offering from McGraw-Hill and asked if the offering was OER. In my role as director of professional development for Sabier I assist teachers, K12 school districts, and higher ed faculty who are implementing new tools, including OER, so I’m always interested in getting new insights.

When McGraw-Hill jumped into the conversation they included a link to Stephen Laster’s January 2016 opinion piece on Ed-Surge. Here’s where it gets interesting. The opinion piece appears under the Ed Surge heading News>Technology in School >Open Educational Resources, leading most people to believe that the opinion piece was about Open Educational Resources (OER.) It wasn’t. The piece was confusing, intentionally, or not. I suspect it was intentional because Laster must knows that his assertion ‘there’s some debate about just what we mean by “open” in the context of education’ is true only if you can’t read. The definition of open educational resources is well established. It is, from the Hewlett Foundation:

“OER are 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.”

That definition is not debatable. It’s very clear. If you write an opinion piece under a heading that includes Open Educational Resources, and you sit on the board of The Sloan Consortium for On-line Learning as does Mr. Laster, and you're a former CIO of the Harvard Business School, and you don't reference the Hewlett definition of OER, I gotta believe you’re messin’ with me. I think Mr. Laster, a C-level officer of McGraw-Hill, would like more people to believe that there’s a debate about what we mean by open in the context of education, but there’s no debate about what we mean by open educational resources. Laster’s opinion piece is a well crafted piece of writing that is designed to allow McGraw-Hill to make as much money as possible from their paid content until more people become aware of the definition of OER and begin to experience the tremendous benefits of using OER in K12 classrooms.

Here’s a statement from the FOUNDATIONS FOR OER STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT document that describes the goals and broader vision for OER which “are outlined in foundational documents including the Cape Town and Paris OER Declarations. These documents are critical for communicating the case for OER to the outside world and providing a unifying voice for the movement. But while the goals for OER are clear and broadly agreed upon by the movement, the means and strategies for achieving them are not. To actualize the full vision of OER, a need has emerged for a document that looks inward and addresses strategic questions about how we, as the global OER movement, can reach our collective goals.”

McGraw-Hill knows what is meant by Open Educational Resources, but they would like the full vision of OER to not be realized until some time much later, until they can squeeze as many dollars as possible out of cash starved K12 public schools. One reason I know this because I was hired by one of McGraw-Hill’s competitors to show the competitor’s software development team how to move one of their textbooks, currently paid proprietary for $225.00, into  Moodle so that it could be eligible for California’s OER initiative. Not only did McGraw-Hill’s competitor want to re-brand their content as OER, they wanted it available as an instance of an open source learning management system. I, of course, was very willing to assist them. When I asked when they would be doing this conversion for more of their textbooks, they answered “not until the market makes us.” That, at least, is an honest answer.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Paid vs OER in K12

My previous post looked at Readworks' David Ciulla's conflation of OER and Free resources. This post looks at Paid educational resources (PER) vs OER. Remember, OER are free, but free resources aren't necessarily OER.

Here, again, is the Hewlett Foundation definition of OER - "OER are 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." [1]

The essential part of that definition is that they have 'an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.' That's how the quality gets kept up to date without the need to pay publishers to pay teachers and professors to update the curriculum. Publishers don't have a secret group of magic wizards locked away in a book shelf lined room somewhere that do the editing of the content that publishers use to extract huge sums of money from cash starved public school districts. The real 'secret'-  publishers hire K12 teachers, and retired K12 teachers, and higher ed professors, and professors who used to teach in higher ed, and PhDs who hope to teach in higher ed to do the editing and revising. Of course, the publishers are going to say that we need them, the publishers, to organize that rascally group of editors and revisers, and that was sorta true back in the 20th Century and before. Not so today.

Yesterday, in a piece entitled New Open Ed. Group Vows to Battle Commercial Publishers for K-12 Contracts Sean Cavanagh said that Open Up Resources is going to pay for the editing and revising of their OER content by offering professional development to K-12 systems; printing and distribution services; and support and maintenance for districts seeking to use digital versions of the open materials. That's a solid plan. Open Up Resources will have even more chance for success if they encourage K12 teachers to collaborate with the higher ed professors at their higher ed teacher prep institutions - the people they've relied on for a century or so to prepare, certify, and re-certify teachers. I talked about that in this post. I haven't heard any objections to this idea in recent meetings with U.S. Dept of Ed officials and administrators of higher ed institutions. There's been a little chin rubbing about how to make that happen, but there's also been lights going on.

The publishers will keep bringing up the idea that they're essential to maintaining quality, as Curtiss Barnes did here.  It's still true, though, that OER offers more possibilities for good teaching and learning than Pearson’s proprietary content. The huge untapped potential of OER is the tremendous affordances that show up when OER are used in combination with a good and well supported Learning Management System. I think Open Up Resources has that on their long term road map, but former text book publishers will warm up to the pace slowly. And, as I said here, LMSs have suffered in all levels of education for the lack of OER just as OER have suffered the lack of well supported Learning Management Systems. Both LMSs and OER have suffered the lack of affordable devices and wifi coverage in schools, but that's history, too. I like Open Up Resources's chances against their CEO's former employer.