Reinventing Curriculum

So, When During the School Day Should Teachers Create Curriculum?

OER – Open Education Resources – are on the rise, but may increase the workload for instructors.

Why do individuals go into teaching? Why would a reasonable person want to interact with hormone-racked 13-year olds? For that matter, why would a 50-plus-year-old adult want to go down to the floor and up 20 times a morning to “teach”  5-year-olds? Because … (hang onto your seats) …  they want to develop curriculum! Yes … that’s it! And, developing curriculum is so much fun and so rewarding that teachers do it after the eight hours they put in at school – and on the weekends too!

Duh … no.

Individuals go into teaching because they love to nurture “the kids” – the learners, the students, the children, the young adults. What motivates teachers is playing a role in seeing their charges develop into responsible, caring, effective individuals. While tweaking a provided curriculum – putting one’s stamp on a unit – is also rewarding, that’s a tertiary task, not a primary one.

The truth is that those now, much-maligned, paper-based textbooks, with their associated teachers’ guides, saved teachers from major curriculum development. But as K-12 finally goes digital, textbooks – and the curriculum infrastructure they provided – are going the way of buggy whips. And “PDF World," as a friend and colleague calls the digital versions of paper textbooks, is truly a “transitional object.”

A recent Sprint state-of-educational technology report observed:

  • “Schools across America are at a crossroads as personal devices and technological advancements have proliferated [into] classrooms. Technology is increasingly a significant part of everyday learning, and connectivity has transformed the way students interact with teachers, peers, and curriculum…
  • … Laptops, tablets, smartboards, and other tech tools are becoming increasingly commonplace across America’s K-12 schools. As classrooms shift from models with remote computer labs to fluid and innovative applications of technology, how are the devices being utilized — and are they effective?”

In that transition period, analog textbooks are descending and digital OEROpen Education Resources – are ascending. What is OER? NASA videos are OER. Lessons that teachers have created for their classrooms on water quality, Shakespeare, American history, etc. and shared on the Internet are OER.  And companies such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc. have put some of their materials into the OER.

But as Michelle Molnar pointed out quite eloquently, how are teachers to find the specific video they need amid the literally millions of OER on the Internet? And, while Google/Bing are terrific at identifying random pills by their markings and shape, Google/Bing really can’t help a teacher find OER for the water cycle, for fourth grade, for children with visual learning disabilities and for those whose second language is English.

Ta da! Your tax dollars at work! The Departments of Education and Defense, on November 8, 2011 issued a proclamation:  In order to make it easier to find OER on the Internet, the Department of Education and the Department of Defense ponied up $2.6 million in 2011 and created the Learning Registry. The Learning Registry, besides holding about 400,000 OER elements, specifies how those OER need to be tagged so special, OER-oriented search engines can find just the right OER a teacher needs.  

And in a recent state-of-the-OER report,  the Department of Education – almost giddily – noted that 14 states, 40 districts, several companies (e.g., Amazon, Microsoft, OpenEd.com), and many organizations (e.g., Center for Digital Education, the International Society for Technology in Education) are all moving – and moving with some serious speed – to the OER drum.

Indeed, sites such as OpenEd.com, gooru.org, and Edmodo.org support the Learning Registry framework, host OER, and support teachers in creating and enacting OER-based lessons. OpenEd.com has a machine learning algorithm that automatically associates an OER item with specific Common Core State Standards or a Next-Generation Science Standard; that linkage, then, makes it that much easier for a teacher to find an OER for a particular standard. Edmodo.com hosts over 600 apps, most of which are OER and thus free; they too are linked to standards.

So, the assumption apparently is this: Instead of textbooks providing them with curriculum, teachers are now going to “create” curriculum using OER. 

  • Question: So, when during the school day might teachers find time to create such OER-based curriculum?
  • Answer: Good question!

Let’s think about this: when teachers used textbook-based curriculum, they already spent eight hours at school doing their primary task of teaching. Yes, some teachers have “planning periods” – 30-50 minutes to work on preparing materials for their classroom. But if you know a teacher, you know that teacher already works in the evening and on the weekend. (And, spends his/her own money for school supplies.  Heck, the IRS – not known for its largesse – gives a teacher a $250 tax credit because the IRS knows that teachers spend at least that out of their own pocket – without being reimbursed by their school.)

Interestingly, the Learning Counsel did a study recently and found that: “9 percent (of teachers) spend six or more hours … and 58 percent spend between two and five hours” searching the Internet for OER and OER-based lessons for their classrooms.  

When are teachers doing those hours of searching? Clearly it can’t be during their eight hour workday. So, now we are expecting teachers to work 10-plus hour days – at least. 

And those OER lessons that the teachers find, after school, searching?

“Such 'supplementary' lessons might get a teacher through one to three days – but what about the other 177 days? Apparently, schools are expecting teachers to stitch together supplementary lessons found on the Internet to provide their students with a comprehensive, coherent, cohesive learning experience?”

Besides the overtime hours, have teachers had the right training to know how to identify good OER, and had the right training to know how to stitch together OER-based lessons?

The emperor has no clothes.  The assumption that teachers, somehow, will find the time and find the know-how to create effective OER-based curriculum is a dangerous one – for our children and for the teachers themselves.  Putting more work on the backs of teachers is folly.  

With the coming of digital, teacher instructional practices are going to change. Everyone knows that. Our take on that change is this: Blended learning, where 1-to-1 is the new normal, and where students receive and enact their instructional roadmap – or “playlist” in the current argot – will be the dominant instructional model. Teachers will be differentiating before enactment, scaffolding, motivating, disciplining during enactment and assessing after enactment. Blended learning instructional practices, then, are going to require big changes for teachers; becoming comfortable and effective with their changing duties and roles will be demanding enough – and we are asking them to write curriculum?  

Let’s be clear: Having teachers create curriculum is simply not sustainable.

Go back to the comments in the Sprint report:

“Schools … crossroads … classrooms shift from … remote computer labs to fluid and innovative applications of technology ...”

We firmly agree with the opening lines of the Sprint report: Schools are in the midst of a transition. Before the transition, because computer devices were expensive, textbook funds were diverted to pay for those computing devices.

Now for our prediction: But, as the transition proceeds, the price of computing devices will continue to plummet – and BYOD will increase in popularity – and thus, schools will no longer need to spend their funds on computing devices. Coming full circle, schools will have the funds to spend on professionally-developed, comprehensive, coherent curriculum – digital curriculum, some of which is based on OER. 

You can take that prediction to the bank!

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