Tuesday, December 4, 2018

David and the Commons

David Wiley’s attempt to slay the giant OER Commons is to call it a metaphor and to suggest that the metaphor is not appropriate for the work of Open Educational Resources.. David rather begrudgingly suggests that there may, in fact, be a Commons of which the work of OER is a part - “If we really are part of an emerging commons, perhaps we need to invest our effort in catalyzing and sustaining true commoning behaviors.” But, David thinks doing the behaviors necessary to sustain an OER commons are unnatural.

In his post on the subject where in harkens to religiosity by suggesting that there is something called an OER Orthodoxy, David defines The Commons rather narrowly. He does so, I think, to better enable his argument that The Commons is a mere metaphor used to describe the work of sustaining OER. Except that The Commons can mean something more than David says it can. This list of uses of the word the commons includes a wide variety that go beyond those offered by David in his post: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/commons. And likewise, this Wikipedia article includes links to many more variations of the commons.

David says that “perhaps we are part of a commons – just a very young one which has yet to develop either the community or the community governance that is necessary for us to be a “real” commons. Maybe the best argument one could make is that we are part of an “emerging commons.”

We are, indeed, part of emerging commons and some kind of community governance will emerge. I, for one, hope we don’t develop an orthodoxy, but being part of the commons offers more possibilities than trying to not be a part of the commons. We just need to be OPEN to the possibilities of this particular Commons.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Assessment - Global and Local

This past week, assessment was both a global and a local news-maker. On the local scene, my old friends at Education Evolving presented a paper called “Defining and Measuring Student-Centered Outcomes.” EE’s paper covers a very broad spectrum of assessment domains, strategies and purposes before suggesting a few action items. EE asks us to “imagine if the state test could be taken in separate parts throughout the school year rather than all at once at year end (as is possible under ESSA), with results available the next day. Or, imagine the state partnering with a company that produces formative assessments (like the NWEA MAP) so that the same tests currently used for formative purposes could also serve for accountability with, of course, important modifications and accommodations. Or—even bolder still—imagine giving districts the option to embed standardized state questions into end of course exams, with safeguards in place to ensure question security.”

All of those imaginings are actually already very possible and they can all be accomplished using free open source software for which the the state wouldn’t need to pay a dime, or even a penny. Somebody would need to host the software on a server and somebody would need to manage the software and the processes, which would be necessary, too, if the state ‘partnered with a company’ to use a less open and flexible assessment platform.

The state can do all of the things that EE is imaginining with Moodle. We know this because the United Nations is already doing something very similar on a global basis using Moodle. This week the UN Secretary General's Award for Innovation was awarded to an online assessment platform built on Moodle. The U.N. is using this platform to assess the skills and abilities of the thousands of applicants they hire to do the many different and varied jobs that the U.N. does in all of its divisions - the General Assembly, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and all of the sub groups. Moodle is a learning management systems that has been used for over ten years in a large percentage of schools in Minnesota at all levels. This post describes a scenario that allows students to participate in selecting tasks that meet a set of criteria or standards. The schools in the State of Minnesota will likely have slightly different assessments needs than the U.N. but the beauty of open source software is that the users of the software, the schools and teachers, can define the specifics.

It’s important to focus on the actual tools needed to accomplish the daunting assessment tasks that EE is talking about because if a more global tool for assessment isn’t used at the outset, the state will likely end up with a system like they already have - a bunch of different systems that work differently, measure differently, report differently. It wouldn’t be necessary for every school to use Moodle, though. Schools that want to use a proprietary system from a vendor of their choice would only need to make sure the system they used was capable of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) which is standard on most learning management systems. The nature of the particular assessments, their domain, strategic focus, and the timing of the assessments are all things that can be adjusted once the system is operating.

