OER

The Open High School of Utah Releases Open Educational Curriculum Under CC BY

Timothy Vollmer, September 7th, 2010

Today the Open High School of Utah (OHSU) announced the release of ten semesters of openly licensed curriculum materials. The OER are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. The resources are available via OHSU’s OpenCourseWare portal. From the announcement:

Technology rules at Open High where their approach to learning embraces the idea that teaching shouldn’t be as static as the textbooks on which it’s based. Shattering traditional methods, the Open High School of Utah curriculum is built from open educational resources. These resources are the foundation for their content and are aligned with Utah state standards to ensure the highest quality educational experience. The teachers enhance with screencasts, interactive components, and engaging activities to create high quality curricula for their students.

The Open High School of Utah is a public online charter high school. As DeLaina Tonks, OHSU’s Director, told us in an interview a few weeks ago, “The objective behind creating open content is to create free and simple access to knowledge and information through collaboration and innovation. The OHSU mission dovetails nicely with that of open education because we are among the first, if not the first, secondary school to create our own OER curriculum and share it worldwide.”

Congratulations to The Open High School of Utah for being a leader–both in vision and practice–for the Open Education community.

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Open Education Events in Barcelona

Jane Park, September 3rd, 2010


CC BY by Steve Jurvetson

Registration is open for two open education events set to take place in early November in Barcelona, Spain. Open Ed 2010 is the seventh annual open education conference that is “the world’s premiere venue for research related to open education” and is focused this year on OER: Impact and Sustainability. Early bird registration for the conference has been extended until September 24th.

The other notable event is the Mozilla Foundation’s Drumbeat Festival 2010: Learning, Freedom and the Web which is launching the same week as Open Ed. The Drumbeat Festival is the culmination of the year’s local Drumbeat events held throughout the year and the various open web and education projects engendered by them. Registration for the festival is now open at the site; alternatively, if you are already attending Open Ed 2010 you can register for Drumbeat for an extra 50 euro. Those interested in participating in both events can send an email to opened@uoc.edu.

Two months may seem like forever in internet time, but open web and education activists aren’t the only ones traveling to Barcelona in November. The Pope will be visiting around that time as well, so event planners are advising that you register and book accommodations as soon as possible.

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P2PU launches 3rd round of courses, with “Copyright for Educators”

Jane Park, August 26th, 2010

The Peer 2 Peer University, more commonly known now as P2PU by a growing community of self-learners, educators, journalists, and web developers, launches its third round of courses today, opening sign-ups for “courses dealing in subject areas ranging from Collaborative Lesson Planning to Manifestations of Human Trafficking.”

P2PU is simultaneously launching its School of Webcraft, which is a collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation and “is a powerful new way to learn open, standards based web development in a collaborative environment. School of Webcraft courses include Beginning Python Webservices and HTML5.”

In addition, Creative Commons Counsel Lila Bailey is co-facilitating the Copyright for Educators course this round, which will focus on United States law. The course is “for educators who want to learn about copyright, open content material and licensing” and “is taught around practical case studies faced by teachers when using copyright material in their day to day teaching and educational instruction.” For more information, see the course page.

Sign-ups for all other courses are available at http://p2pu.org/course/list. The deadline to sign up is September 8, and courses will run until October 27th. All courses are free to take and openly licensed under CC BY-SA. For more information, see the full announcement, but stay tuned for more courses!

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CC Talks With: Open High School of Utah’s DeLaina Tonks: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, August 23rd, 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 an Education landing page and the 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. DeLaina Tonks is the Director of the Open High School of Utah (OHSU). The Open High School of Utah is “an online charter high school that is 100% committed to the use of open educational resources,” and the curriculum is fully aligned with the Utah State Core Curriculum. We talked with DeLaina about how OER can help customize student instruction, OHSU’s innovative and collaborative approach to teacher training and professional development, and the ongoing awareness, logistics, and incentive structures that are needed for OER production and sharing to increase. The Open High School of Utah begins its second year of operation today.


Photo courtesy DeLaina Tonks / CC BY-NC

Can you briefly describe the history of the Open High School of Utah, and how the school’s mission relates to the mission of open education?

The Open High School of Utah was founded by Dr. David Wiley and approved for charter by the Utah State Office of Education in 2007. OHSU completed its inaugural year with 125 9th grade students, and on August 23rd, 2010, we will add 125 10th graders for the 2010-2011 school year. By 2013 OHSU will offer 9th-12th grade courses to potentially 1500 students.

