Category Archives: Open Courseware

Watching the World Change In Front of My Eyes

Readers of this blog are aware of my interest in promoting open education resources.  Last year, I was a formal member of a Joint Commission on Technology and Science subcommittee related to this topic.  This year, there are no formal members besides the legislators, but the public is encouraged to attend.  The meeting yesterday had a variety of great presentations, and as I left, I realized I had been watching the world change. 

Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s Director of Technology, talked about how the state has been innovating.  I have never seen him present before, and he was nothing short of inspirational.  I’ve added his weekly podcast to iTunes.  He described a school he had visited where the textbook indicated that cathode ray tubes were a primary part of televisions.  This textbook was being used in a community in which the plant that used to make cathode ray tubes had been closed because, of course, cathode ray tubes are not used in televisions any more.

Stewart Smith from the Community Ideas Station filled us in on their efforts to digitize and distribute their vast collection of multimedia through a project called eKlips.  The materials are available for free.  I can’t wait for some free time to poke around.

I was pleased that Dr. Richard Baraniuk from Rice University was able to teleconference in to talk about the Connexions project that he spearheaded nearly ten years ago.   I had recommended him to the committee after seeing him present at NECC.

But, it was the last presentation that was most interesting in terms of watching the world change because we got a glimpse into a business struggling to figure out how they would survive in this new world. .  Pearson spent some time discussing their plans for bringing textbooks into the 21st century.   They were led off by former Virginia Board of Education President Kirk Schroder, an entertainment lawyer who is also a registered lobbyist for Pearson.   His take on open education resources was that they were fine for higher education, but for K-12 with the pressures of high stakes testing, they were too much of an experiment.  I took public issue with what I felt was a rhetoric of fear; it’s the same kind of argument that software companies make against open source products.  The idea is that if you pay lots of money, you automatically get a better product and more support. But, then, as a lobbyist, Schroder’s job is to discourage the state from going down the path of open education resources, so his rhetoric is not surprising but a bit disappointing.   A quick check of Pearson’s 2007 financial highlights (pdf) shows a 1.2 billion dollar operating profit with some 4oo million dollars coming from their K-12 sector.  I think they could still make a profit and put some of that money into more public-minded partnerships with open education foundations. Continue reading Watching the World Change In Front of My Eyes

It’s Free, But That’s Not The Important Part

This week’s Education Week featured the open content movement. (You can read the first couple paragraphs but you’ll need a subscription to see the rest. And, if you don’t have a subscription, you should get one.)  While the article suggests that the main reason for the interest in open content is that it is free and thus will save schools money, it also points to some of the other benefits of using this content.  One, in particular, struck me:

The process of content creation and sharing is also a way to build professional relationships between teachers, proponents of open content say.  And the more that teachers get their hands into content creation, the better they can teach that material.

The article goes on to quote Laura Petrides, president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knoweldge Management in Education, a group interested in open educational resources.  She talks about being able to “harness the knowledge base that already exists” among teachers.  That’s what got my attention this morning:  a movement that respects teachers for their knwoeldge and provides them a way to share it with others.

For everyone who is busy planning professional development for the beginning of school, you might consider doing a workshop on open education resources.  Give teachers a chance to look at some of the sites below, locating materials they can use but also places where they can make a contribution.  Then, throughout the year, provide them with time to work on those contributions.  You would be building community and knowledge at the same time.  I’m doing a session for admins in a few weeks and am going to incorporate these ideas.

The article also mentions that traditional textbook publishers aren’t all that worried.  I’m not surprised.  Their seeming strangle hold on education probably makes it tough for them to see past it to the future.  (Remember, Bill Gates didn’t see much future for the Internet either.)  The spokesperson for the textbook publishers points out that they have been offering digital materials for six or seven years now.  Wow…they just don’t get it.  The open content movement is so much more than providing digital materials.  Here’s what Samuel Donovan, head of Bioquest Curriculum Consortium, had to say:

Teachers can use that work not just in their own classroom, but repurpose them, organize them, customize them, and share them back to the educational community…it creates a very different kind of professional status for teachers.  They achieve ownership and professionalism.

