Should scale be the goal?

scale

I have written before about the connections between OER and open practice and why I think open practice should be the goal, not merely the adoption of OER.

While I hope and believe that OER can pave the way for open practice, it is not at all obvious that the use of OER is a necessary condition. In fact, some of the most vibrant classroom exemplars of open practice in action that I’ve seen have not involved OER. It is possible to have open practice with proprietary content. While this may skirt the gray edges of copyright law, this has long been the case in education, and most don’t want to talk about it or simply don’t care.

My concern about many efforts to make OER “mainstream” in K-12 education (work that I should say, I have long been supportive of) is that it may not lead to open practice or in the worse case, any meaningful change in practice. It may only lead to the creation of a new variety of the traditional publishing (and learning) paradigm that has not served learners well. (Unlike higher ed, there are no clear economically-motivated buyers in K-12, and while many of us have hoped that OER would present the opportunity for cost savings on curriculum to be used to improve instruction, it is not obvious that this is likely.)

Why then is mainstream OER adoption being emphasized over the change to open practice? The answer is scale.

Simply put, mainstream adoption of OER is scaleable, while a change to open practice is not.

In many initiatives, not only those concerned with OER or other educational innovations, but also those related to other social changes, scale is the goal. The thinking is that if we cannot reach some critical mass of change (10% is often cited as a “tipping point”), the effort is not worth pursuing.

I question though whether scale should be the goal or whether in fact, scale for these kinds of change is even feasible. I first began to question the premise of scale as a goal when I became involved in international development work, an area that Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze’s book Walk Out, Walk On eloquently and compellingly explores. Doug Belshaw’s recent post “Caring Doesn’t Scale, and Scale Doesn’t Care” brought this to mind again.

In education, another area where the idea of scale has been targeted less than successfully is with charter schools. The idea, as I understand it, is to provide exemplars of innovative practice that could then be “scaled” across the broader universe of public schools.

The problems with trying to scale innovative practice are many. First, as in the case of charter schools and many other things, there are many necessary preconditions to change (regulations, common values, infrastructure, human resources, political will, etc.), that are not easily put in place. The kind of changes we are talking about here don’t just happen because someone wants them to happen. (In fact, many, perhaps most, want these changes and have worked hard for them, but the huge institutional pull in a different direction is hard to overcome.) Perhaps most fundamentally, meaningful change cannot be imposed from the top down; it must be initiated by those at the grass roots level. As Belshaw says, “it’s difficult to scale almost anything that makes a really profound impact on people’s lives.” As much as we want a recipe approach, a “silver bullet,” that’s just not how deep change is made.

It seems to me that to achieve open practice will involve many years of hard incremental work on various fronts. And I wonder if the effort we put into making non-transformative OER “mainstream” is effort that we are not putting toward what really matters.

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Adoption and implementation of K-12 core instructional materials – final report

As many of you know, I’ve spent much of this year working on a project to explore the adoption and implementation of K-12 core instructional materials and to explore business models for the successful and sustainable publishing of such open educational resource (OER) materials.

I’ve written about some of this work as it’s progressed, and now the final report on this is available.

The report covers state and district adoption processes for K-12 core curriculum, considerations that are important to districts doing adoptions (particularly as it relates to OER publishers), attitudes toward OER, publishers’ perspectives on product and OER, information on business models for OER publishers, and recommendations to those in this market.

I learned a lot in the conversations and research that comprised this work. I am grateful to the Hewlett Foundation and everyone who participated.

 

K-12 OER implementation report

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DigiWriMo, meet the Make Bank

digi-makebank

I’m taking part in another open collaborative learning event in November: DigiWriMo.

In talking about this with a group of folks last night, someone asked “As a college student working on my elementary major, how could I use this writing piece in my future classroom?” and I immediately thought of the Make Bank.

