Thinking about OER as core curriculum

Credit: Kayla Galway

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the midst of a series of interviews with states and districts to explore how they adopt core curriculum and what factors might be especially relevant to those looking to have OER adopted as core curriculum.

I’ve now talked to several state curriculum and instruction leaders, as well as a few districts. Here are some preliminary take-aways.

  • There aren’t as many “adoption states” as there used to be. The common number given used to be 20, including several of the larger states. Several have gone to a rolling, yearly review, and most do not require that schools buy off the approved list. A few are no longer even reviewing materials. Local control has won, and state adoptions may be on the way out altogether.
    (Note that where there are still state review processes in place, I think it is well worth the time and effort to submit core curriculum materials for review. While schools may not have to buy off list, most still do.)
  • District review processes are rigorous and focused on product quality. There seems to be a genuine understanding that new standards require new kinds of materials and new methods of instruction. People seem to be looking deeply at their own practice as a part of instructional materials reviews and are not just accepting publisher’s correlations at face value.
  • Price does not seem to be a significant factor in district decision making with the possible exception of when there is no money at all. (Also, many states no longer provide an allocation of funds for instructional materials, making it the district’s choice of how they spend their funds.) Many district adoption processes leave price completely out of the equation until the final board sign-off stage.
    (This has interesting implications for OER.)
  • There seems to be less emphasis on textbooks or even a single core instructional resource and less focus on rigid pacing and scripted lessons. (Hurray!) More districts, especially smaller and more progressive ones, are creating their own “curriculum” and using a variety of instructional materials, including OER and teacher-created resources, to flesh that out.
    (This in combination with the new standards could provide an entry point for more open practice.)

I am still looking for district superintendents and curriculum leaders to talk to about how they review and adopt core instructional materials and what implementation support they need once they have adopted. Having this information will help publishers better meet your needs, so if you’re interested, drop me a note!


Values and my work: part 3/leadership

Credit: SteFou!, CC BY

I am a believer in open peer learning. We are social beings and learn best through sharing with others. Whether it is through my education related experiences like those at Peer 2 Peer University and CLMOOC, or through more informal interactions like our seed library, I have seen the benefits of this kind of learning.

Peer learning often implies a decentralized, learner-driven approach.

When I started the P2PU School of Ed, after having done pretty traditional stand-and-deliver PD for many years, I very consciously remade my role as that of an almost-in-the-background facilitator. I knew that peer learning is about tapping into the wisdom of the group and letting them lead, instead of being the “expert” on the stage.

In making this transition, I quickly found two things: 1) The role of an organizer/facilitator can be just as much work as that of a teacher and 2) many participants expected and wanted a teacher and a so-called expert leading the courses. I fought this though and continued to try to inspire self direction and self leadership in each group.

As I got into working with MOOCs, again I sought to create environments that were peer- and self-driven. Recently, the idea of “headless” MOOCs has become popular. The basic idea is to run a massive open online course that has no “teacher” (or even facilitator) but is instead run by the community.

I think the motivations for this type of approach are many. One is the philosophical desirability of a truly peer-managed community. It may be that the absence of a “teacher” allows or even causes informal leadership to rise up. I also suspect that a large driving force is sustainability — many MOOCs are run with little or no funding, and teachers/facilitators/organizers are hard to come on an unpaid basis, especially on a sustained basis.

Now, I think it’s worth differentiating between the more traditional “teacher” role and the “organizer” role. These two roles act in very different ways, but in my experience, the time required is not much different from one to the other. And in the cases I’ve been involved in where there is a desire to go “headless” or peer-organized, the plan is to have no one assigned to this position, except to the extent that peer participants step into that role informally (a necessity, in this model).

Having been a part of several attempts at this, both as an organizer and as a participant, my own belief is that some formal (and I use that term loosely to mean someone who has “signed on” and committed to do this for the duration of the course) leadership is essential to a successful online learning experience. Someone has to do the hard work of building community, encouraging peer learning, and generally making sure the thing moves forward.

(Curiously, after struggling over the need or desirability of formal leadership, I read Seth Godin’s Tribes, in which he extols the need for a strong leader in creating a tribe.)

Circling back to my earlier ideas of equity, inclusivity, and meeting people where they are, I think that in many cases, participants need a leader of some sort to feel comfortable. Peer learning is not how most of us have learned to learn, and many are uncomfortable with the skills involved in self-directed learning and peer communities. I have heard and seen many instances of people disengaging from learning experiences in which they are pushed toward a model of extreme self direction.

