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.