Supporting the Full Life-Cycle for OER-Based Lessons is Critically Important

  • "Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum." 

Image: Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, sweating profusely while hopping up and down across the stage exclaiming "Developers, Developers, Developers" — but substitute ES baying "Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum."

In effect, our blog posts over the past year are about identifying the issues involved in the following absolute truism: the key to the successful and productive use of technology in the K-12 classroom starts with good curriculum.  Herewith, then, is yet another set of issues that must be addressed!

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that OERs — Open Education Resources — are the future of curriculum. That said, turning OER into actual, coherent, cohesive, aligned curricular lessons is fraught with challenges. The particular challenge under our microscope here is this: we aren’t seeing support for the full life-cycle of an OER-based lesson on OER websites. Say what?

Let’s step back — in time — to when curriculum was "atoms (paper) based" in contrast to today’s OER-curriculum that are "electronic bits-based." While it might not have been explicit, there was nonetheless a "life-cycle" to a lesson that teachers followed:

  • Lesson development:  Teachers typically would be provided with textbook-based lessons. Of course, teachers would tweak those lessons to better suit the specifics of their classrooms, e.g., differentiating for the struggling and the accelerated learners, localizing to make a lesson more geographically-based, etc.
  • Lesson distribution: Next, distributing a lesson to the students typically involved handing out a piece of paper, writing information on the blackboard, or simply telling students what to do.  
  • Lesson enactment: Next, teachers were intimately involved in lesson enactment — as often, the lesson started with a monologue, with the classroom of students then working pretty much in lock-step.
  • Lesson assessment: Assessment was done by a teacher walking around and/or by taking papers home for subsequent grading.  
  • Lesson sharing and reflecting: Teachers would share tips about enactment, grading, etc. in the hallway and/or the teacher’s lounge. Teachers would make notes on how the lesson went — and would use those notes to guide the reuse of that lesson during the next school year.

Paper and a teacher’s filing system, then, were the key technologies providing support for the life-cycle of atoms-based lessons.

Unfortunately, in the bits-based, OER curriculum world, the OER websites tend to provide basic support for "lesson development" and very basic support for "lesson distribution" but not much support for the those other phases of the life-cycle.

  • During enactment, teachers need to be able to see what the students are doing – and share with the class examples of students’ work. Remember the wonderful utility of LanSchool?
  • Assessing student work can be a real challenge!  At times teachers have needed to look at the actual device a student was using in order to review the artifact that was produced on the device. And sometimes teachers have needed to visit the website of an application in order to assessment student artifacts produced using that application.
  • While some of the OER websites support teacher comments, more support is needed for reflecting on lessons, and for conversing about and sharing lessons.

We are purposely treading lightly here; our intent is not to criticize the hard work of others, but to point out issues that still need addressing.

Indeed, starting with current OER websites as a basis, we have designed and developed the Collabrify Roadmap Platform (CoRP), a suite of tools that explicitly supports each phase of the lesson life-cycle. CoRP is built around the Lesson Roadmap, a deeply-digital representation of an OER-based lesson. (We have described the Roadmap in a video on YouTube.) The Roadmap representation — a concept-map, node/arc, style representation — anchors the life-cycle of a digital lesson; tools in the Collabrify Roadmap Platform, then, support educators and students in manipulating a Roadmap during the various stages of a lesson’s life-cycle, as follows:

  1. Develop/tweak a lesson: Using LessonBuilder, a teacher is able to quickly and easily create a digital lesson from scratch — or take an existing digital lesson and modify it, e.g., add/delete a digital resource, or modify an existing digital resource. The nodes in a Roadmap that define the learning activities in the lesson can be elements from any OER website; keeping CoRP truly open is an important design guideline.
  2. Distribute a lesson: Using Dashboard, a teacher can send a lesson to her/his students quickly and easily. Importantly, using Dashboard, a teacher can put students in groups so that the students can work collaboratively on the lesson. (And the groups can be changed during enactment, of course.)
  3. Monitor the enactment of a lesson:  Students use LessonLauncher (a highly restricted version of LessonBuilder) to move through the nodes in a Roadmap, while the teacher uses Dashboard to quickly and easily "watch" what her/his students are doing as they are doing it. Using eHallway, teachers and students can engage in text-based conversations, e.g., a teacher can send a note to a student (or a group of students) with suggestions.
  4. Post-enactment, assess and provide feedback: After a lesson, a teacher uses Dashboard to access the artifacts students created during the lesson; all the artifacts for each student are stored in one place, making review much, much, easier. And, using eHallway, a teacher can provide feedback to the students on their work.
  5. Review learning analytics: A teacher must be able to quickly see key analytics that characterize student performance. For example, if the students are working in groups, a teacher needs to see at a glance if one of the group is not contributing.
  6. Share a lesson: A teacher can post a Roadmap into the Roadmap Repository in order for other teachers to use in their classrooms or tweak and then re-use. Teachers can use eHallway to engage in extended conversations about a lesson Roadmap, e.g., discuss implementation strategies, discuss localization issues, etc.  

The Collabrify Roadmap Platform is device-agnostic; it runs inside a browser — and it is free

In the old world of atoms-based curriculum, teachers were comfortable — though limited. As education transitions to bits-based, OER curriculum, we all need to be careful: some of the "old," analog procedures need to be preserved — or at least some of the old functionalities (e.g., support for managing the full life-cycle of a lesson) need to be re-invented since they did serve and still do serve a real purpose.

About the Authors

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

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

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at