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A Thumbs Up to Open Up for Delivering Free, Curriculum-Scale OER
- In the beginning there were textbooks.
- And then, there were textbooks.
- And then, there were still textbooks.
- (N.B. A recent archaeological dig in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried "under a thick carpet of volcanic ash" due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, unearthed an Algebra I textbook — with a binding that hadn’t even been cracked!)
- And then in 1999, before even the term OER had been coined (2002), netTrekker was founded to help teachers and students find curated, quality digital resources on the Internet.
- And then, in 2004, the website Curriki, was founded as "a collaborative social network for educators" to share open educational resources.
- And then, in 2007, the website CK12 was founded, and initially provided digital "Flexbooks," interactive, multi-modal educational content, under a Creative Commons license.
- And then, in 2008 the website Edmodo, opened its OER repository with the mantra that "Empowering teachers is the only path to getting better outcomes."
- And then, in 2012, the website Opened, started its OER repository with the goal of using machine learning to automatically align OER to standards (e.g., CCSS)
- And there was much excitement in the land. Finally, schools could replace costly, static, one-size-fits all, textbooks with resources that were free and could be tailored to truly provide personalized learning.
- And then, in 2009, layoffs in the textbook publishing industry began in earnest.
- And then, in 2011, the state of Texas (Senate Bill 6) stopped paying only for textbooks purchased by Texas school districts, and the textbook world changed. Digital textbooks appeared! But, they tended "to be the same cost as the print materials." Hmm.
- And then, in 2012, "45 states had adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or materially-similar standards."
- And then there were still textbooks — but schools struggled "with a lack of CCSS-aligned" textbooks.
- And then, in 2012, there was yet another round of layoffs at major textbook publishers.
- And then, in 2013, the K-12 OER Collaborative, "a coalition of thirteen state education agencies that teamed up … to foster the development of comprehensive, high-quality, standards-aligned core programs…" was founded.
- And then, in 2014, there was yet another round of layoffs in the textbook industry.
- And then, in February, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education announced the #GoOpen Initiative. "A #GoOpen District is a school district committed to providing high-quality, openly licensed educational resources for students and teachers." Initially 14 states and 40 districts participated.
- And then in 2015-2016, a realization came to light:
- In 2015, Seattle-based Learning Counsel surveyed K-12 teachers and found that teachers were spending inordinate amounts of time in the evening and on the weekends searching for digital content for their classrooms. In a brochure distributed at the 2017 ISTE Conference in San Antonio, the Learning Counsel summed their perspective on this issue as follows: "What’s NOT Hot: Teachers spending up to 25% of their time [outside of school] searching for digital content and building their own digital lessons."
- And in 2016, Patrick Larkin made a similar observation in his article: "Pressing the Reset Button on OER" where he called for a movement to OER 2.0 — a movement to full-course OER.
- And, in 2016, we explored the issues teachers face in trying to use OER to create lessons in our T.H.E. Reinventing Curriculum blog entitled: "So, When During the School Day Should Teachers Create Curriculum?" The blog post garnered more than 50 comments!
- And, in 2016, we published a number of blogs about issues in using OER, e.g., how the Minnesota-based, non-profit, SABIER is set to deliver PD for OER, how an Oklahoma school district has organized itself to create lessons using OER, etc., etc.
- And then, in 2016, there was yet another round of layoffs in the textbook publishing industry.
- And then, in 2016, the K-12 OER Collaborative became Open Up Resources, a non-profit, intent on developing full-course curriculum — curriculum-scale OER. N.B. Open Up — like Curriki — sees its mission — "To increase equity … by making excellent curricula freely available to districts" — in education as addressing social justice, as addressing the “digital divide.”
- And then, in 2016, Amazon announced to much fanfare their OER repository: Inspire.
- And then, in 2017, perhaps because Amazon is understanding that simply providing OER objects isn’t enough, Inspire has not been publically launched, yet.
- And then, in 2017, there are still more layoffs in the textbook publishing industry.
- And in the summer of 2017, Open Up Resources is releasing, for middle school math (grades 6-8): "A problem-based core program that sparks unparalleled levels of student engagement." The free, full-course curriculum comes with:
- "Student Materials — digital & print
- Teacher Materials — including unit plans, lesson plans, digital and print assessments
- Scope & Sequence
- Integrated, lesson-specific supports for ELLs
- Lesson-level strategies for students with disabilities
- Family Resources
- To foster success, a comprehensive suite of Professional Development options is available."
- Most importantly, the full-course, OER-based, curriculum is a result of a 21st-Century Collaboration Model: the core materials were developed by recognized math education experts from Illustrative Mathematics, led by Bill McCallum (a lead author of the CCSS), and then classroom tested and modified by 175 classroom teachers in 6 school districts.
- The curriculum is available on paper for the 50% of American classrooms that are still not 1-to-1. But for 1-to-1 classrooms, the curriculum can be used with “common Learning Management Systems” and there is a version that is embedded in Microsoft OneNote.
- And then, in 2017, Open Up Resources has partnered with EL Education "to offer openly licensed English language arts curriculum" for K-5.
- N.B. Both Illustrative Math and EL Education were chosen through an RFP process established by the K-12 OER Collaborative. For the ELA curriculum, "More than 260 organizations originally responded to the RFP." Phew!
- As reported in T.H.E. Journal: "The full-course curriculum, authored by experts in ELA, comes with student and teacher materials; a reading list; a curriculum map; family resources and more. All materials will be openly licensed and free to download later this summer. The curriculum offers supports for English language learners and students with disabilities."
Bottom line: The new new thing in K-12 is the old, old thing: curriculum. Indeed: "Research tells us that high-quality, aligned instructional materials is important in helping teachers support their students in mastering the skills, knowledge, and experience they need to be college and career ready." Put another way: "First, teachers need access to high-quality instructional materials aligned with their standards that will support their work to help students meet standards…"
Thus, make no mistake, OER and more importantly, curriculum-scale OER, is at the heart of the future of education. Thus, to our mind, Open Up Resources — "[battling] commercial publishers for school district curriculum contracts by delivering openly licensed content" — represents a most important model for K-12 curriculum development.
Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.
Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.
Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.