The Open High School of Utah is putting the focus where it should be – on the student. Our mission is to facilitate lifelong success by meeting the needs of the 21st century learner through individualized, student-centered instruction, innovative technology, service learning, and personal responsibility. OHSU is a public charter school designed to meet the needs of the 21st century student. As an online school, we combine state of the art curriculum with strategic one-on-one instruction. Our methods can be described as “one-on-one tutoring for every student in every subject”. Instruction is individualized allowing students to work at their pace. Our delivery of education is structured to provide maximum flexibility that is student-centered; responsive to the needs of each learner, eliminating the negative aspects of a one-size-fits-all system. Our technology sets us apart.  It is data-driven, providing real time information that instantaneously tracks the student and their performance. Unique to OHSU is our commitment to share the curriculum we have developed as an open educational resource. All of these elements combined make the Open High School of Utah the future of education. We are the face of innovation.

The objective behind creating open content is to create free and simple access to knowledge and information through collaboration and innovation. The OHSU mission dovetails nicely with that of open education because we are among the first, if not the first, secondary school to create our own OER curriculum and share it worldwide. We are thrilled that there are already multiple international groups eagerly awaiting the release of our first batch of courses on August 25, 2010, most notably CORE China Open Resources for Education.

OHSU champions individualized instruction for its students, using technology and data-driven, realtime assessment tools. And, the OHSU curriculum content is comprised of Open Educational Resources. What are the efficiencies and pedagogical advantages of using OER within this system? Can you give a specific example of how a teacher will utilize an OER to build a lesson for a student, and how technology tools can return data to see if the student is hitting the learning benchmarks for that particular lesson?

The simple fact that our curriculum is housed online in such a data-rich environment provides us with invaluable, real-time information that allows us to best meet learner needs. Students who are fairly impatient digital natives, growing up in the video-game era of instant gratification don’t have the patience to wait for a week, or even three days, to have an assessment graded and returned. In a bricks and mortar setting the work flow might look something like this: Day One: the teacher makes copies of the test, pass it out, the students take it during their 50-90 minute class, and turn it in. Day Two: the teacher grades the tests and enters them into a gradebook (electronic or hardcopy). Day Three: the teacher hands tests back to the students when they come to class.

The virtual arena presents a much more efficient model: Day One: Students work through online activities, take the assessment, portions are computer-graded giving almost instantaneous real-time scores, others are quickly hand-graded for balance and the student is notified of their complete grade in a very short timeframe. Instant feedback enhances performance.

Pedagogically, OER makes it possible to customize instruction. Special education is an area where OER and technology are critical to the success of our students. We have the ability to create mp3 files of our OER text so that aural learners or students with reading disabilities have an alternate way to receive the information. The use of open resources also makes it possible to very easily modify the curriculum to meet student needs. One of our ninth grade students reads at a third grade level, so our special education teacher reworks the existing higher-level curriculum so that her student can understand it better.

All of our curriculum is standards-aligned, down to a granular level of test questions and lessons. The real-time data allows teachers to look at the collective test results broken down by question to see which ones are missed most often. Teachers are trained to then assess the test question itself. Is it confusing? Can it be clarified? If the test question is valid, the teacher can quickly find the content where that particular standard was taught. Is the content confusing? Can additional clarifying information be added? Is another practice activity warranted to make sure students understand the concept? Within 30 minutes the teacher will have improved the curriculum by first using data to target weaknesses in the open content, and by then finding or creating additional resources to assist in boosting student comprehension, retention and ultimately understanding.

Teachers also look at individual scores and pinpoint where each student could use some additional instruction. If it becomes obvious that a certain student is struggling with factoring, which is in turn affecting their overall math grade, the teacher will videoconference and provide one-on-one tutoring. Teachers also create personalized screencasts/videos that the student can have access to view as many times as is necessary to master the area of weakness. On the next assessment, the teacher can compare scores for questions tied to factoring and see if there has been improvement. Having this type of data at their fingertips, coupled with adaptable open educational resources equals meeting individual learner needs.

The OHSU curriculum is aligned with Utah state standards “to ensure the highest quality educational experience.” This is an important consideration for the growth of open education, because if OER does not align with standards, it will most likely be used less. Utah will be adopting the Common Core State Standards. What are the challenges to implementing content standards and aligning OER with these standards?