Let’s have our students become globally prepared by taking a cue from the U.N. on the next step in assessment. Make the system open source, and use a system that is already successful. Most importantly, create a system that allows for maximum control by the teachers and students.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

OER Intent and Purpose


I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that Steel Wagstaff made on his blog recently- "we need openly-licensed formative assessments, learning objectives, etc. AND we need well-integrated, interoperable open-source platforms composed of open-source tools that allow educators to build openly-licensed (and thus free) alternatives to the partially-proprietary remixes that have been built upon the open content that we’ve already released into the world." Notice that I didn't include the first part of Steel's statement about the need for CC BY content. When we put CC BY content into remixes in well-integrated, interoperable open-source platforms and then put a CC BY NC license on those remixes we will be ensuring that subsequent remixes and revisions of the original content will be free.

For me this is an issue of intent and purpose. If our intent and purpose is to make more learning content free, we are true to that intent and purpose by declaring that all subsequent remixes of this content should also be free. I don't want LearnZillion, for example, to take the 3rd Grade Science textbook that I created/curated for the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum and put it into their proprietary platform and put an all rights reserved copyright on it. The MPCC doesn't either and that's why the 3rd Grade Science content has a CC BY NC license on it. That is precisely what LearnZillion did with the CC By licensed Creative Commons Illustrative Mathematics middle school math curriculum that was largely funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

Taking CC BY licensed content and putting it into a proprietary platform and then putting an all rights reserved copyright on it is not activity I want to encourage; it is not consistent with my purpose. Another remix of the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum has been put into Microsoft's OneNote platform. Microsoft makes OneNote available to school district's at Microsoft's discretion. Microsoft doesn't make OneNote available to nonprofits that provide professional development for public schools. It is more than a little odd,I think, that a foundation funded by the Hewlett family is funding a 'freemium' for Microsoft.

I understand why companies that have proprietary platforms that provide content that is a value add-on to CC BY content want to promote CC BY, but the purpose of for-profit companies providing the added value is not necessarily beneficial in the long term for our public institutions. Eventually, our public institutions will begin exercising their ability to create publicly owned creative commons licensed alternatives to the current proprietary 'added value.' CC BY NC is consistent with that intent and purpose. It is also the purpose of SABIER, the Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

OER in Brazil and Beyond

Tom Berger, the author of the recent Edutopia piece, The Uncertain Future of OER , is not adequately informed about all of the things that are happening with OER and I don't think he's thought through all of the processes that are happening as K12 begins to use OER more. The New America report released a few weeks ago is more comprehensive even though it, too, leaves out important issues, specifically, the role of teacher preparation programs in promoting OER. The New America report does get it right when it reports 
that OER enables teachers "to design and implement personalized learning experiences for students that traditional instructional materials cannot always support."

Neither of the above notices that the U.S may not be the leader in fully adopting OER in K12. It is likely that other countries that have less legacy textbook publishers and less education bureaucracies at all levels will leap frog the U.S. and begin to implement on a national basis. The new developments in Brazil, as noted by Nicole Allen of Sparc, might be an indicator that they're moving at least as fast as the U.S., if not faster. I can envision Brazil using some combination of translations of  Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum material, Illustrative Mathematics material, Concord Consortium, and Phet material to create a Brazilian national curriculum that they make available on a Moodle platform and distribute via some variation of the Moodlebox and/or SolarSpell. That will happen while Microsoft is trying to take a bigger share of the U.S. K12 market away from Apple and Google, and while companies like LearnZillion monetize the Illustrative Mathematics OER content in the U.S.

Another example of a stable OER network is KlasCement, which has been around for about 20 years and has become part of the policy on open education of the Ministry of Education in Flanders, Belgium.

K12 is a significantly different 'market' than higher ed. OER implementation in K12 is not about saving students money, and it's not about creating a large repository; it's about providing agency to teachers and students. Lots of government entities who are the current providers of K12 content (including U.S. local school districts) will hesitate to give that much agency to teachers and students, but there are governments who understand that an educated citizenry is the key to prosperity and security. It's too bad that Edutopia sees the need to throw cold water on OER.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Moodle and OER

“How can educators facilitate open learning between face to face and digital learning environments? What are the benefits of expanding learning into digitally open learning environments?" are questions asked by Verena Roberts on Twitter before the 2018 Open Education Global Conference in Delft. Combining MoodleNet with OER is a viable answer to those questions.

