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.


  1. I really, really hope that the funding saved can be quickly funneled into *good* professional development and perhaps training of folks to add the kind of interactive, multisensory tech aspects that could outshine Big Publishers. Combining the structured progress of ALEKS with the conceptual imagery of PhET has awesome potential...

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