These are the instructions our curriculum writers are given prior to gathering, organizing and creating open educational resources:

  • The Open High School of Utah curriculum is 1) standards-based and 2) built from OER.
  • Each course is based on the Utah State Core Standards which are the foundation that the content is built upon. Courses are organized into 18 weeks, which each week addressing specific objectives. When building a course, lesson content is built, aligned to the standards, from available OER or self-created materials. OER versions of OHSU courses will be released to the public and must be built on content that conforms to OER guidelines.
  • Objectives should be assigned to each unit, folder, content page, assignment, assessment, and individual questions. By doing this, we will be able to have accurate data to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction and course materials, allowing us to adapt, evolve and improve the curriculum over time.

We have discovered that the most effective way to ensure standards alignment is to use them as the organizing principle or framework for the course. Teachers can then gather existing OER materials, organize them accordingly and fill in any gaps with teacher created materials. The greatest challenge our curriculum writers face is wading through the available OER and determining which content to use in order to create a cohesive course.

OHSU is committed to sharing the curriculum and resources it’s developed, to be usable by anyone at anytime. The first round of course materials will be published in August 2010. Is there a specific open content license that the materials will be offered under? What sorts of considerations were taken into account when deciding on a content license for the OHSU OER materials?

Course materials produced by the Open High School of Utah are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Open educational resources produced by other individuals or organizations that are embedded in Open High School of Utah course materials may be licensed under a different open license, so we notify potential users to please confirm the license status of any third-party resources before revising or remixing them.

We are thrilled that Creative Commons exists and provides a way to license content outside of a one-size-fits-all copyright system. CC licenses are adaptable to any particular situation, especially important for the Open High School of Utah since we gather content from so many different sources prior to arranging and compiling it as our own. A major consideration in choosing to CC license our curriculum is that our philosophies on sharing and collaboration are so closely intertwined.

Many teachers receive confusing information about whether they are able to share the educational resources they create. A Utah Administrative Rule clarifies that teachers are allowed to share curriculum materials under open licenses, specifically Creative Commons licenses. Can this rule be used as a model for other states, and what do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to teachers sharing curriculum content?

Conceptually this appears to be a good administrative rule to have in place, and could be a step in the right direction. The practical application is more difficult to implement, however. On a granular level the challenges become several fold:

  • Awareness: educating superintendents, administrators and faculty on the intricacies of when and how to use the Creative Commons licenses
  • Logistics: creating a repository or streamlined method of cataloging, and distributing OER content once it is CC licensed, otherwise multiple filing cabinets and hard drives contain countless licensable lesson plans that never see the light of day
  • Motivation: cultivating intrinsic motivation for teachers to share their resources with fellow teachers outside of their department, school, and district

As a teacher, I was continually told to be very careful with regard to copyright laws, that whatever I produced as a teacher actually belonged to the school since it was being created with taxpayer dollars, and that I was allowed to distribute within the department but not throughout the school or district. This type of territorial behavior in our schools is counterproductive to what schools should be doing; educating children, not fighting over fiefdoms. Time will tell if the Utah Administrative Rule has the type of impact I would hope it could have, were it followed by every educator in the state.

Obviously, the faculty at OHSU are familiar with creating and sharing OER. What professional development or training do OHSU faculty go through to learn best practices for use of OER? In your opinion, what are the major hurdles teachers outside of OHSU face in incorporating OER in their teaching?

At the Open High School of Utah, we are continuously focused on improving the process for creating our OER content as evidenced by these three phases–

Advance Preparation and Teacher Expectations: We started out hiring subject matter experts and instructional designers to build curriculum for OHSU, and throughout the process determined that a critical element was missing; that of teacher input and guidance. We invest a lot of time and effort in auditioning teachers to create curriculum for us, and have instituted an extensive process to ensure that we have the very best fit available. We post the position, gather resumes, and invite teachers to progress to the second phase of the interview process which consists of building a lesson for us from open educational resources. We supply them with two pages of resources and websites, give them a week and see what they can come up with. Those who are unwilling to put in the time and effort self-terminate from the eligible pool of applicants and we end up with 5-6 terrific lesson plans to choose from. At that point we interview the top three, based on answers to written questions and the lesson plan itself. The process is very open and transparent because we essentially ask them to prove that they can create OER lessons by doing just that. We then hire the teacher who possesses a personality that translates well in the online arena, who has proven that he/she is capable of OER lesson creation, and is dedicated to supporting the vision and mission of the Open High School of Utah.

