Three Keys To Gaining Traction With #GoOpen This Year

As we close in on the one-year anniversary of the launch of the #GoOpen Campaign by the team at the United States Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, it is time to reflect on the progress that has been made over the last year in this area. While the teachers and students in most schools are still unaware of the existence and purpose of this #GoOpen initiative, the number of resources to support this work has expanded dramatically over the last year. More importantly, there is a rapidly expanding group of educators ready to dive in and support one another as schools start to tackle this important work.  After leaving yesterday’s #GoOpen Regional Summit in Boston, I have a renewed sense of optimism that schools will make better progress in the adoption of Openly licensed educational resources (OER) in the coming year and expand the work within and beyond the 17 #GoOpen States highlighted below.Screen Shot 2016-09-24 at 10.25.46 AM.png
Of course, the biggest question we have in the area of OER is the same one that we have with every initiative we undertake in schools – how do we build our capacity in this area? Here are my top three takeaways for districts to move forward with OER in the upcoming year.
  1. Get support from the top – Make sure that your school and district leaders are on board with the #GoOpen Movement. Have your Superintendent sign on to become a #GoOpen District. District’s just need to commit to replacing one textbook over the next year with openly-licensed educational materials. By signing on, you will be matched up with an ambassador district that will support your efforts and share materials they have already created.  In addition, you will join a cohort of other schools involved in the same work.
  2. Connect locally – Superintendents and Principals need to reach out to local colleagues to see if they can pool resources to take on this work.  There is no doubt that every school out there is looking to update course-related materials in various subjects and grade levels. School leaders need to check in with their local/regional administrative groups to see what areas they might have in common with neighboring schools and districts. This work will go much faster if we share the load. Also, make sure that you are taking advantage of state support for this work if you are in one of the 17 #GoOpen states. In Massachusetts, we are fortunate to be supported at the state level by our Department of Education and our Director of Digital Learning Ken Klau. 
  3. Use the resources from the Office of Ed Tech – The resources under the Office of Ed Tech’s  #GoOpen Campaign provide a great foundation to undertaking this work.  The #GoOpen District Launch Packet provides a comprehensive outline for schools and districts to organize their efforts to infuse their curriculum with openly-licensed educational resources. In addition, there are 12 stories from #GoOpen districts that share best practices and provide some concrete steps that other districts can replicate as they move forward.
Thanks to Daniel Downs, Digital Learning Coordinator at North Reading Public Schools, for organizing yesterday’s #GoOpen Summit. I feel fortunate to work in a state with so many forward-thinking educators.  Also thanks to the present and past Chief Open Education Advisors  from the Office of Ed Tech in Washington, D.C. (Kristina Peters and Andrew Marcinek) for their continued leadership in this area.

Open Educational Resources Are About Much More Than Saving Money

This post first appeared on my Edweek Blog

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I have been somewhat disingenuous about my rationale for the transition away from traditional textbooks. In my discussions about the importance of the move I always cite financial savings as the top reason to move away from textbooks. However, after spending a lot of time thinking about moving towards Open Educational Resources (OER) to replace textbooks , I have realized that saving money is not at the top of my list of reasons to move away from these items that have burdened the backs of students and the budgets of school districts for decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the economics involved here need to be discussed. For instance, a new social studies textbook could cost $100 or more. Multiply this times 250 students and you are quickly looking at a price tag of $25,000 for one set of textbooks. What if we spent half, three-quarters, or all of that amount to train and compensate our teachers to create resources to take the place of textbooks? In my opinion, this would give us higher quality resources that we could revise regularly and make them a sustainable resource.

But beyond the clear economic advantages, switching away from third-party content allows us to fulfill a much greater purpose.  This transition will help us make the cultural shift that is necessary in our schools to truly prepare our students for the rapidly changing landscape beyond K-12 education. Supporting our teachers in these efforts is a critical step for success here. A recent post about the #GoOpen initiative from Joseph South, Director of the  Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, articulated this well:

“We now expect successful students to exhibit skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and digital literacy. We know without these skills they won’t be fully prepared for the rigors of college or the day-to-day challenges of a fulfilling career…We have no doubt that the use of openly-licensed educational resources in schools, districts, and states will continue to grow. The question is: how quickly, how thoughtfully, how sustainably, and with how much rigor and support?”

The ball is clearly in the court of states and local districts to answer Director South’s questions on how quickly this initiative will flourish. It is clearly easier to throw money at third-party content developers as we have always done and go about business as usual. However, the continued focus on these types of traditional resources as the major component for instruction across  curricular areas is likely to leave our students underwhelmed and underprepared. The road to the adoption of Open Educational Resources is bound to be bumpy, but it is a clear route to the creation of true communities of learners who understand the growth mindset necessary for success in the future.

OER Needs To Be On Your Radar

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Is this the year we will start to make some headway in the curation and creation of digital content and start to move away from our reliance on pre-packaged materials (aka textbooks)? While I have a lot more questions than answers when it comes to making this transition, there is one thing that I am sure of here.  We will make no progress without a detailed plan with clear benchmarks along the way. So, where do we start?
Here are three key issues we need to tackle in order to gain momentum with the move to Open Educational Resources (OER):
  1. Agree to a common understanding of OER –
When we talk about OER, I think we need to be clear what are intentions are. Are we looking to pay big dollars to have a third-party tool that helps us curate and create resources? Personally,  I like the definition of OER stated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology as part of the #GoOpen Initiative is pretty clear – Openly licensed educational resources are learning materials that can be used for teaching, learning, and assessment without cost. They can be modified and redistributed without violating copyright laws.”
  1. Build capacity of educators (and school communities) –
We need to make sure that our teachers (and stakeholders in our communities) understand the purpose and scope of this initiative. Moving away from pre-packaged content is a significant change for many to grapple with. However, when we break down the reasons for this work in regards to relevance of materials, allowing our educators the flexibility to customize resources on a frequent basis, and economic savings our intentions will be clearer.
On another note, with so many schools pushing 1:1 initiatives, we have the tools in place to make this transition to OER a reality. If we really want to stress the importance of our students being creators and not just consumers of content, we need to create communities of educators who are also creators.
  1. Set clear goals and benchmarks –
Whether it is an entire course, a unit, or a lesson, we need to start this work with the understanding that this is a work in progress. We will not necessarily create perfect products on our first attempt, but the beauty of this process is that we have the ability to revise content in a way that is not currently possible. In a short time we will be in the year 2020. Where would you like to see yourself in 2020? In other words, what is your 2020 Vision? Every district in the country needs to ask themselves this question and work backwards from here.

Huge News For A Former BHS Staff Member – Mr. Marcinek Goes to Washington!

Former BHS Staff member Andrew Marcinek has joined Secretary of State Arne Duncan’s Staff
We are thrilled to share the news that former Burlington High School Instructional Technology teacher Andrew Marcinek was named the first Open Education Advisor for the United States Department of Education by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week.  This news was announced during Secretary Duncan’s “Ready for Success” Bus tour today. Mr. Marcinek was a key member of Burlington High School’s 1:1 implementation team and the first teacher in the Burlington High School Student Help Desk.
Mr. Marcinek back in the early days of BHS Help Desk
This exciting news was announced during Secretary Duncan’s “Ready for Success” Bus tour today. 

Andrew Marcinek was hired by the Office of Educational Technology to work on connecting K-12 and higher ed schools to openly licensed educational resources.

Stay tuned for more information on Andrew and the US Department of Education’s push for schools to embrace open educational resources (OER) and to cut back on the 8 billion dollars spent on textbooks annually.