Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Encouraging Teachers to use OER

"What do you think will encourage instructors to go beyond using the LMS as a document hub?" Bryan Alexander asked in a blog post comments exchange recently. This exchange followed an interview that Bryan did with Phil Hill, an educational technology consultant and industry analyst, about the future of the LMS. Bryan and Phil were speculating on what the LMS would become. What the LMS becomes is less significant, in my opinion, than how teachers or instructors use learning management systems in classrooms. Put another way, the feature sets and capabilities of the LMS aren't as important as teacher skill and understanding of how to use any LMS effectively with students. Adding more features doesn't necessarily make an LMS easier to use; more features might even make the LMS more complex and less easily understood. Of course, there are examples of new features making an LMS easier to use for some things, but I don't think that's been the general trend since I began using an LMS in the classroom over 10 years ago.

When I wrote this guest post, Writing the Elephant in the Classroom, on Scott McLeod's blog seven years ago, professional development and teacher training on how to use an LMS was almost non-existent in K12. An LMS was still thought of as web software to be used with online learning. In 2010, wifi was not available in most K12 classrooms, wifi devices were still relatively expensive and viewed as distractions to 'real' learning. Computers were mostly in labs and used primarily for testing or once a week or so for "Friday free time." Some schools were beginning to incorporate computers into media literacy, but not into everyday learning activities. Things were not much different in higher ed, either. 

What's changed in the past seven years is that wifi devices have become increasingly less expensive and most schools have wifi capabilities. Most students have 1:1 access to a wifi device. The other big change has been the emergence of OER, open educational resources. 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.

As was the case seven years ago, 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.

Until now there has not been a way to take the money that’s currently being spent on textbooks and divert it to paying for teachers to acquire the training and skill to make all of the possible customization available with OER and an LMS a reality. We created the Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources, SABIER, to supply that missing element consistent with the U.S. Dept of Education’s #GoOpen Initiative and similar efforts being articulated in most states. SABIER’s recommended implementation refines the #GoOpen Launch Packet and tailors it to each team in a district. SABIER works with school districts to make the changes necessary so that all of the customization and personalization is realized. Districts are able to use existing money and available philanthropy dollars to pay for the initial teacher training that’s necessary to become proficient at using open education resources. It’s the next step in transforming ‘how kids experience school, how teachers teach and even how classrooms look.’

So, the answer to "What will encourage instructors to go beyond using the LMS as a document hub?" is OER and professional development. Start with K12 and higher ed will eventually start doing it, too.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 6

The business models of providing open educational resources are evolving. Now we have an example of two for-profit companies taking profits from the process of providing 'free' OER learning materials to students. This week Follett joined Lumen as a 'distributor' of 'free' OER learning materials. I've had an ongoing debate with David Wiley on this topic. Here's a link to previous posts, David is the open-education visionary who along with education-technology strategist, Kim Thanos, founded Lumen Learning. Lumen Learning is a for-profit company so it needs to make money in order to continue to exist. Open educational resources (OER) are by definition free, so that's a problem for a company that needs to make money and wants to be involved with OER.

David and Lumen solved this problem by creating some stuff to sell 'around' (that's the preposition David used on Twitter yesterday) the OER content they provide for free. They sell stuff wrapped around the free OER; it's like a package. The words on the page are free, you just need to pay for the paper that the words are printed on. Or, the OER stories are free, you just need to pay for the quiz at the end of the story. Or, all of the math problems are free, you just need to pay if you want the software to score the quiz. If a teacher wants to know how students are doing in this course, students are required to pay a fee, but the content is free.

It's 2017;  we have learning management systems that can house that free OER and provide all of the things described as added values in the Lumen model. A learning management system (LMS) allows faculty to create any kind of in situ assessment they want to create. An LMS has analytics to gauge where students are in the learning journey. All of the 'packaging' is available in an LMS. All of the 'added value' for which Lumen is charging recurring fees could be included in the free OER license if Lumen and now Follett, too, didn't need to make a profit.

 Most institutions are finding it impractical to host their own learning management systems these days, and many of even the larger institutions are choosing to hire out the management of their learning management systems. But, the $10-$25 per course per student that Lumen-Follett is collecting to provide the 'packaging' for free OER courses is a steep price.  Students at institutions that aren't ready to have their faculties manage the 'packaging' of the OER still save money, but it's doubtful that faculty that might want to manage even some of the things for which Lumen-Follet are collecting fees understand that it's Lumen-Follett's choice to not include more of the 'packaging' with the free OER license. The 'packaging,' however, is essential to good open educational practice and not really 'packaging' or 'added value;' it's essential value.