New Teacher Training: Once a teacher is officially hired to create content for the Open High School of Utah, we provide an intensive two-day training on curriculum design, OER, tech tips and tools and answer any questions they may have. There is a great deal of unplanned collaboration that comes out of this training and it allows teachers to get to know each other and feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Ongoing Professional Development: In addition, we provide ongoing support from our curriculum director, who combs through every page created to ensure consistency in design and formatting, appropriate use of OER, and alignment to state standards. The curriculum director serves as an invaluable resource to guide our teachers through the OER creation process. At every faculty meeting we highlight the work of one or two teachers as they take us on a walkthrough of their virtual course. They share new resources, technology they have incorporated, and anecdotal experiences of how students are reacting to the course material. In addition, each teacher is enrolled as a student in every other teacher’s course so they can view the curriculum on their own and gain insights and ideas to incorporate into their own classes. In this online setting, the openness and transparency of viewing everyone’s curriculum creates a collaborative setting so the collective result is better than anything an individual teacher can come up with on his/her own. The old adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats” holds true for the faculty of the Open High School of Utah.

Outside of the Open High School of Utah, especially in the virtual setting, much of the curriculum is designed by corporations and delivered part and parcel to the students with little to no input from the teachers. A textbook publisher in Texas is designing curriculum for students in Indiana, and the people closest to their students, the teachers, have very little local control to customize the curriculum to meet the needs of their learners. That said, in a brick and mortar setting, good teachers find or create supplemental content on a regular basis, but are either unaware that they are able to license their work, or don’t have a common repository in which to share their work outside of their department.

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

The mission of Creative Commons, to increase sharing and improve collaboration, is powerful for all of the right reasons. It hearkens back to the things we learned in Kindergarten about sharing and playing nice with others. The best part about Creative Commons is the breadth of licensing options available to educators in all arenas, and how nicely they dovetail with open-source curriculum, giving us the ability to select the license that best fits our needs. The challenge becomes increasing awareness, helping educators to understand how best to use Creative Commons and why it is important, and providing a forum in which to publish. The Open High School of Utah is doing its part by releasing several courses at the end of this month, all appropriately CC licensed, of course, which will draw attention to the merits of Creative Commons licensing. Keep up the good work!

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, predictions?

This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Open High School of Utah! Every student’s educational experience can be customized to best fit their needs, turning the one-size-fits-all, teach-to-the-middle education system on its head. For example, at OHSU if a student is struggling with factoring, the teacher creates an additional, personalized screencast highlighting specifically where the student is going wrong, complete with suggestions and examples on how to fix the problem. The online delivery allows the curriculum to be housed in the cloud, freeing up teacher hours to work with students in a one-on-one setting, giving them what they need, when they need it, so they can move on. This teaching model coupled with the use of OER can produce amazing results that will hopefully reignite the passion for learning that we all possessed in Kindergarten.

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CC Talks With: Curriki’s Christine Mytko: Open Education and Policy

Jane Park, August 5th, 2010


Photo by Christine Mytko / CC BY-NC

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 had the chance to talk to Christine Mytko, who is advancing OER at the local levels through her work as a K-12 educator and the lead science reviewer at Curriki. As a teacher, Christine brings a unique perspective to the conversation around open education and policy, and gives us important insight into how teachers on the ground are thinking about copyright and using Creative Commons and OER.

You are a teacher and the lead science reviewer at Curriki, which is known as the “next generation wiki” for K-12 education. Can you briefly describe who you are, your current roles, and what led to them? What would you say is Curriki’s mission, and how is it helping teachers like yourself?

For most of my teaching career, I have been a middle school science teacher in public schools. When I moved to the Bay Area three years ago, I was fortunate to find a job that combines both of my passions –  science and technology. I currently serve as the K – 5 science specialist and middle school technology teacher at a small independent school in Berkeley, CA.

In 2007, I interviewed for part-time work at Curriki. Like many teachers, I was looking to supplement my income. What I found was a community of educators committed to creating, collaborating on, and sharing open-source materials. As part of the Curriki Review Team, I am responsible for reviewing submitted science materials and providing a public score and feedback for the contributor. I also help out with other projects as needed. Currently, I am working with another Bay Area Chemistry teacher to revise and submit an open source Chemistry digital textbook as part of the California Learning Resource Network’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative.

