This week I’ll be brainstorming with other Oklahoma educators working on a Race To The Top (RTTT) federal grant application. When it comes to technology integration and STEM, one of the best ideas I can suggest is providing opportunities for teachers to build digital curriculum together. If these online curriculum materials are published on the OPEN WEB (instead of the “closed web,” behind a login to a learning management system like Moodle or Blackboard) and “openly licensed” they can become “open educational resources” (OER) available to be freely used and remixed by other learners around the world. I presented on OER at the Iowa 1:1 Institute on April 7th, and since that time have been thinking more about how we can encourage more educators to not only utilize OER but also contribute to OER globally.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: creativecommoners

A foundational skill for using Internet resources effectively with students is the ability to create a website with text, hyperlinks, images, and embedded media including videos. I don’t have research statistics to back me up, but I’d estimate fewer than five percent of the in-service teachers in our state today are skilled and comfortable doing this. If a grant (RTTT or otherwise) can provide opportunities for educators to learn how to build personalized, rich-media webpages online, I think this is potentially a big win for their digital literacy skills as well as those of their students. It would also be a win for the availability of openly licensed curriculum more generally. In Timothy Vollmer’s recent interview with Karen Fasimpaur for Creative Commons, Karen stated:

The most important thing about OER [Open Educational Resources] is not that it saves money in the short term, but that it is beneficial to learning by allowing more customization and differentiation. Ultimately, that will also save money by allowing schools to spend funds on the content and services that best serve their students and by improving student engagement and achievement.

Back in late February, I taught my “Technology 4 Teachers” undergraduate students how to create rich media websites, or “learning portals,” using either Google Sites or WikiSpaces. For most of my students, this was the first time they had EVER created a webpage or website using a wiki. While everyone had USED a wiki at least briefly (like WikiPedia) few had CREATED CONTENT with or on a wiki.

One idea for a STEM-focused RTTT grant application is to have teachers build and share STEM-specific, openly licensed curriculum resources and lesson plans using wikis. This could be organized with a suggested “template” for teachers to follow in building their online resources. Part of the template for these online resources should include, in my view, an OPEN use license which would permit others to remix and build-upon these works. A Creative Commons license is probably best, and I’d suggest the Creative Commons, Non-commercial, Share-alike license since it naturally encourages the further propagation of its usage terms. (Its use also provides a legal remedy in the case of scrape blogs or other unauthorized / unwanted content re-use.)

The question I want to offer up to you is: Where is the best place for educators to create and share content-specific OER lessons like this? Curriki is the main OER project I’ve heard about to date which is specific for K-12. While educators in our “to be possibly funded RTTT grant” could create lesson plans DIRECTLY in Curriki, I’m thinking it might be more valuable to empower them to create their lessons as webpages using a free wiki tool like Google Sites or Wikispaces. Then, their lesson resource could be linked / indexed within Curriki as well as other OER directories like DiscoverEd, OER Commons, and Connexions.

What do you think? Is there a “best practice” procedure which a group or individual has created already for empowering educators to create OER resources and contribute them to OER repositories? If so, please share the link!

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  • http://www.magnoliaisd.org/rmiller Rob Miller

    Texas just purchased a SM product that they are calling Project Share. The company they purchased it from is Epsilen. This looks like it has some great tools that can be helpful in developing a framework for open curriculum. They will just need to begin by keeping the curriculum open.

  • http://www.k12opened.com/blog karen

    Wes, I couldn’t agree more that there is a great need for this and that creating open-licensed resources can benefit so many! In fact, I think that *all* publicly-funded educational resource development should be licensed for public use.

    I am working on some projects similar to what you are talking about here. One of the needs I see is for a common taxonomy for tagging resources so that whatever system they are hosted in, they can be searched and reused by others in a way that makes sense. I am thinking a lot about this in terms of the new Common Core standards as well.

    If you have any advice on this, I’d love to hear it!

    In the meantime, thanks for helping to spread the word about open licenses and open formats. All teachers and students will benefit from this.

  • http://www.quisitivity.org Gerald Aungst

    I’ve seen two main kinds of online resources for open sharing of curriculum and lesson ideas. The first are simple repositories where anyone can post content, and the database is searchable. The second are moderated collections with editors who review everything before it is posted.

