Saturday, April 11, 2020

Comments on the Hewlett Foundation's Next Phase

  The recent publication by the Hewlett Foundation of their Open Education Strategy for 2020 is like a breath of fresh air in the sunshine in these troubling times. The Hewlett Foundation is the unquestionable leader in the field of open educational resources (OER), and their attention to how and what students actually learn when using OER is welcome and necessary for both K12 and Higher Ed.

Hewlett might be missing the forest for the trees, though, when it comes to models to propel and sustain the growth of OER. We don’t necessarily need to help developers and publishers of OER grow, certainly not the private for-profit ones. The whole point of OER is for teachers and educational institutions to be able to exercise their own ability to revise, remix and redistribute material. Our universities are more than capable of revising, remixing and redistributing material. Some K-12 districts and most state departments of education are, too. The beauty of OER is that every university and every district in every state doesn’t need to do it themselves; they can share the work and collaborate in continuing to make educational material more culturally relevant and more accessible to all. That can be the glue for the new networks called for by Hewlett.

That leads to examining another point made in the Strategy for 2020 - the need for professional development. One of the big reasons, as Hewlett noted, why “currently, few educators who use OER-based curricula understand that these materials are OER or use the open license to its full potential” is that educators are not professionally instructed on what OER is and how to use, revise, remix, and redistribute the material. Hewlett is absolutely correct in saying that “Teachers require professional support to learn how to take full advantage of the flexibility that OER affords in service of student learning.” Professional support should start even before teachers are in the classroom. It needs to happen in teacher preparation programs. Today, however, very few teacher preparation programs include developing an understanding of OER and how it can be modified to promote deeper learning. To “ensure that the growing knowledge base reaches educators and policy makers” the pedagogy first needs to be articulated and taught to the practitioners, then the effectiveness of the pedagogy can be researched and reported.

An integral component of developing new teachers’ ability to use, revise, remix and redistribute OER will be showing teachers how to import OER material into learning management systems (LMSs), and then how to modify it in the learning management system. OER is hard to revise when it's printed material, PDFs, or ePubs. Google docs are a step in the right direction but they don't provide all of the assessment and analytics that are available in an LMS, and an internet connection is more necessary with Google docs than it is with opensource LMSs.

The pandemic that is now threatening all of our teachers, students and parents has highlighted the glaring lack of internet access, learning management systems, and teachers’ mastery of the LMSs. We have as a society been slow to demand that all of our students have access to current educational technology. The tools already exist to enable educators to make education material accessible and culturally relevant to all,  but too few schools have implemented the tools and developed expertise. OER is critical in that work.

Before OER, we relied on publishers to make  textbooks and distribute them to every classroom. Today in the field of OER, for-profit providers are housing OER in proprietary platforms to deliver the functionality that is available in learning management systems. Relying on for-profit providers to make materials accessible and relevant is maybe a convenient way to get started with OER and it proves the concept, but it doesn't provide all of the benefits of OER that are possible. It doesn't help institutions and teachers develop the skills they need; and it's much more expensive in a not very long run.

Learning management systems (LMSs) are the key to making OER more useful in both K-12 and higher ed. One of the reasons that LMSs have had such a poor standing with all levels of education is that they didn't previously have OER. Conversely, OER  makes LMSs really useful in both K-12 and higher ed. Without OER, LMSs can be an appendage or clumsy tool for teaching and learning. And, without an LMS, OER is often something that is harder to use than what we've always used previously - the textbook.

An openly licensed textbook can be fitted into a learning management system quite easily and practically. When the textbook is housed in a LMS, it is more easily accessible to students, teaching notes can be included, assessments are included, and reports aligning student learning outcomes can be created for all the necessary and various levels required. The most exciting part is that OER makes the content in a learning management system something that is alive, flexible, and well suited to the collaborative process of great teaching and learning.

A focus on teacher preparation program development of K-12 expertise in using OER with LMSs and then then ensuring that current teachers get the needed professional development would be a useful addition to Hewlett's next phase.  So would advocating that all students have access to digital content both in school and at home. Internet access needs to be the public library of the future. Using digital tools for learning won't be scary or difficult once it's ubiquitous, and it will open wide the world of OER to teachers, students and parents. K-12 teachers becoming proficient in using all of the features of OER will encourage Higher Ed faculty to do the same, and then everyone benefits.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Hybrid for Fall 2020

Matt Dean wrote about his concerns for institutions of higher ed starting the Fall term of 2020. He suggested that a hybrid model might be something to consider. The experience of Augsburg University may be useful. I led the team of academic and tech support staff that implemented a move of all of Augsburg's weekend college and graduate courses to a hybrid format from a previously face to face format. That work is described in this paper  which was named a Best Paper at the 2014 HLC Conference and in this book chapter which I don't think is available electronically.

A couple of points from Augsburg's experience that are worth noting are:

Faculty consensus is critical. It took Augsburg the better part of a couple of years to come to a consensus that moving to a hybrid format for the weekend and graduate courses was the way to go. It would be possible to do it more quickly, but the effort will be difficult without a strong consensus of faculty and staff.

Leadership is also important. A move like this won't succeed without a firm commitment to support it from all levels of the highest leadership. And, leadership needs to be in it for the long term; not as a short-term fix. There be will a powerful pull even after consensus is reached by faculty to revert to 'the way we've always done it, "the right way" ' when difficulties arise. And, they will arise.

Technological infrastructure needs to be firmly in place. This mostly just costs money, but it's also an issue of the will to get it done. This includes, WiFi, devices, and all of the necessary software.

And, maybe most importantly, a plan to provide significant levels of faculty professional development and support for the transition will be crucial. One of the biggest hurdles will be getting consensus about the software and platforms to use. Initially, it will be better to have everyone do it the same way and use the same platform. Learning management systems work when they are properly supported with professional development. Because an institution of higher ed is comprised of a lot of people with PhDs, there will be lots of opinions about how to do it differently and plenty of people exerting 'academic freedom' in all kinds of ways. That's why the first point about consensus is so critical.

It will be useful to keep an open mind about the specific model of hybrid. Augsburg used a biweekly model for most classes, but the low residency model used for the graduate creative writing program could be a useful model for lots of courses. That model consisted of a week on campus at the beginning of the term and a week at the end of the term. Variations of that should be strongly considered for as many courses as possible.  Lab intensive courses will be the most logistically tricky. An attitude of adventure and experimentation will come in handy.