As stated on its main page, Curriki’s mission is to “provide free, high-quality curricula and education resources to teachers, students and parents around the world.”  Its name, somewhat recognizably, is a play on the words “curriculum” and “wiki.” The Curriki repository does have many curriculum options, from lesson plans to full courses, available in various subject areas, educational levels, and languages. Curriki offers other resources, too, including textbooks, multimedia, and opportunities for community and collaborative groups.

All Curriki content is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY), planting it firmly in the OER space. Do you know why Curriki chose CC BY for all of its materials? If not, what do you see CC BY enabling that other licenses or “all-rights-reserved” content might not?

Contributors of Curriki content do have the option to select either public domain or a variety of CC licensing, but the default License Deed is CC-BY. I honestly don’t know specifically why Curriki chose this, but I must say it as an excellent decision. CC-BY gives educators the power to remix, share and distribute materials as needed to be timely and maximally relevant to their own curriculum.

The flexibility afforded by a CC-BY license allows for materials to be adapted quickly. I hear that a typical textbook revision works on a 7-year cycle. Curriki materials can be updated and “published” in a matter of seconds and the community can correct any content errors just as quickly. Many topics, especially in science and technology, are changing so quickly that education can no longer afford to wait for proprietary materials to go through their lengthy cycles of publication.

Currently, California and Texas are the biggest purchasers of traditional “all-rights reserved” textbooks, and publishers strive to meet these states’ requirements. Educators in other states (and countries) are forced to work within these proprietary constraints. However, OER [initiatives] such as Curriki allow teachers to freely adapt materials to best fit their pedagogical and cultural needs. Furthermore, by creating or uploading such materials onto a public repository, teachers will no longer need to work in isolation, continuously “re-inventing the wheel.”  As relevant materials are freely shared among communities of educators, individual time spent on adapting proprietary materials will decrease, allowing educators to spend more of their precious time on other important areas of teaching.

Describe a class- or school-wide project where you have integrated CC licensing and/or OER. What challenges have you or your students come across while searching for or using resources on the web? How would you translate this experience for teachers looking to mark up their own resources correctly for OER search and discovery? What do teachers need to know?

In my technology classes, I now require all incorporated media to be Creative Commons, Public Domain or No Copyright. At first, after having free rein in Google Images for years, my students felt very limited in their choices. But after discussing the reasons behind copyright and copyright alternatives, many students understood the importance of respecting rights reserved.

There are so many excellent resources to help teachers and students use Creative Commons in their classrooms. The Creative Commons search page, Wikimedia Commons, Flickr CC group, and Google Advanced Search all are wonderful tools for finding alternatively copyrighted images. Websites such as Jamendo are great for finding CC music.

The language was a challenge at first for my middle school students. Although there are only six main CC licenses, my students got bogged down with terms such as “Attribution” and “No Derivatives.”  It didn’t help that Google uses slightly different terminology (“reuse” and “reuse with modification”) in their license search filter. But the kids quickly became comfortable with the terms and procedures and, within a few class periods, they easily accessed and properly used “some rights reserved” media. Of course, I have the kids assign rights to their own work, which reinforces the licenses, and gives students the opportunity to think carefully about which rights are important to them.

As far as marking up my own resources for OER search and discovery, I am still learning about the process myself. In fact, prior to my work with Curriki, I was hesitant to “release” my work as open source. I had put so much time and effort into certain materials, I didn’t see the point of just giving them away on the Internet. However, the last few years, I have come to recognize the benefits of open source materials and have begun to post some of my formally guarded resources on Curriki as CC-BY; and I now freely share my new material. Now that I am more comfortable using and creating open source materials on my own and with my students, I hope to move on to work with other teachers.

What are the most common confusions or concerns of teachers when it comes to sharing their teaching materials? Do you think the average K-12 teacher is aware of open licensing alternatives, like Creative Commons? What are the various school or institutional policies for teachers sharing their materials?

I am certain that the average teacher is NOT aware of open licensing alternatives. In fact, many teachers I know still operate on the guiding principle of CASE – Copy And Steal Everything.  I don’t believe teachers are lazy or purposely deceitful for using materials in this way; anyone who has taught in a classroom knows how much there is to do in an incredibly short amount of time. Sometimes, copying an (often copyrighted) activity and tossing it in your colleague’s box is merely survival. Even those teachers who are aware of copyright will often claim “fair use.”  The problem is that teachers often overestimate their protections and privileges under fair use. And there is little training in copyright and fair use, let alone Creative Commons and OER. Not only is an average K – 12 teacher unaware of his or her responsibilities, he or she often does not know the rights and options available to him or her in sharing his or her own work.