Open source Moodle works great to facilitate open learning between face to face and digital learning environments -  the term ‘digital learning environment’ does not mean Not face to face. Face to face can include digital learning and it can include online learning. I began using Moodle in a 3rd and 4th grade face to face classroom over ten years ago; I wrote about that experience here.

Facilitation between face to face and online digital learning environments was also a very conscious effort of the work I led at Augsburg University when we converted more than 400 courses from a face to face format to a hybrid format. The Higher Learning Commission was very interested in that facilitation when they re-accredited the program. We wrote about that work here and were acknowledged with a Best Paper award at the 2014 HLC Conference. Moodle was key to that work.

Moodle is uniquely positioned to both take advantage of the increased use of OER and to make a contribution to the increased use of OER. Moodle is already the most widely used LMS in the world, it is solidly open, and it already has a repository established for the sharing of Moodle courses and resources. That repository is soon to have some enhancements made to it and now is the time for Global Open Educators to make their voice heard about how they would like to see MoodleNet enhanced. Moodle could do more to make more educators aware of the repository and new options for using Moodle in the classroom. A MoodleCloud site is free for up to 50 users and very inexpensive for larger sites that use basic features. Too many open educators are not yet aware of MoodleCloud or the MoodleNet repository of courses.

The MoodleNet repository currently only lists 91 courses, and a course based on the popular OpenStax OER texts doesn’t appear in the search of those 91 courses. Building this repository with full featured Moodle courses consisting of OER content should be Moodle’s path forward leading open education. Moodle doesn’t need to re-invent an Open platform; that part is already done.

Moodle can follow the lead of non-open proprietary companies; one of them, Top Hat, has created a repository of OER texts which Top Hat hopes educators will then use with their non-open learning management system. There are also about twenty or more companies who have partnered already with OpenStax to provide LMS-like functionality for OpenStax’s OER books. The model of using OER texts in an LMS-like platform is well established. Moodle just needs to steer more open educators toward using a fully Open LMS with OER content. Expanded open learning in open digital environments that are face to face, hybrid, blended, or fully online is already more than a possibility.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The CCC System is Leading the Way in OER Stewardship


Addressing the sustainability of OER is important ‘If the field of OER is to continue on its trajectory from a nascent movement to the mainstream of education’ as Doug Levin urges in the introduction to the paper he authored with Lisa Petrides and C. Edward Watson, Toward a Sustainable OER Ecosystem: The Case for OER Stewardship. That paper explains what they're calling the CARE Framework. But, starting from a point of view that the sustainability of OER is somehow in question or in doubt is the wrong place to start. That’s a point of view put forth by the people who were making money in the old educational material business model, and also by those who want to make a quick profit in the new OER business model.

Open educational resources are not a fad; they’re not a phase; they’re not a subset of the traditional education publishing model. OER is the new way of sharing educational material.

In 2016 we spent the equivalent of about 60 Billion U.S. dollars on education material, globally. The number for 2017 will be even higher. Most of that money went to the traditional way of distributing educational material that was not openly licensed. The task at hand is to shift the spending that went to traditional copyright publishers to instead paying for faculty to learn how to use openly licensed digital content with their students in dynamic ways that enable new opportunities for all kinds of learners. In addition to faculty professional development, some of that money will need to be shifted to paying for the maintenance of the libraries and repositories where the OER is stored and made easily available. Some of that spending will need to go to pay for the creation of new openly licensed content, especially in those areas that aren’t currently being served well.

The first step in shifting that spending, though, is to shift our thinking about OER from one of scarcity to one of abundance. We have the tools we need and we have more than enough money; we just need to collectively make the shift.

The inevitable shift to an OER abundance will occur more quickly if more institutions who have a stake in educational materials become active stewards of OER and begin consciously and explicitly applying the CARE framework. To date, too many educational institutions have farmed out the stewardship of OER to for profit companies who wrap OER in additional materials that could also have an open license, but are sold instead as value add-ons.

