open educational resources

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.

1 Comment »

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.

3 Comments »

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.

Comments Off

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.

Read More…

1 Comment »

CC Talks With: Cathy Casserly: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, June 4th, 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 Cathy Casserly. Cathy is the Vice President for Innovation and Open Networks and Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Cathy is also a member of the board of directors at Creative Commons and a longtime leader, strategist and advocate of OER. In our interview with Cathy, we discussed sustainability, challenges to integrating OER in education reform, and the infrastructure role of Creative Commons.

Q: You used to be Director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Hewlett has been a huge supporter of OER over the years. How do we expand interest in OER and open education to a broader set of funders? Perhaps more importantly, how can OER initiatives within institutions transition to becoming more sustainable? What do you see as the role of government in OER?

From the funder perspective, we need to continually educate funders to help them understand that openness will aid in their core mission–which is typically to spur innovation and disseminate the knowledge developed within the projects they fund. Oftentimes that knowledge sits within the foundation, or with the program officer, and we don’t have a very reliable system to distribute it to a broader audience. As a result, there’s a lot of that knowledge goes untapped. When foundations begin to use Creative Commons licenses, and to begin to practice openness and transparency to disseminate the knowledge from within the foundation, we’ll see a multiplier effect in the reach and impact of that investment. At this point, some foundations just don’t understand that. Part of what we need to do is to help more foundations understand the role of Creative Commons and the potential for open licensing to add value to their core missions. Foundations can get their feet wet by implementing open licensing on a part of their portfolio they feel comfortable with, and extend this practice to a broader percentage later on.


Cathy Casserly by Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching
/ CC BY

Sustainability has always been a core issue. At Carnegie, we’re trying to design for sustainability and openness from the beginning. Ultimately, for a project to scale in the long term, it has to become self-sustaining in some way. We have some core funding from the Carnegie Foundation itself, and we’re securing funding from outside funders, but this won’t last forever. There will be a point in time where need to figure it out on our own. And, it can be difficult to add sustainability afterward. Today, many more organizations are much more aggressive and thoughtful in thinking about issues of sustainability. In the early days of the OER movement, we were thinking about sustainability, but as a first step we really didn’t know if or how people would use the content. We had a chicken and egg problem because we needed to find out if there was really a thirst for this content. We wanted to know whether people would use it, repurpose it, and reshare it. We’ve heard a resounding “yes” to those questions. But, the OER community is relatively young, and with any new space, some of the issues are tricky to figure out–we’re still trying to understand it.

In terms of government support for open education, I think the government obviously leads the way, certainly in investing a huge amount of public dollars in education. Some of this investment includes many types of materials and learning assets that could be created for less cost, while maintaining the same–if not higher–standards of quality. These open resources would have the added benefit of allowing iteration and continued improvement on them. The federal government, state governments too, are beginning to understand that making investments in educational materials without erecting the traditional boundaries around them is sound practice. By making content systems more permeable, such as by releasing educational resources under Creative Commons licenses, governments empower educators to build on these resources again, so they don’t have to start from scratch. We see this in the open textbook space. Right now, it’s difficult in that the market is shifting, and the publishing industry is fighting. But, at some point we have to realize that we have a new distribution system with the web, and we don’t have to resort to some of the same old models for updating and improving materials. Also, we have a data backend now such that we can begin connect students to materials and learning tools that are complimentary to their needs as an individual learner, whether it be a video, a game, or an ongoing assessment. There are powerful tools we can harness via the web. It’s imperative we do this, and that the government invests in this area too.

Q: In Opening Up Education, you wrote, “the most important obstacles to rapid innovation are not technical…[t]hey have to do with the customs, standard practices, and vested interests of people in the universities and schools and within the markets, such as publishing, that may be forced to change as OER strategies gain more traction.” Since many of the challenges to incorporating OER are social (changing perceptions and practices of teachers and learners) and institutional (traditional school systems are slow to change and risk-averse), how do we approach this set of problems in an effective and scalable way?