    The problem is that typically the first kind are filled with vast amounts of minimally useful stuff. I remember searching one of these resources once for a lesson idea and getting endless arts-and-crafts projects that had at best a superficial connection to the topic I was teaching.

    The second kind usually aren’t open–the ones I’ve encountered are usually members-only paid sites.

    How can we combine the better quality of the moderated sites with the openness of the free ones? I think we would need a critical mass of involved, active members for it to work–this is how Wikipedia has thrived. The trick is how to get that critical mass together and how to generate enough activity and collaboration to make it work.

  • Shelley Owen

    I completely agree with Karen and Gerald. Critical mass, moderators, nationwide (at least) activity and collaboration. What about iTunes U? We could start a virtual Ed. Tech University? I especially like Karen’s idea of a uniform taxonomy for tagging. Brilliant. I’d love to contribute to or use such a system.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    I think iTunesU is a great content distribution channel, but I’d encourage everyone looking at OER and building OER to just consider iTunesU as one alternative channel not the primary one. Not everyone is going to run iTunes, even though Apple would like us all to. A big example are 1:1 laptop programs utilizing Linux. There is not a version of iTunes for Linux at this point. That could change, of course, and it is possible to run at least some older versions of iTunes on Linux via WINE, but those issues dramatize the problem: iTunesU is not open in the same way that OER resources like Project Gutenberg are.

    I’d like to see a set of “best practices” for OER content creation developed and shared. Perhaps this is something we could ask our friends at Creative Commons to do on their education page?

  • http://www.k12opened.com/blog karen

    I worry about iTunesU as a platform for OER because Apple is so proprietary in so many areas.

    I think the idea of putting together some best practices is a very good idea. I’ll float the idea to a few folks and see what we can get going.

  • http://www.oerfoundation.org Wayne Mackintosh

    Hi Wesley — Wayne here from the OER Foundation.

    Based on the data we collect at WikiEducator (http://www.wikieducator.org) — two-thirds of our new account holders have not created an account on a wiki before – so your assessment that the majority of teachers are not necessarily familiar with creating content on the net is pretty accurate.

    WikiEducator is also an OER project which works in K12. Our approach is to provide free training and support for teachers in acquiring these skills in an authentic wiki community. We schedule at least one online workshop every month. (see: http://wikieducator.org/Learning4Content/Registration) — Feel free to spread the word.

    This approach is working well for a national project in New Zealand aimed at building a national OER commons for the school sector (http://wikieducator.org/OERNZ) – -as free content this the model can easily be replicated for your part of the world.

  • Deanne

    I’ve just returned to teaching after spending a number of years – writing curriculum, developing online content and developing and delivering national seminars for education in Australia. So I have lots of ideas about the how, what and why of what I want to do – BUT – yes – the content and lesson plans are very tricky to find. So reading your post has inspired me – because I want to be practicing what I have been ‘preaching’ the last few years + testing the theory – so far so good – and I’m going to start publishing my units of work in the hope that others may use, critique, build and further share what I am doing. Need a couple of seconds on that one though – coz – i haven’t quite started yet :-)

  • http://blog.immersionquest.net Matthew Spira

    I’ve just started (last week) a very similar effort to what you describe in this post for what I call “Open Source ESL/EFL Curriculum for Young Learners.” It will be intended for the large numbers of teachers/instructors/tutors/parents/children around the world who otherwise lack easy access to high-quality comprehensive resources for learning English.

    I will be building my curriculum repository in a semantic-mediawiki using the RDF standard. Instead of recreating the wheel, I’m going to focus first on aggregating OER content, and advocating people doing OER adopt the W3C linked data specifications.

    Curriki appears very similar to what I’m trying to do, but there are looks to be some differences as well. I need to spend some time browsing through it and the other repositories you cited before making any judgments. Thank you for linking to them.

    I’m not quite ready to push my blog heavily, but I’ll be happy for anyone’s input and feedback into what I’m attempting to do: http://blog.immersionquest.net

    Cheers,

    -Matt

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  • http://thompsonblogs.org/dianelauer Diane Lauer

    Thank you so much, this is exactly the question we are asking in our district. We will be exploring a number of options for us in the fall. I hope to do some preliminary research, and your post has really helped!

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