Open Resources | Feature

Teaching with OER: 5 Tips for Professional Development Planning

Ed tech professionals offer five tips for approaching professional development that will help smooth the way to adoption of open educational resources.

If there's one thing that the information age has taught us, it's that throwing new technology tools and resources at people and expecting them to adapt them successfully is unreasonable and unrealistic. The rule definitely applies in the K-12 educational environment, where preliminary and ongoing professional development is key to ensuring that new innovations "stick" both in and out of the classroom.

Take open educational resources (OER)--which can consist of teaching, research, and learning materials that are licensed for use (and often modification and redistribution) without prior permission under an open license, such as Creative Commons. A novelty for many K-12 educators who are accustomed to having textbooks, assessments, and other materials prepared for them, OERs can create significant challenges when introduced to today's teachers.

Here are five broad tips for professional development planning that will help smooth the way to adoption of these open resources.

1. Help teachers sift through the piles of OER resources. Colleen Worrell, manager of professional development at Virtual High School in Maynard, MA, said she sees the sheer volume of OER resources available today as a huge challenge for K-12 teachers.

The fact that most of those instructors are accustomed to working from a single textbook and a few ancillary resources places the hurdle even higher. To ease some of that burden and help teachers integrate OER into their lesson plans, Worrell culls through the OERs to find the best resources. She shares these with the teachers and talks to them about the best ways to adopt and integrate that content.

"Someone has to do the vetting for the teachers," said Worrell, "even if it's just creating a social bookmarking list of the top 10 OER social studies sites. Everything helps."

2. Acknowledge the fact that not all teachers are comfortable with technology. Not all teachers are tech-savvy and willing to integrate state-of-the-art resources into their classrooms. Some just like the "old ways" of instructing and prefer to stick to those methods.

"If you want teachers to take advantage of OER you really have to assess their comfort levels with it," advised Neeru Khosla, co-founder at open content provider CK-12 in Palo Alto, CA. "You can't expect the mid-range of teachers--that large percentage of them who are on the bell curve--to just accept the new technology if they don't know how to use it."

To overcome this hurdle, Khosla said, OER champions must create value propositions for the open content and help teachers understand the advantages it provides. Getting teachers "hands on" with the content and showing them how to use it (via one-on-one demonstrations and webinars, for example) will also "go a long way in helping teachers get more comfortable with the technology," said Khosla.

3. Create a "culture" of professional development. Rather than offering professional development on a sporadic or ad hoc basis, create a culture around it.

Get teachers, administrators and even students involved in the process. Encourage sharing, said Khosla, and use community collaboration as a way to not only keep everyone up to date and informed, but also to save money.

"Everyone should make it their job to contribute to this type of ongoing professional development," said Khosla. "That way you won't miss out on important little OER nuggets just because they're not associated with a $300 professional development class."

4. Encourage an environment of "reinvention." OER isn't only about using open digital materials in the classroom; it's also about adapting and adjusting that content to make it even more relevant for today's learners.

Sharing that mindset with teachers is an important professional development strategy, according to Jason Neiffer, curriculum director at Montana Digital Academy in Missoula, MT.

"You really need to build an encouraging environment for reinvention and reconsideration of the OER materials," said Neiffer. "Traditional textbook reinvention took place every five to 15 years, but with OER it happens every year--or every time the resources are distributed to students."

Helping teachers adapt to and embrace that rapid pace is a key component of any OER professional development program. "There has to be an ongoing support mechanism in place that encourages teachers to be reflective," said Neiffer, "and that helps them constantly evaluate both existing and potential OERs."

5. Put the power in the hands of the educators. Professional development isn't solely about training teachers, said Neiffer, it's about empowering them to make the best decisions for themselves and for their students.

"In the end it's the teachers who make the decisions about OERs and how they're going to use them in their classrooms--not the administrators or districts," said Neiffer. "The most effective professional development is the kind that recognizes this important point and that truly empowers teachers to make the best possible decisions surrounding OER."

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