(For those who aren’t familiar, the Make Bank was a tool we set up as a part of CLMOOC to archive a variety of “makes” or activities, as well as to provide a place for people to post their own work as “examples” and tutorials. The idea of the Make Bank was to make this content readily available to folks for classroom or other use long after events like CLMOOC or DigiWriMo are over. Anyone can add their own “makes” to the bank as well.)

And so DigiWriMo activities will also be added to the Make Bank, starting with the first altCV activity.

You can help by cross-posting your own work as “examples” as well as by adding tutorials. Add your own “makes” too! And please keep this in mind as a resource you can use in your current or future learning environments.

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Where we become a commercial publisher (to take commercial publishing down?)

Much of my research to date on the adoption and implementation of K-12 OER core curriculum in ELA and math has led me to the realization that, to schools, price is not a significant factor in adoption. In fact, most don’t even look at price until the adoption decision has been made.

At the same time, OER developers and publishers face the challenge that to complete in state and district adoptions, they need to include many components that add significant cost. These include things like intervention programs, support for many special populations, manipulatives, assessments, pre-sales pilot support (including print materials), professional development, and extensive customer support.

The conclusion I am coming to, therefore, is that OER for core ELA and math will be most broadly used and implemented if it is sold as a package that includes those components. (It’s worth noting that that’s how some of the larger implementations of EngageNY materials have happened.)

Of course, a free, downloadable, open-licensed version would always be available, but the supposition is that that would be used primarily by individual teachers or more progressive schools, for whom “open” is already a practice. (Many of those teachers and schools are already using a variety of materials, creating their own, and remixing with others.)

The OER movement has always maintained that the biggest value of OER is not that it is free in the cost sense, but that it can be modified, remixed, reused, and redistributed. Districts don’t necessarily desire this though, and some actually fear it.

Thinking about the scenario of core OER sold as packaged commercial curriculum, I am forced to ask myself how this differs from any other packaged curriculum? What value does the open license add? Do OER providers in this scenario become just another commercial publishing operation?

I’m not sure I have answers to these questions. I hope that the open license gives some schools and districts the opportunity to move toward more open practice. And if that is successful, the need for such comprehensive, packaged curriculum could eventually disappear. I guess I’m not naive enough to imagine that happening everywhere, but movement in that direction would be an improvement.

[Note: Some of you will see my ongoing struggle with whether OER is integral in some way to open practice, which I see as the bigger win for learning. I realize though that open practice is not a mainstream idea and so am continuing to struggle with this in that context.]

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Fear, responsibility, identity, civil society, and the Internet (not new topics, I know)

Credit: J. Albert Bowden II

So I was working on a (non education-related) project with a bright young woman today. It involved putting together a short video about her professional work. At the end, she asked me to talk her name off the title because she “tries to keep a low Internet profile.”

Wow, that threw me for a loop.

Without revealing her identity, I can say that this woman is most likely in her late 20-early 30s, has several postgraduate degrees and a very impressive career.

So my unprocessed thoughts, coming in a rapid flow, are something like this: What about building up a positive digital identity?…Well, the idea of keeping a low Internet profile is pretty much a thing of the past, no?…I can’t even imagine trying to keep a low Internet profile…. Did something happen to inspire this fear? (I suspect not.)…What does this situation say about how we provide guidance to younger folks, whether that is as teachers or parents or mentors?…And what does this imply for civil society and participation in general?

I know the whole digital identity conversation has been had a million times, but somehow this situation brought it home to me in a new way.

This also makes me think about how to counsel younger students who are publishing on the open web under our guidance. While some proceed with careful oversight, but a minimal amount of scare tactics or admonitions about the potential dangers, others seem to inspire so much fear as to lack credibility. I suspect there is a happy medium, but I don’t know where that is.

This has serious implications for connected learning, as well as open pedagogy. And it may be just as important for older folks (e.g. teachers) as it is for kids.

How do we impress the importance of privacy and safety without scaring people off from participating at all?

And is this a “real” dilemma or just an imagined one?

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