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.

But 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. But, that's money spent on strengthening capacity in the district instead of sending it to text-book publishers.

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.