A notable exception to this unfortunate trend is the California Community College (CCC) system. The CCC has set out to create a sustainable OER ecosystem. The CCC proposes “to create the California Community College OER Initiative (CCCOERI) that serves to coordinate OER activities in the CCCs, including content curation, review, modification, and development; ancillary resource curation and development; and the provision of support to address copyright, accessibility, technical, and other related issues (e.g., print on demand).” When all of the institutions in the AAC&U begin to emulate the efforts of the CCC system, the CARE Framework will be solidly in place. Thank you, California Community College system, for leading the way.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

OER, The Commons, and K-12

In his keynote address at the OpenEd17 conference, David Bollier talked about the commons, or self-organized social systems for managing shared wealth. The U.S. K-12 public school system is a good example of a collection of institutions that serve the commons. 90% of the schools in the U.S.  are managed by public governmental entities that have authority to tax the citizens of the commons.


 Karen Cangialosi suggests that open education can enable us “to model the value of knowledge as commons in a way that shifts our thinking and practices towards the sharing and maintenance of all commons such as water, forests, soil, air and seeds.” The use of open educational resources and open pedagogy are still in an emergent stage in the U.S. K-12 system even though some forms of open education have been around since the 1960s. Realizing the potentials that Karen invokes will be much more likely if OER and open pedagogy begin in K-12 and not just higher ed.


Implementing new things in K-12 is complicated. In my previous blog post I mentioned the tweet exchange at OpenEd17 that included TJ Bliss’s suggestion that a lack of trust in the K-12 education system was a key barrier to #OER growth. I doubt that lack of trust is the key barrier. Most parents trust the teachers in the schools where they drop their kids every day. A lack of deep experience with how the very complicated U.S. K-12 system functions is a much bigger issue for parents, the general public, most philanthropists, politicians, and journalists. The incentives to adopt OER and open pedagogy are different in K-12 than they are in higher ed, and the lift is heavier in K-12 than in higher ed because curricular decision making is usually more systemic in K-12.


There are not many benefits of adopting OER  in K-12 unless the OER is used in a fully functioning learning management system, because as Karl Nelson, the COO of Illustrative Mathematics, said in his presentation at OpenEd17, 'the printed copies that Illustrative Mathematics sells to school districts don’t actually save the school districts money in the long term.' To really make a difference in K-12 teaching and learning, OER curriculum needs to be used in a learning management system that provides digital formative assessment, collaboration, feedback,  the ability for the student to take the digital copy of the content and all of their work and feedback with them,  and all of the kind of analytics that are currently being provided in higher ed by third parties for a fee.


In K-12, we have the opportunity to build the commons instead of make private for-profit companies richer. When we provide professional development so that our teachers have the ability to manage all of the wraparound abilities that are being sold to higher ed faculty in the current OER delivery models, we make the commons better.  

206 public school districts have trusted the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum to create 40 complete OER courses. Here’s a video about that work. After creating the courses, the next step is providing the professional development so that teachers have the skill and experience necessary to use OER courses with their learning management systems . SABIER is the non-profit that I founded to take the K-12 part of the commons to that next level.

My first effort organizing open staff development was in 1997 when I created a NiceNet community for Minneapolis Public School middle school math teachers who were implementing the then new Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) curriculum. (CMP has a lot in common with the newly released Illustrative Mathematics curriculum. The big difference is that IM is OER, CMP is not.)  The experience every year since of leading efforts implementing specific curricula and a variety of technological tools and systems continues to convince me that teachers are very capable of doing the heavy lifting when given necessary support. There are a lot of moving parts to the K-12 system, though, and getting to the necessary consensus for successful innovation takes time. But, It’s worth it

Bolstering K-12 teachers to implement full course OER curricula will lead to more use of OER in higher ed, and K-12 teachers will be able to show higher ed faculty how to use the features of their LMSs so they can wean themselves from a dependence on 3rd party for-profit vendors. The commons will be better.