In K-12, it’s well recognized that we have a big chasm now between what students do in school and what they do outside of school. Outside of school, students find information, interact with friends, and engage with the world in ways that are very technology-centric. In schools, it looks very much like it did in the 1950s. This is not surprising, because large systems tend to be very inert, so the structural education systems are very inert. Our education systems are not structured to look for innovation, and there needs to be something that is pushing on these systems to get them to integrate innovative ideas. There are pockets of innovation in the K-12 sector, but they’re on the edges. John Seely Brown has talked about the edge influencing and re-shaping the core, and this is beginning to happen within education systems.

In new markets utilizing new technologies, we can disaggregate and unbundle the commoditization of higher education, which has traditionally revolved around the intersection of the tutor (the teacher), the knowledge base (the content or other educational curriculum), and the assessment (the means to certify the knowledge that exists). Emerging models like the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, and other online groups have begun to challenge the incumbent system. We realize that many individuals can’t take the time to enroll in a four-year program at a university, or want to have flexible learning anywhere at any time. The system that we have now was structured for a good reason, it’s existed for a very good reason, and it’s been very resistant to change. When there’s pressure on these longstanding institutions, new organizations will pop up, and will begin to pull some of the education market their way because students realize they’re not being served as best as they could, or because they need more alternatives to a traditional degree, or because there’s more demand than there are spaces, allowing breathing room for alternatives to deal with the supply.

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

Creative Commons is the foundation for open education. Without flexible licensing there’s no way to determine which materials are shareable, adaptable, reusable, and localizable. Creative Commons is absolutely an incredible asset and core to the work of open education. It’s critically important that we get a broader group of people understanding the need to adopt Creative Commons licenses. A lot of educators and creators in the education space are creating different types of content and curriculum and want to share them. They think that other people can just pick them up and take them, but they don’t realize they’re most likely locked up under copyright. Teachers go into education because they believe in it, they want to share knowledge, and they like the idea of playing around with other ways of teaching. From individual conversations I’ve had with faculty at MIT, Yale, Harvard, and other universities, the ability for them to have their resources widely shared through open courses/courseware has been an incredibly affirming aspect to why they became an educator in the first place. We really haven’t tapped the depths of this volunteerism yet. What’s encouraging is that students who are now going through our schools of education are digital natives. They’ve grown up in a very different way, and it’s just a matter of time until they create so much pressure on the existing system that it will have to shift. What I’d like to see is that the system be very thoughtful about shifting, so it can serve students well, and equally.

Q: In our interview with the Virginia Department of Education, the respondents reiterated that OER is one component of comprehensive education reform, and that we have to think systematically in the incorporation of OER for it to be implemented into the education system. What are some of the things that OER producers (like open textbook providers) and infrastructure providers (like CC) should keep in mind in order to mesh OER in a smart and effective manner?

OER can’t be a siloed reform effort; it has to become a part of the larger system. The Holy Grail is integrating OER with student assessments, and setting up systems to feed back loops so we can understand how students are learning and what is needed to improve. In this way, we can begin to connect students with the best lessons for them at the right time, and organize individuals into smaller groups to work through different topics–for instance, I might be faster in grasping physics, whereas you might be better in math. We don’t really have a way to differentiate instruction right now, and we won’t really be able to until we have more of an individual assessment system. Such a system can take advantage of the underlying power of technology and openness. We know that courses that use this kind of embedded assessment scaffolds the student’s learning in a very structured way, and the learning outcomes–as best as we can measure them–far surpass courses taught using traditional methods. We need to scale these innovative assessment tools and materials in a systematic way. We need to figure out how to integrate face-to-face teaching and online tools and resources so that we can create better learning communities that pull from the best parts of both worlds.

Q: 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?

I think that in the next decade we’ll see a significant shift–online communities will become part of accepted hybrid models for learning. These models will blend what teachers and those with expert knowledge can best contribute to help teaching and learning, scaffold learning for individuals, and utilize the best of what we can harness with technology and the web so students can learn in interesting, animated, and engaging ways. We need to begin to understand and differentiate content, learning styles and education processes to works for individual students based on that student’s prior cognitive and non-cognitive skills. There’s a huge untapped white space in better integrating OER, and we need to think about how to blend the efficiency and effectiveness of open materials.

