Saturday, April 24, 2021

An OERtist

In a recent tweet, Pam Moran generously included me in a group she called “progressive educators.”  I accept being called a progressive educator, but I like being identified as an OERtist even better, which I consider to be a subset of progressive educator. My wife, Casey, made up the word to explain what it is that I do. I like it. An OERtist works with OER. I create it, curate it, fund it, promote it and support its use by educators (progressive or not) of all levels. I take any opportunity I can to talk or write about OER. 

OER is the acronym for Open Educational Resources - "teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions." OER is a collective plural as in OER have been recommended by UNESCO to:

“help all Member States to create inclusive knowledge societies and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely SDG 4 (Quality education), SDG 5 (Gender equality), SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities within and across countries), SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals)”

UNESCO, the Education group of the United Nations, also recommends that all of its members get the attention of those who are responsible for learning, education, and research and tell them about and encourage them to use and promote OER. So, even though the United States is not currently a member of UNESCO (since 2018 when that president avoided the work of the world beyond our border) I think it’s important to bring OER to the attention of progressive educators and all those who work with progressive educators.

OER drastically changes education for all by giving teachers and students actual legal ownership of their educational material for free, no money. Teachers and students can legally copy, revise, remix, and redistribute the educational material all they want any way they want. That power seismically shifts what education is and does.

We can make proclamations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and student agency, but if we don’t have the legal authority and necessary skill to change the actual material of education, we're often stuck with material that is not diverse and inclusive; that doesn’t provide equity and student agency. We can’t wait for the commercial publishers to get around to making all material equitable, diverse and inclusive, and we shouldn’t. Making education materials equitable, diverse, and inclusive is the job of educators who are educating. Getting rid of desks, bells, grading, grade levels, walls, and all of the other things about education that are being “reimagined” pales in comparison to the power and progress that OER affords educators and learners.

OER is not about saving money even though one large urban district that is currently piloting the OER middle school math curriculum that SABIER, the nonprofit I founded, and GeoGebra remixed from another curriculum will save about $4.5 million per year compared to using a proprietary remix of the same curriculum. The driving reason why that district is piloting the curriculum is the ability of that district's math department to edit, reorder, and translate the curriculum to fit its very diverse population.

Nonfiction education policy and practice books that help educators reimagine, redefine, and redesign schools and schooling actually reach more people and get used in more classes and staff development sessions when they are openly licensed than when authors share, usually not so handsomely, with the legacy for-profit publishers. Open licensing is much more progressive than the old way of copyrighting nonfiction material used in education. Traditional copyrights are still very appropriate for works of art in all media, but if your goal is innovation and collaboration in education open licenses are the way to progress, to be progressive.

I’m a journeyman OERtist making daily progress toward becoming a master.

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