There are a variety of roadblocks preventing teachers from sharing their own work. First of all, since creating curriculum takes so much time, many teachers are unwilling to share lessons because they feel the product belongs to them. Other teachers may feel that their work isn’t good enough to share. And even if teachers overcome these psychological blocks, there are still the technical issues revolving around how will they share their work as open source. None of the schools I have worked with had any sort of policies on, or time set aside for, sharing materials. In talking with my colleagues, they found a similar lack of school policy. Even in the rare case in which there was some sort of policy, teachers often selectively ignored it. Currently, most teachers do not have the access, training, and support necessary to confidently participate in the OER movement.

Curriki has been doing some work to tie their resources to state education standards (http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main/BrowseStandards). Can you describe a little of that process to us? What are some of the benefits and challenges to including this information? How useful is it?

This work is not part of my professional duties at Curriki, however, I can speak to the process on a personal note as a teacher and Curriki member. Right now, when you visit a resource, you will see four tabs – Content, Information, Standards, and Comments. Choosing the Standards tab allows a user to view currently aligned standards, as well as gives the option to “Align to [additional] Standards.”  The process itself is very intuitive; the user clicks through a series of menus and applies standards as he or she deems appropriate.

The biggest benefit will certainly be the convenience of browsing for resources by standard through the aforementioned jump page. The biggest challenge is to align all of the existing and future resources in the repository. Curriki is depending largely on the community to gather momentum for this process. Right now, in its infancy, only about half of the states have standards-aligned resources to browse, and even those collections are far from complete across subject areas and educational levels. Of course, members of Curriki are always welcome to browse unaligned resources by subject, educational level, or other criteria by using Curriki’s Advanced Search.

There has been a lot of OER talk at the state and federal policy levels, especially surrounding open textbooks. What do you think is the future of the textbook for the K-12 classroom? How would you like to see this reflected in policy?

I, like many educators, feel that the reign of the textbook is coming to an end. As a science teacher, I have rarely depended on a textbook for curriculum, and rely more heavily on both online materials and self-created materials. OER allow me to take better advantage of creating and sharing work within a collaborative community. While science and technology lend themselves to early adoption of the open source philosophy, I believe other subjects will soon follow.

Textbooks will not be able to maintain their current stronghold in K–12 schools. A recent New York Times article points out that “[e]ven the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.”  Textbooks are expensive and quickly become outdated. Printed errors are not correctable until the next edition comes out. In contrast, OER are inexpensive or free, constantly updated, and easily correctable. I would love to see the money saved by choosing inexpensive OER over pricey textbooks used for supplementary materials and teacher training. Or even better, districts can use that money to set aside release time and pay teachers to meet, collaborate and create OER content.

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

A successful learning environment is relevant, engaging, challenging, and flexible. OER material is current, as well as easily, and legally, adaptable to meet the needs of various learners. An OER community can provide a teacher with materials and support in meeting the needs of his or her particular student population. Resources that are freely shared end up saving others countless hours of redundant individual work and frees teachers from stagnating in a proprietary curriculum.

Schools are beginning to recognize the cost savings of abandoning the current textbook model, and I predict that publishers will adapt as the market demands of them. I hope that schools begin to recognize that teachers are a valuable resource and skilled professionals, and deserve to be compensated for their time spent developing curriculum. I hope districts begin to create policies and provide support to encourage teachers to share the materials they create.

Ideally, the classroom should be a place where students are not merely passive consumers of resources and media, but rather active collaborators, synthesizers and publishers of their own work. I hope that, from a young age, students will be held accountable for using others’ work in an appropriate way, and encouraged to share their own work as open source with some rights reserved, rather than falling back on the default of full copyright, or worse, not sharing at all. I want my students and colleagues to understand that, by sharing materials, they are contributing to a collection of materials that will benefit learners far beyond the walls of their own classroom. This is a significant shift in current educational philosophy, but sites like Curriki are a great step in facilitating a move in the right direction.

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U.S. Department of Education includes OER in notice of proposed priorities for grant programs

Timothy Vollmer, August 5th, 2010

Today the U.S. Department of Education took another big step in supporting open educational resources (OER). In the Federal Register, the Department released a notice of proposed priorities (NPP):

The Secretary of Education proposes priorities that the Department of Education (Department) may use for any appropriate discretionary grant program in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and future years … This action will permit all offices in the Department to use, as appropriate for particular discretionary grant programs, one or more of these priorities in any discretionary grant competition.