Comments Off

CC Talks With: Virginia Department of Education: Open Education and Policy

Timothy Vollmer, May 18th, 2010

One venue for the advancement of Open Educational Resources (OER) is through policy change at the local, state, federal, and international levels. In addition to an Education landing page and OER portal that explains Creative Commons’ role as the legal and technical infrastructure behind OER, CC has been conducting a series of interviews on open education and policy to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.

In this installment, we spoke with Linda Wallinger, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, and Lan Neugent, Assistant Superintendent for Technology, Career & Adult Education–both from the Virginia Department of Education. The Department has been exploring open education initiatives, including their work on the open textbook The 21st Century Physics Flexbook: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies. In general, Virginia has been supportive of openness, and passed legislation that indicates a preference for state-funded materials to be released with a CC (or equivalent open) license. Linda and Lan shared benefits and drawbacks to the Flexbook, challenges to teachers utilizing OER, and the potential for OER to dovetail with new student assessment tools.

Q: Virginia is well known for developing the Physics Flexbook, in collaboration with publisher CK-12. The FlexBook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license (CC–BY–SA) and thus can be used as is, used in part, or enhanced by teachers based on their curriculum and classroom needs. What is the status of the Flexbook project and to what extent is the Flexbook used in class instruction? What are the reactions from teachers and students?

Lan: Because Physics is not a verified credit course in Virginia, we had a little more latitude with that particular subject. We’ve been hearing a lot from the business community and some educators about how long it takes to go through the review cycle. It’s a 7-year process. Obviously, a lot of content can change within that time period. Science changes all the time and there are topics that teachers would want to add to their teaching plans. For example, nanotechnology is not something we were concerned about seven or eight years ago. Now, it turns up in all sorts of areas like cosmetics and clothing and might be something teachers want to put into their curriculum. As we speak, there are additional Physics content areas being added to the Flexbook. The Physics Flexbook ended up being an ancillary document. Scientists, high school teachers, and college professors were recruited and each selected an area of expertise to write on. The Flexbooks are in use right now, but we don’t collect data on how much they are being used. My expectation is that teachers who want to go beyond the curriculum and have the time to do that are likely using the Flexbook as a resource repository for their teaching.

Developing the Flexbook helped us to see some of the benefits to and limitations of this model. One of the limitations of the Flexbook structure is that you could clearly tell who authored the content by the style of writing–a scientist writes differently than a businessperson, who writes differently than a teacher. How to address quality control standards have been somewhat problematic with the Flexbook. In traditional printed textbooks, you don’t notice these different voices because it’s edited as a whole to maintain a consistent tone. Another limitation is, of course, copyright issues. Most of the graphics and photos used came from the Library of Congress because they are free. It’s not to discredit these materials; we just thought it was interesting. One of the reasons why we are a state partner with some of the major publishers is that they have solved some of the copyright issues in their development and publishing process.

Linda: The Flexbook was a good way to get some experience in an OER endeavor, but from an expectation of instructional materials I would have hoped that it would have been more interactive. In many ways it was like a paper book that was displayed on the Internet. While that certainly makes it more accessible to individuals and opens the content, I’m still not sure it’s where I hoped it would be to engage teachers with best practices for teaching. By providing textbook resources through technological methods, it might prevent schools from having to buy textbooks. But, students often don’t have access to computers and the Internet at home, or at least it’s not guaranteed that they have it. So, schools have to turn around and print out the resources anyway. It’s not actually as much of a cost savings as it’s made out to be.

Lan: After we were working on the Physics Flexbook for awhile and started to realize some of its limitations, we thought it would be good to conduct pilots with companies that publish textbooks. We put out a call for groups to come in to talk to us, and 40 people came, representing all the major textbook publishers, and some smaller ones too. The publishers have seen what’s been happening with all the changes and consolidation within the music and newspaper industries. We said to them, “you spend a lot of money in binding and printing and physical production…how’d you like to talk about the core stuff you do?” They seemed amenable to discussing this. We’ve met with companies that are demonstrating incredible uses of technology. Some are creating a whole new digital experience. We’ve talked to them about teaching and learning through apps too. We’re very excited about new technologies like the iPad–not that we’re not excited about other technologies–but we thought the iPad would provide a good way to test the technology. Technologies like the iPad overcome the limitation in interactivity that we mentioned before, because it allows users to interact with content beyond traditional text. A year from now other computer companies will have similar products.