While I like to imagine a world of perfect open, self-directed, peer-led learning, the relatively few examples I’ve seen of this are very small and consist mainly of luminaries who are already sold on this model.

How do we increase participation of this sort to those who are not already in the “choir?” This is the central challenge of most of my equity-related values challenges.

I think there are several ways to move toward this. First, we must realize that we have to be flexible. Then as we do with learners of any type, we scaffold the learning. Start with a leader(s) who values what you are trying to create but can also support a wide range of learning styles. Be very welcoming. Meet people where they are. Encourage choice by offering a range of learning experiences from traditional to progressive, and then try to move people along that continuum. Realize that this movement may take a lot of time. Where “open” is overwhelming, probe on what is causing discomfort and give choices. Where the volume of discussions in the community is a fire hose, offer curated options. Provide as much consistent, personal, supportive person-to-person contact as possible. Build peer relationships and build community. (And it is worth noting, that I don’t believe that a single course can create a community. Community is built over time with many interactions and much love and support.)


Open business models, part 5: development costs

Credit: Karen Fasimpaur; CC BY

In the first post of this series, I mentioned that most OER publishers rely on philanthropy to fund initial product development and that I had questions about how sustainable this model is. First, if more K-12 OER doesn’t achieve higher adoption and use rates, I wonder how long funders will continue to fund it. More importantly, as a movement, it’s not wise to be reliant on handouts. In addition, the categorization of development costs as a one-time cost is outmoded.

So what are the options?

One might be to tap into a broader pool of funding that might include government grants, social impact bonds, or partner participation as described in previous posts.

Another is to think about this as a traditional business. Generate revenue streams as discussed earlier that fund not only sales and implementation costs, but also product development.

Now this sounds a lot like a traditional publishing stuff. Sales, costs, maybe even reinvestable proceeds (“profits”). And while the price under this scenario would be higher than under a model under which development is funded through philanthropy, I think it would still be less than commercial products.

Another important distinction is that in this case the primary goal is social impact not profits.

There are a number of other benefits as well.

  1. The affordances of an open license not only make “free” product available, but also lead to other unanticipated benefits.
  2. Teachers professionalism and student learning can increase.
  3. There is a loop for continual product (and process) improvement.
  4. Open collaboration across states and districts using common materials leads to more collaboration and richer learning for everyone.
  5. (and perhaps) OER moves the system toward more openness.

Ultimately, learners benefit.

To me, these things are the foundation of what makes OER appealing.

(This is a part of a series on business models for OER K-12 core curriculum.)


Sharing your photos openly

One of the greatest things about the world of open is how much people are willing to share and what amazing things happen when they do.

In my experience, the benefits are just as much for those who opt to share as for those who “borrow.”

One really easy way to share with others is to open license your photos. And one platform that makes this easy is Flickr.

(Note: Sharing is a personal choice. You can choose to share just certain photos. And all use of something with a Creative Commons license requires attribution.)

Here’s how you can make your photos on Flickr sharable under a Creative Commons license:

(This assumes you have a Flickr account set up. And this isn’t as complicated as it looks. These are very step-by-step instructions. :)

  1. Upload a photo.
  2. On the upload screen, highlight the photo(s) and on the left under Owner settings and License, select the Creative Commons license you’d like to use.
    (Note: Public domain or Attribution Creative Commons are the most open licenses. For a more complete discussion of license details, see this or this. Post questions here if you like)
    flicrk1 flickr2
  3. Make any other changes to your photo such as tagging it or giving a name or description.
  4. Complete the upload.

Want to change your default user settings so all your photo uploads are licensed openly (unless you indicate otherwise)?

  1. Click on your profile picture in the upper-right hand corner and select Settings.
  2. Click the Privacy & Permissions tab.
  3. Scroll down to Defaults for new uploads, and What license will your content have. Click edit.
  4. Select your desired default license and click Set Default License.

(Remember that you can change the license on any individual photo you upload by following the earlier  instructions here.)

Want to search for other open licensed photos that you can use in your work?

  1. Do a regular search.
  2. When the search results appear, change the Any license selector to All Creative Commons.
  3. Don’t forget to attribute your source when you use the photo. (Crediting to the photographer’s Flickr user name is fine if that’s all that’s available.)

Thanks for sharing and making the world a more open, more amazing place. And if you have any questions at all, post them here or message me.