The set of proposed priorities specifically mentions OER. Essentially, if the priorities are adopted, it could mean that grant seekers who include open educational resources as a component of an application for funding from the Department of Education could receive priority. OER is included in Proposed Priority 13–Improving Productivity:

Projects that are designed to significantly increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money, or other resources. Such projects may include innovative and sustainable uses of technology, modification of school schedules, use of open educational resources (as defined in this notice), or other strategies that improve results and increase productivity.

As mentioned, the NPP includes a definition of open educational resources:

Open educational resources (OER) means teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.

Interested parties may submit comments to the notice of proposed priorities until September 7, 2010. Information about how to submit a comment is described in the notice.

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Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges Adopts CC BY for All Competitive Grants

Timothy Vollmer, July 12th, 2010

The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC) recently adopted an open licensing policy for the competitive grants they administer:

All digital software, educational resources and knowledge produced through competitive grants, offered through and/or managed by the SBCTC, will carry a Creative Commons Attribution License … [and] applies to all funding sources (state, federal, foundation and/or other fund sources) …

The brief (PDF), prepared by Cable Green (who we interviewed in March about the Open Course Library Project), explains how the policy is aligned with SBCTC’s strategic technology plan. The policy draws inspiration from related initiatives working to support the sharing of research and OER, such as the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), the Southern Regional Education Board’s openness recommendations via “An Expectation of Sharing: Guidelines for Effective Policies to Respect, Protect and Increase the Use of Digital Educational Resources”, and the open licensing requirements for foundation grantees explored in the Berkman Center’s “An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, Practices and Opportunities.”

Congratulations to SBCTC for this great step forward!

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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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Mozilla and the P2PU School of Webcraft

Jane Park, June 29th, 2010

In September, Mozilla and P2PU are launching the P2PU School of Webcraft, and they invite you to participate. The partnership leverages Mozilla’s experience and the P2PU community to create a social learning environment for those who want to “learn the craft of open and standards-based web development.” The P2PU School of Webcraft is a set of courses centered on the open web, including “Introduction to HTML5″ and “Building Social with the Open Web.” From the call for proposals,

Following on the delivery model developed by P2PU, course organizers volunteer to take existing open learning materials or develop their own content and lead a group of peers through 6 weeks of online classes. Courses focus on project based learning in a peer environment and are proposed, created and led by members of the web development community – so the content will always be up to date with the latest technologies.

We’d love for you to become a part of this project and until July 18 we’re inviting course proposals for P2PU School of Webcraft. We’ve made it really easy to get started, just fill out the proposal form, it takes less than 5 minutes!

The school is completely free and open, with all P2PU produced material licensed under CC BY-SA—which means anyone can build on the courses and run their own. But anyone can also get involved with P2PU by proposing a course or participating in one, or just learning more. You can also check out the School of Webcraft in 103 seconds.

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CC Talks With: WikiEducator’s Wayne Mackintosh: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 23rd, 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. As such, we recently caught up with Wayne Mackintosh. Wayne is the Director of the International Centre for Open Education based at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, member of the Board of Directors of the OER Foundation, and founder of the WikiEducator project. In our interview with Wayne, we discussed Creative Commons and openness as a “competitive advantage” to closed systems, how OER “levels the playing field” through open licensing and file formats, and New Zealand’s unique context and approach to teacher empowerment and experimentation using OER.

Can you explain your role and how these organizations are tied to the mission of open education in New Zealand and internationally?

I’m an educator – by choice. I have spent the majority of my career in the academy, but started life as an accountant. Realising that I would not be able to spend forty years of my life pushing numbers around, I made a career change and decided to follow my vocation and become a teacher. The act of teaching is fundamentally about sharing knowledge. OER embodies the purpose of teaching and is today’s most compelling manifestation of the core values of education in a digital world, that is, to share knowledge freely.


Wayne Mackintosh by Mackiwg / CC BY

WikiEducator is by far the most rewarding project of my professional career. I founded the WikiEducator prototype in February 2006 as a social software experiment for educators to collaborate on the development of open source teaching materials. WikiEducator’s formative years were nurtured by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Today, WikiEducator is a flagship project of the OER Foundation. As a philanthropic organisation, the OER Foundation is responsible for raising and administering the funds for the purpose of supporting the adoption and implementation of OER for the benefit of education institutions and the learner communities they serve. The OER Foundation also maintains the technical and operational infrastructure of the WikiEducator community in accordance with the policies approved by the open WikiEducator Community Council. In short the OER Foundation is nurturing the development of sustainable ecosystems for the OER movement.