Q: Many of us in the OER world talk about the need for teachers to be able to take educational content and manipulate it, repurpose it, remix it, share it. How do teachers want to use content?

Lan: Traditional textbooks have served us well, especially for me as a beginning teacher, because the textbook was the curriculum. The concept of looking at different ways to deliver textbooks could be as simple as putting it online or making it able to be viewed on an iPad or similar device. It could be more complex by including lots of multimedia and other interactive resources. But fundamentally, even experienced teachers are looking to textbooks for guidance on what to teach, what the content should be, and what the process should be. In developing electronic textbooks, you have to hold onto those concepts. The textbook is a teacher’s guideline and roadmap. Any of the multimedia and enhanced materials that you can include to enliven instruction would attest to that.

Linda: Teachers don’t work in isolation when they’re teaching. They are bound to a curriculum that’s been designed by their school division in Virginia and the curriculum is aligned to the standards of learning set by the state. Teachers want the flexibility to mix and match lessons, but they first need a structure whereby they have an idea of the order in which materials should be presented. This is important because many school divisions have a pacing guide that determines at what point in the year teachers should be on a particular chapter of a book or specific topic within a lesson. While creative flexibility is important, it’s important to have structure too. Most teachers don’t teach just one lesson plan. Elementary teachers teach all the content areas. Teachers don’t have the time to develop materials to support their curriculum and their lessons. Over a period of years teaching I’ve developed a sort of library of materials. I’m envisioning that this could be one way a teacher might use the internet-based materials or resources available under Creative Commons licenses.

Lan: Virginia is well positioned to do OER. We deliver just under 2 million online tests per year. Our general assembly and governor’s office have been very helpful in proving the connectivity and devices in order to do online testing. Fairfax School District in Virginia is working on a project called eCart, which is a bucket of OER and other electronic resources that are accessible and shareable by teachers. The Fairfax system ties together the resources and data on student achievement. The system helps teachers analyze whether their students are learning what they should.

Linda: One of the pieces required for states’ Race To the Top applications was addressing an instructional improvement system that was technology-based. It sparked a lot of conversation. I envision a dashboard that allows access to electronic tools used by the school division, like a grade book, but also something like an electronic filing cabinet where teachers can import other electronic resources. We also realized that there should be a common format for all of these electronic resources, along the lines of the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) so that all of these resources can truly be shared by many, as opposed to materials being developed just for the iPad, etc.

Q: The Common Core Standards are a shared set of core state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. How can the Common Core standards intersect with OER?

Linda: Certainly when you have Common Core standards in place across multiple states, any kind of technology that helps communications among these states is going to be invaluable. Most states have expended tremendous resources in developing content standards either before or as a result of No Child Left Behind. Virginia has spent a lot of money in providing resources and materials to support teachers and students, not to mention the assessments that are aligned with these standards. The sheer act of creating common standards is not anywhere near the end of the journey. Having looked at the Common Core, they’re not really written at a classroom level yet. Instead, they are broad statements describing what a student should know. In many cases, states may have to recreate educational resources they already have because the new standards are in a different order or are somewhat different than the standards their boards have adopted. As this work proceeds in reading and math across 13 grades, it’d be wonderful to have the opportunity for teachers to collaborate on developing these resources, or to have one state work on one grade and another state to work on a different grade. That way, there doesn’t have to be duplicative effort.

Q: One piece of legislation in Virginia in support of OER creates an Open Education Curriculum Board. How can it help with the adoption and exploration of OER in Virginia education?

Lan: Virginia had HB 724, which would establish an Open Educational Curriculum Board. The law was sent back to committee, but was not acted upon. We certainly expect it to move in 2011. The board will include governor appointees and general assembly appointees. They will be charged with taking a look at OER that will hopefully be utilized by Virginia schools. The board will be establishing criteria to do their review. We’ll serve as staff to the board.

Q: How do you see the role of Creative Commons within the OER environment? How can CC help in terms of educating policymakers and Virginia teachers?