Once again, we hear respect for teachers in this quote, something that often doesn’t form the foundation of contemporary movements in education.  I’ve been involved in several conversations this summer where the main point was that, if we’re going to make any real differences in education, we need to fire teachers who aren’t on board.  Here’s a movement that suggests that maybe we need to respect them instead and give them an opportunity to share what they know.  I think that’s a much better way to go.  After all, it’s not like we have a long line of people waiting to sign up to be teachers.  And, those that do enter the profession often only stay for a few years.  Could making them part of this kind of knowledge building community be a possible step in the direction of retention?  I’m in the midst of planning my course for pre-service teachers in the fall and will be getting them involved in this movement as part of that.

In Virginia, the Virginia Open Education Foundation is taking a proactive approach with the legislature to begin exploring this at a state level.   I blogged about my work in this area as part of my “best of NECC” post a few weeks ago if you’re interested in what we’re doing.

Meanwhile here’s a short list of open education resources to get you started:

My “Best of NECC” Post

I know I’m late on this but I spent the weekend getting caught up on my real life and doing some prep for this week.  But, I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned at NECC.  NECC is always overwhelming for me and all the digital stuff (blogs, wikis, flickr, twitter, etc.) really just make it worse.  Too much noise.  So, my strategy this year was to pre-register for sessions and to volunteer, both in an attempt to make NECC smaller and more manageable.  It turned out to be a good strategy…I didn’t have to worry about getting a seat and I had a chance to really connect with new people. I found the poster sessions at which I volunteered on Monday morning terrific. The presenters were all HP grant winners, and their enthusiasm about their students ‘ learning was intoxicating! Real teachers, real students, real stories with some excellent action research to show that their students had not only been engaged but learned something as well.

At the last minute, I ended up doing two hands-on workshops to fill in for another presenter. While it took away from some of my own time at NECC, I found the experience quite enlightening and encouraging. Both the sessions focused on a tool and its connection to content. In my hurry to pull together the sessions, I focused on the tool with less concern about the content. (In my defense, one workshop had participants making videos in just three hours so I was a little worried about getting it done.) What I am pleased about was the excellent feedback I got from the participants. Most were happy with the experience, but several reminded me that there had been content and that was really why they came with their interest in the tool being a secondary concern. Good for them! I certainly agree and was reminded of how easy it is for techies like me to fall into the tool trap, forgetting that we are dealing with educators. If I have a criticism of NECC, it sometimes seems to be more generally focused on technology tools rather than how teachers might make effective use of them in their classrooms.  Maybe that’s the point of a tech conference, but for those of us who have to go back to K-12 teachers, the difference between twitter and plurk are probably not that important.

The best session I attended was the Technology Leadership Forum. Its focus was on emerging technologies but most of the speakers were from school divisions that had adopted the technologies so they could talk about how the tools intersected with teaching and learning. I was particularly intrigued by Camilla Gagliolo’s presentation on using Nintendo DS2s in the elementary school.  I’m not a gamer but may have to invest in one of these as they have curriculum related software and some potentially powerful applications.  (OK, see how easy it is to slip into the tools discussion!)

The keynoter for the forum was Richard Baraniuk, Rice University, talking about The Future of Open Courseware.  This is a topic close to my own heart since I sit on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Open Education Foundation (VOEF), begun by Mark Burnet, who is even more passionate about it than I am.  Rich began Connexions, an open courseware compendium.  It’s an amazing collection of online materials, mostly written in the form of textbooks.  They can, if you like, be printed and bound, for the cost of about $20!  It’s an amazing example of collaboration, and I found myself babbling to him about our Virginia project.   I sat on a Joint Commission on Technology and Science Committee last year where we discussed the possibilities of open source textbooks and this year, the work continues with anyone who is interested encouraged to get involved.

VOEF has established a pilot site where we are collecting resources related to Virginia standards.  If you’re intrigued and would like to get involved, just send me an email and Mark and I would be happy to talk to you.