Lisa Petrides

CC Talks With: ISKME’s Lisa Petrides: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 29th, 2010

At the beginning of this year we announced a revised approach to our education plans, focusing our activities to support of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. In order to do so we have worked hard to increase the amount of information available on our own site – in addition to a new Education landing page and our OER portal explaining Creative Commons’ role as legal and technical infrastructure supporting OER, we have been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.

One major venue for the advancement of OER is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. We recently got the chance to interview Lisa Petrides. Lisa is president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), an independent non-profit educational research institute located in Half Moon Bay, CA. Petrides also leads OER Commons, an open source teaching and learning network that supports and facilitates the creation, sharing, and modification of open educational resources (OER). We talked with Lisa about ongoing research that aims to measure the effectiveness of OER, the necessity for education about tools and services that enable the creation and sharing of educational materials, and the important work needed to link OER to content standards.

How is ISKME and OER Commons related to open education?

For the past eight years, ISKME’s research has focused on improving the practice of data use, information sharing, and knowledge collaboration in the education sector. The depth of our research is fed by applying what we have learned from on-the-ground educational initiatives that we have been engaged in. We have supported OER through three primary ways: first, in the development of a research agenda that has included studies on the creation, use, and re-use of OER in teaching and learning; second, in the creation of OER Commons, the most extensive curation of metadata on learning materials available, with over 350 content partners. We make our metadata available for services such as DiscoverEd, as well as the international OER consortium GLOBE. As such, OER Commons is not simply an aggregation of metadata through automated harvesting and RSS feeds. With smaller organizations, educational institutions and museums, we offer resources and training that enable content creators to establish and publish meaningful descriptive metadata themselves, allowing these learning materials to be more easily discovered and used by others. Lastly, ISKME offers professional development workshops and continuing education for teachers focused on innovative concepts and practices related to digital and social learning, and open education curriculum. We do this by integrating a range of collaborative practices using open-source learning content with a research-based pedagogy focused on participatory learning for K-20 teachers and learners.

At ISKME’s Big Ideas Fest this past December, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in his welcome remarks, “Online courses and open source materials are catching on fast, but we’ve made only limited investments in understanding which ones are most effective.” How do we determine which are most effective? From ISKME’s research perspective, what do we need to know about OER in order to make the case to policymakers?


Lisa Petrides / CC BY

Others have noted how interesting it is that we don’t ask the same questions about textbooks and other traditional forms of learning materials. For example, does any teacher actually know when they are given a textbook to use by their district or school, whether or not that books has been used to more effectively help students learn? That being said, the more we can learn about use and reuse of OER, the better we can help guide teachers, learners, and policymakers to high quality open education solutions that scale.

In this rather new field of OER, we have been looking at the processes and conditions by which open content can be adopted, used, and modified. For example, as researchers for the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative, we looked at how community colleges were able to identify, organize, and support the production and use of high quality, culturally relevant open textbooks for community college students. This involved looking at the process of open textbook creation and promotion, as well as the structures and processes needed to support it, not to mention ways in which to create replicable models that could be adapted to future OER initiatives.

From our research on resources that “travel well” conducted with our partners, European Schoolnet and BioQUEST, we found that subject and abstract were important considerations in determining whether a resource was viewed. However, in terms of actually deciding to use a resource, factors such as how current the resource was and whether or not it matched the learning level of their students were two important considerations. Additionally, knowing how previous instructors have used a given resource and whether or not trusted colleagues have also tried it and liked it was also a strong determinant of use.

Ultimately, we need to know what the impact is of open materials on teaching and learning. Yet it is important to remember that “effective” can be defined to include everything from the prohibitive cost of textbooks (as in the case of the PIRG study that showed textbooks were over 50% of the cost of community college students), to ease of use, to adoption, to the collaboration of teachers and instructors that fosters pedagogical innovation, and the creation of more dynamic and relevant resources from the perspective of today’s learner. 

OER Commons provides access to high quality OER content. Another goal is to “develop training and professional development models to support teachers and schools in effective uses of online content and to meet the demands of 21st century learning.” What are the hurdles for teachers and schools in using and creating OER?