In our search for fertile ground to host the headquarters of the OER Foundation, we decided on a global leader in Open Education, Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin, New Zealand. Otago Polytechnic is the first New Zealand tertiary education institution to sign the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, the first tertiary education institution in the world to approve and implement an intellectual property policy that by default uses the Creative Commons Attribution license. Otago has an institutional commitment to education for sustainability embodied in their strategic plan. Otago Polytechnic is serious about collaboration and sustainable OER futures, as demonstrated by the Council’s decision to establish the OER Foundation as an independent entity rather than hosting yet another institution-based project.

It is not easy for smaller institutions to reap the benefits of reducing the costs of provisioning and participating in global OER networks due to the inertia of getting open content projects started. The OER Foundation provides a viable and effective solution for education institutions to stake their claim in OER, to test the open education waters and derive immediate benefits while contributing to the global sustainability of education.

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

Creative Commons is the air that the OER movement breathes. It is the legal enabler that eases the complexities of intellectual property in education, helping us move from a restrictive culture to a free culture. Creative Commons fuels the efficiency and effectiveness of the OER movement by avoiding redundancy and unnecessary duplication of legal tools that facilitate collaboration in education.

As the OER landscape evolves, I believe the nodes in the free culture network should focus their energies on core competencies and prioritise areas of collaboration where collective effort enables each initiative to better achieve their own objectives. For example, education is not the core business of Creative Commons, however educating users on making informed choices with regard to Creative Commons licenses is potentially a productive area of mutual collaboration among mainstream OER projects and Creative Commons. Similarly, the OER Foundation is not necessarily well positioned to provide solid legal advice on intellectual property issues in education. Creative Commons could, for instance, leverage its networks to establish a global network of pro bono legal counseling services, or develop an array of draft intellectual property policies published as OER that can be reused and remixed by education institutions around the world. In this way, all projects benefit from the core expertise and tacit knowledge of our respective organisations.

In responding to these needs, the OER Foundation has launched the CollabOERate project. CollabOERate is the OER equivalent of research and development (R & D) for new “product” design in open content and open education. CollabOERate is an “OER remix” of industry’s “co-opetition” model where individual OER projects agree to collaborate on areas that allow them to “compete” better for their own sustainability and attainment of their own strategic objectives.

The uncharted territory, and arguably the biggest point of difference for OER lies in the remix. The open education movement is yet to master the remix, but I concede that this is a challenge riddled with complexity. At the OER Foundation we subscribe to free cultural works licensing. These licensing schemes provide legal compatibility for the essential freedoms and also provides a commitment to ensuring access to source files using open file formats. In this way, no educator is restricted from participating in the OER remix because they have to purchase software licenses or sacrifice their freedoms in software choices.

Creative Commons licenses do not cater to the challenges associated with open file formats or digital rights management. Perhaps the free culture movement can learn from our industry counterparts. Today, a growing number of chocolate manufactures apply the “Fair Trade” logo on their products, communicating to the consumer that they pay cocoa producers a fair living wage. Similarly, most processed food items we purchase at the grocery store supply the details of the ingredients used in the manufacturing of the product. Clearly there are degrees of openness in digital OERs, and I believe the OER movement should work toward consumer awareness and branding of our OER artefacts, particularly insofar as free cultural works licensing and open file formats is concerned. In a similar vein I think we should be doing more in educating users on the implications of their license choices, most pertinently in relation to Creative Commons licensing. We can collaborate with mainstream projects in the free culture community to help in this work.

The precondition for building sustainable OER ecosystems lies in our distinctive “competitive advantage” when compared to closed systems. Our advantage is openness. Effecting real social change is facilitated through open philanthropy where we focus on achieving our respective aims through the principles of openness, transparency and networked collaboration. At the OER Foundation we believe in radical transparency and all our planning documents, projects and funding proposals are developed openly in WikiEducator, using Creative Commons licences. This has worked very well for us and we encourage all non-profits working in the open education space to do the same. This will reduce duplication of effort and scale our growth and success in the free culture movement by an order of magnitude in ways that simply cannot be replicated through traditional closed approaches.

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