Monday, February 13, 2017

OER Platform* Comparisons

I was at Venture Academy in Minneapolis for the viewing of Most Likely To Succeed on Monday evening, Feb. 6. The following day, Tuesday, we got a tour of Venture Academy and then about four hours of workshop/discussion with a team from Summit Learning which Venture Academy is using. Venture Academy also got money from the Gates Foundation; their school is doing good things.  

I observed that SABIER is essentially doing the same thing as Summit Learning with a few differences.

The differences are:

SABIER is platform agnostic although, we like Moodle a lot.

SABIER starts in 3rd grade instead of 6th.

SABIER focuses on 'traditional' public schools rather than charters.

SABIER encourages a lot more interaction in online content between student and teacher

        There are probably more, but that's a start.

I found it reassuring to have proof of concept demonstrated by Facebook (Summit is financed by Mark Zuckerberg.)

OER via an LMS such as SABIER promotes and which is consistent with Education Reimagined's five interrelated elements characterizing student centered learning could be considered best practice for education in 2017. The accessibility to content in a digital format for those who choose something other than English on paper is what will really drive the future of learning.  The creation of an electronic record or archive of student work and teacher comments from which reports about how students actually understand aligned material is also crucial. There's a lot of chatter these days about the need for aligned content but very little talk  about how assessment of student learning of the aligned materials gets accomplished. Using standardized tests is Not going to be adequate or desirable.

It would be useful to have a comparison of the various offerings of OER content that are accompanied by targeted and extensive professional development which is key to making OER work effectively for students. To that end, I've created a comparison table on a Google doc. I'm aware of what Lumen Learning is doing and have included them in the table. Please add your thoughts and suggestions for additional 'platforms' here or on the doc in comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 5

This is a continuation of a discussion from Part 4

In a blog post yesterday, David Wiley said:

“The conversation needs to be larger, the sense of urgency needs to be greater, and the vision and imagination of what’s possible needs to be far, far broader. PDFs aren’t going to get us there. We need more efforts to provide the benefits of publishers’ “adaptive” systems while honoring and enabling the values of the OER community (e.g., the 5Rs and open pedagogy) and more support of these efforts. The tl;dr (sic) is this: faculty (who make the decision about what resources will be used by students) love these systems, and with good reason – they can make things better for students and faculty alike. If the OER community doesn’t recognize that and start providing and promoting viable alternatives to publishers’ platforms, the best possible future for OER is being locked down inside a Pearson MyLab playing second fiddle to proprietary content. No 5Rs and no open pedagogy.”

Earlier in the post he said: “And don’t even start trying to explain how the LMS is the answer. Just don’t.”

I responded, ignoring his exhortation: “LMSs properly supported, are very good 'platforms' for all kinds of assessment and analytics. And, more importantly, control of the LMSs can remain in the hands of the faculty where it should be, if they choose to exercise that authority. Of course, if faculty are only interested in the easiest way to do things, well, then, they can always pay someone or have someone else pay for the difficult parts of teaching and learning.”

David responded to that by saying- “This is demonstrably false. Just taking the first example that comes to mind, LMSs cannot do Computerized Adaptive Testing no matter how they're supported.”

I’m not sure where to start. Arguing that we shouldn’t consider LMSs for OER because LMSs can’t do CAT is a problem for at least two reasons: First, CAT is usually not OER in practice, today. But, secondly, LMSs can indeed to CAT if you want to use them for that.

David then went on to propose that I read what he’d written about LMSs and CMSs and OLNs back in 2009. I generally agree with what he wrote in 2009. Faculty adoption of all of the interactive, collaborative, student centered features of an LMS is a slow and extremely tedious process. We wrote about that in our book chapter and 2014 HLC Conference Best Paper describing such an initiative. David would do well, I think, to consider the work of one of his colleagues at BYU, Charles Graham, who we reference in our work. Graham, et al. point out that implementing a hybrid or blended system in an institution requires a whole lot more than was considered by David and Mott in their 2009 paper.

David clearly understood that there are a whole host of issues to consider as faculty change the very nature of how they do what they do. David’s approach regarding the task of transforming the way faculty approach how they interact with students in the teaching and learning process was not to show faculty how to do it. Instead, he created a for-profit company where OER is housed in an LMS that is connected to the institution’s LMS via LTI. The advantage to faculty is that they don’t need to learn how to install OER in their LMS courses and learn how to use the new, interactive, collaborative, student centered, wider community connected features of their LMS, or learn how to manage the analytics that are available with all current generation LMSs. The advantage to David is he gets to have a for-profit company that charges the students of those faculty who don’t want to learn how to do all of that difficult ‘platform stuff.’ Sure the students save money compared to what they would pay if they bought the books from proprietary publishers, but the faculty stay ignorant about how to really manage learning using a learning management system. Ignorant faculty are good for profit making.

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.