Teachers do require new understanding, training, coaching, and support for all aspects involving the integration and sharing of digital and open learning content. One of the biggest hurdles is helping teachers make the shift from a consumer culture of educational resources, to one in which teachers gain leadership and support to adapt and develop resources for their own needs, and then share those resources with others. We work directly with teachers to engage with learning resources through processes that require collaboration and social learning, and that build expertise from within and from the bottom-up.

The use of OER is really a part of a shift happening in education that aims to support shared teacher expertise and peer-based learning. As such, free and open content is not only a new economic model for schools and students, but also a primary vehicle for disseminating more flexible, adaptable curricula that support learner-centric approaches.

Teachers face hurdles in terms of their experience in sharing their own lessons learned from the classroom and then venturing into online communities of practice and experimenting with new social networking environments, wikis, and other unfamiliar tools. Typically they also lack support for adding tags or other metadata to organize materials for their own use and then making resources more discoverable by others. In short, most online collections typically present static lists of resources created by experts, and they typically do not support teachers in evaluating education materials and aligning them to state standards, or in localizing materials to meet their pedagogical approach, classroom requirements, and student learning needs—all of which are necessary components for effective usage by teachers—the basic tenets of OER. Even in cases where technology adoption by teachers and digital resource quality is comparatively high, such as in the sciences—teacher practice, pedagogies, and supportive infrastructures may not yet be evolving to truly take advantage of the innovative potential of OER.

As customizable, remixable, shareable educational materials, what are some of the challenges with OER and K-12 educators in adhering to state education standards?

There are many of us working on the issue of linking open content to standards. There have been groups who have done this for years, such as the Achievement Standards Network, Teachers’ Domain, and Dolan DNA Learning Center, just to name a few. However, it has been complicated by the fact that state standards can change every two years or so, and that we have several different sets of state standards across the country. The Common Core State Standards Initiative certainly holds promise. Ultimately, it is just a matter of technology that can enable the mapping and crosswalking of standards to learning resources. This really isn’t that difficult. It just needs to be done. And if we can do this, then we have transparent ways of ensuring that standards met do in fact lead to better learning outcomes.

How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER movement? How can CC help?

I think the role of Creative Commons is more important than ever within the OER movement. We need to continue to raise awareness about issues of copyright through workshops and online materials as part of the professional development of teachers. For example, in our workshops with teachers as well as through our research, perhaps not surprisingly, teachers search the Internet for materials and are happy to find any high quality materials that are easy to use. Yet like many people who use the Internet, they don’t necessarily take copyright into consideration. This behavior in the digital world is really the same as the paper-based world. Have you ever seen, or been a teacher who, in our under-resourced education system, flips through books looking for great examples or exercises for their students, and simply photocopies selective pages to use? This is what we see online.

Creative Commons is certainly among the best solutions to this dilemma, but is not yet widely known in the education community. As we know, within Creative Commons, creators of content can stipulate the conditions of use through a set of options that unpack the “all rights reserved” as we know it, into simple pieces, but the process of thinking about intellectual property for most educators is far from simple. In a perfect world, your average teacher or educator should not have to master a combination of six licenses and use cases, but instead be able to easily use and remix content with conditions of use as a seamless conduit. There is still much work to be done at the system level as well, in terms of working with schools, districts, colleges and universities, to encourage the open and free use of materials, particularly in our public institutions—where our public tax dollars have already paid for these materials many times over.

Wrapping up, what does a successful teaching and learning environment implementing the power of OER “look like”? Do you have any lingering thoughts, worries, hopes, or predictions?

That is certainly a most exciting question! I think it’s really about the unbundling of the education system as we know it. It is about open and free access to all knowledge for all people, it is about peer-to-peer learning, alternative certification, and dynamic resources that can be adapted for use in a myriad of contexts. That is the promise and power of OER.  One lingering thought is how we can reallocate a portion of public tax-payer dollars from a $6-8 billion textbook market annually to support the OER ecosystem. Or will educators and administrators be convinced by those who want to position OER as some rogue movement and be scared away from collaboration and reuse? Yet, from the news media to the recording industry, there has been a leveling of resources that needs to happen. And if you really believe that education is a public good, or even a human right, then we must do more to ensure access for all.

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