Lan: We need to look at a state like Virginia, look at all their existing policies and procedures, look at the types of things impacted by OER, and make recommendations as to how states might reconcile those policies that don’t fit well in the new learning environment. We need to disseminate best practices around using technology, as well as the SREB guidelines. Right now, there’s a bit of chaos in the OER arena around copyright issues. Teachers know they can make a single copy of things to use. We need more guidance on these legal issues. With respect to the eCart program I mentioned earlier, OER needs to be tied to student learning outcomes. It’s too easy to take OER and shotgun them all over the place and be done with it.

Linda: When you convene groups working on OER, you need to include end users. Many of the people currently talking about OER are not the people that need to implement them in a school-based setting. Visionaries are important, but sometimes they get their feelings hurt when the educators don’t embrace everything they suggest. It’d be valuable to have people at the table such as principals, classroom teachers, school board members, and maybe state department staff form the instruction and technology side.

Q: 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, and predictions?

Linda: Lan mentioned that one of the biggest hurdles around adopting and implementing OER is that the policies in place now were mostly created for brick and mortar schools. Sometimes educators give off signals that they are intimidated by or not supportive of OER. But really, I think one problem is that the teachers are not able to visualize how OER can be introduced into existing teaching structures. This is complicated by the fact that board and state policies are not easy to change on a dime. Talking about OER, we get questions about things like assessment. The assessment process is high stakes–it determines whether a student graduates or whether a school is accredited. Clearly, there needs to be some policy changes or changes in the assessment process. Other questions revolve around the amount of time students should spend in school, as well as addressing appropriateness of some educational content and parent complaints.

Lan: One of the things interesting in K-12 is that when the classroom door shuts, all the policies, procedures and best practices really boil down to simply how the teacher teaches. If you take away the primary element of how teaching has been conducted–through direct instruction–many teachers are lost. I’m interested in looking at different methods of teaching. In college, you’re taught 20-30 different methods of teaching, but most aren’t used. In the virtual teaching environment, we’re prompted to look at those other methods beyond lecturing. We can energize students with technology, and there’s a lot of gold to be panned in exploring many new teaching methods. OER would allow many opportunities and latitude to have really good and engaging instruction. The sharing of resources and best practices would help teachers do other things to enhance the learning of not only mainstream kids, but gifted students too. Struggling students can use these resources to review content in other formats or at different paces. We’ve distributed iPod touches within our agency, because when people have the technology in their hands, they begin to see the new possibilities. In the teaching profession, teachers are enthusiastic their first year, they really learn how to teach in the second, third, fourth and fifth years, and by the sixth year they ask, “why am I teaching this in the same way forever?” Technology and open source can energize teachers and keep teaching fresh. We need to work through the nitty gritty of the policies, like copyright and restructuring books.

Linda: One of the big challenges will be to introduce the concept of OER as a methodology into our teacher preparation programs. Most teachers get their ideas of how to teach either from how they themselves were instructed or from the lessons learned in their teacher preparation programs. If they’re not made aware of the opportunities within OER, they’ll be slow to introduce them. I think the good news is that most teachers coming into these programs today are already familiar with many of these tools. Classrooms won’t immediately rely solely on OER, but will adopt a hybrid model. There will still be publishers and vendors that provide content in a structured manner that teachers can follow and school divisions can have confidence in. It’d be great if these vendors or publishers could then link into their own materials ways to import changing OER and apps.

1 Comment »

Talis Incubator for Open Education Announces Winners

Jane Park, April 9th, 2010

Talis Education announced the first round of project winners yesterday for its Talis Incubator for Open Education. If you recall, I pointed out the Talis Angel Fund for Open Education last year, which was set up “to further the cause of Open Education through the use of technology.” Talis awarded £1,000-£15,000 to three projects for the first round: Drawtivity, Moodle Course Repository, and TwHistory. The Moodle Course Repository proposes “to build a repository of every course ever created on Moodle, a leading open source Virtual Learning Environment.” According to team leader, Joseph Thibault, it would “give users an easier way to share their content and find new course templates, resources and Creative Commons licensed materials.”

If you have a CC licensed project you’d like funded, the deadline for the second round is June 31st. See the website for more details.

