Monday, January 17, 2022

Open Education is a Problem for OER in K-12


Open Education, Open Learning, Open Practice, Open Teaching, and Open Praxis create barriers to more widespread use of OER in K-12. Opensource, Open access, Open Science, and Open GLAM are not as problematic because they have mostly agreed upon definitions.

 Those in Higher Ed and many in K-12 who are involved in Open Education, Open Learning, Open Practice, Open Teaching, or Open Praxis will likely see my assertion as heresy, a sacrilege, or ignorance, or that I have some hidden agenda. My agenda isn’t hidden; my agenda is the promotion of the use of OER, especially in elementary and secondary schools (K-12.)

    Promoting OER use for teaching and learning is my job.. In the past few months, I've been interviewing and exchanging emails with leaders of organizations that work with OER. I asked each of them to tell me what they saw as the primary barrier to increased use of OER in K-12. Interestingly, nobody limited their response to just one barrier. 

Here are their responses, some were duplicated: 

-Lack of funding to support OER development and oversight

-Lack of funding for marketing and promotion of OER

-Lack of administrative awareness and support, training, and the ability to engage with the

             curriculum developers.

-Lack of resources for K-6. compared to 7-12

-The curriculum/resource procurement process is too entrenched. Lots of district and state 

             administrative people are making a living by managing this process.

-The current practice of professional development is a barrier.

-So far the focus has been on Business instead of ecology.

-The Higher Ed model doesn’t work for K-12.

    I don’t disagree with any of the above, and I completely agree with the last one -  The Higher Ed model doesn’t work for K-12 even though that's been the predominate model attempted, so far. The Higher Ed model generally consists of free books, usually Pressbooks, transclusions, or links to websites, with ancillary materials commonly provided by 3rd party for-profit companies that charge per student fees. Pressbooks are not as attractive to K-12 teachers as they are to Higher Ed faculty. The use of OER in Higher Ed teaching and learning is also frequently labeled with a term like open learning, or open education, or open practice, open teaching, or open praxis, open something.


Labeling the act of using OER as Open Education, or Open something is a problem. I taught in an open school from 1996 - 2011. The school had been started in the early 70s as an effort toward integration of races and socioeconomic groups. In the 40+ years after its founding, no clear definition of what was meant by 'open school' or 'open education' was ever firmly established. The continued faltering attempts to do so contributed to the vitality of school community. But, 'open school' was and still is an outlier of the larger Minneapolis Public School system. (The school has recently been converted from a K-8 Open School to a PreK-5 Arts Magnet. The building, some of the staff, and the fish mascot are still there.) The term 'open education' is not any more appealing than Open School to most K-12 teachers or administrators. The term implies that there's an actual thing called open education that is well defined and well understood. That is absolutely not the case, especially in K-12. 

    Is it a teaching philosophy, a type of pedagogy, a method, or a particular practice? Is it contrary or complimentary to: Teacher-centered methods, Learner-centered methods, Content-focused methods, Interactive/participative methods, The Socratic method, A Lecture method, The Reggio Emilia approach, or Montessori ?

    Does it include: Modeling, Addressing Mistakes, Providing Feedback, Cooperative Learning, Experiential Learning, a Student-Led Classroom, Class Discussion, or Inquiry-Guided Instruction.

    Is it: Direct Instruction (Low Tech), Flipped Classrooms (High Tech), Kinesthetic Learning (Low Tech), Differentiated Instruction (Low Tech), Inquiry-based Learning (High Tech), Inquiry-Guided Instruction (Low Tech), Expeditionary Learning (High Tech), Personalized Learning (High Tech), or Game-based Learning (High Tech) ?

    I could go on. My point is that when a K-12 teacher or administrator hears the words 'open education' they might understandably wonder how open education relates to, or includes, or is contrary to one or more of the above. Certainly, they will have been submersed in one or more previously, and they might not be so eager to take on some new twist. A science or math teacher might want to use material that enables them to modify the content to fit the particular needs of their students, but they might not be interested in first learning what is meant by 'open education.'

    The Higher Ed business model for OER won’t work in K-12 either, because charging per student fees for assessments, ancillary materials, and reporting is not sustainable in K-12, especially when the schools are already paying for learning management systems that could be used to provide those assessments, ancillary materials, and reporting. That model currently works in Higher Ed because of a long established practice of requiring students to pay for textbooks and other materials on a per student basis. Thankfully, we don't have that long established practice in K-12.

Another edu-theory/framework/model and more companies taking money out of public education are not what will get teachers and students using OER effectively. Teachers need to be able to do assessment and reporting on OER with the same LMS that all the other teachers in the district are using. OER will become relevant in K-12 when teachers are adequately supported to modify the content to fit the needs of their students, when they're using OER to create more equity,