Comments Off

Pratham Books uses CC to make children’s books accessible

Jane Park, April 5th, 2010

Nearly two years ago, I blogged about Pratham Books, a nonprofit children’s book publisher in India. “It was set up to fill a gap in the market for good quality, reasonably priced children’s books in a variety of Indian languages. [Its] mission is to make books affordable for every child in India.” At the time, Pratham Books had released six children’s books under a CC BY-NC-SA license, available on their Scribd page. Since then, they have changed the licenses on those books to Attribution Only (CC BY) and have expanded their offerings to books in the public domain. They have also been blogging extensively and encouraging remix of their CC licensed illustrations on Flickr.

Last month, the CC licenses enabled audio versions of Pratham children’s books for India’s National Association of the Blind. Three audio versions were recorded by Radio Mirchi, two in English and one in Urdu, with more in the works.

I asked Guatam John of Pratham Books why they moved towards more open licensing (from the books’ original CC BY-NC-SA license), and what else he saw for the future of Pratham’s CC licensed books.

“Pratham Books has taken the position that all our content will either be under a CC-BY or CC-BY-SA license because, to us, these are the only two truly open licenses that fit our needs. Radio Mirchi gave us the content with no terms attached but since it was done pro bono, we felt that putting it out under the CC-BY-SA license was the best available choice for both the community, Radio Mirchi and us. Also, the SA component serves to limit commercial use unless it is re-shared, as the license, and our philosophy, mandates.

We continue to release content under open licenses, for example: http://blog.prathambooks.org/2010/03/retell-remix-rejoice-with-chuskit-world.html. And we will continue to do so over time. We have been working with the Connexions project to build a platform for the re-use, remix and distribution of our content too. Our basic goal is a net increase in the available content for children to read from and we think we can catalyse this two ways: Seeding the domain with our content and building a platform to make it easy to re-use and re-purpose content.”

For more on CC licensed OER being adapted to accessible versions, see “U.S. Dept of Ed funds Bookshare to make open textbooks accessible.”

1 Comment »

Free Culture X

Jane Park, February 1st, 2010

Free Culture X, a conference of Students for Free Culture, will be held February 13th at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Keynote addresses will be given by Harvard Berkman Center co-founder Jonathan Zittrain, the co-founder of the public interest group Public Knowledge, Gigi Sohn, and the director of American University’s Center for Social Media, Pat Aufderheide.

The conference is focused on developing greater openness among institutions of higher education by specifically investigating:

  • The politics of open networks,
  • Global access to knowledge, and
  • Open education.

Attendees have the option to pay-what-you-want with prizes (such as signed copies of books by Lawrence Lessig and Henry Jenkins or custom voicemail recordings by Jonathan Zittrain) awarded for sizable donations. You can register at http://conference.freeculture.org/register/. CC will be in attendance in addition to many past and current CC supporters.

All contents of the Free Culture X site are dedicated to the public domain with CC0.

Comments Off

CC Talks With: The Shuttleworth Foundation on CC BY as default and commercial enterprises in education

Jane Park, December 22nd, 2009

548234619_27cf7f47c4_o
Photo by Mark Surman CC BY-NC-SA

For those of you who don’t know Karien Bezuidenhout, she is the Chief Operating Officer at the Shuttleworth Foundation, one of the few foundations that fund open education projects and who have an open licensing policy for their grantees. A couple months ago, I had the chance to meet Karien despite a six hour time difference—she was in Capetown, South Africa—I was in Brooklyn, New York. Via Skype, I asked her about Shuttleworth’s evolving default license (CC BY-SA to CC BY), her personal stake in OER, and how she envisions us (CC Learn and Shuttleworth) working together. She also gave me some insights into three innovative open education projects they have a hand in: Siyavula, M4Lit, and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU).

The conversation below is more or less transcribed and edited for clarity. It makes for great holiday or airplane reading, and if you’re pressed for time, you can skip to the topics or projects that interest you. This is CC Learn’s last Inside OER feature of 2009—so enjoy, and happy whatever-it-is-that-you-are-doing-in-your-part-of-the-world!

Read More…

3 Comments »


Page 5 of 7« First...234567

Subscribe to RSS

Archives

  • collapse2014
  • expand2013
  • expand2012
  • expand2011
  • expand2010
  • expand2009
  • expand2008
  • expand2007
  • expand2006
  • expand2005
  • expand2004
  • expand2003
  • expand2002