I’ve been engaged in thinking deeply about the promise and opportunity afforded the U.S. K-12 education system by open educational resources (OER) since 2009, although my first exposure to the ideas and leaders of the movement stretch back to the launch of the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative. I’m deeply grateful for the support and collegiality of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation over this time, including for allowing me to attend this year’s annual OER meeting. I also owe thanks to the many others engaged in the movement, who have both helped to educate me and continue to welcome my – at times – persistent, sometime orthogonal pursuit of ideas, intersections, and root causes.
While the meeting retained for me some of its characteristic David versus Goliath ethic, it is hard not to see momentum shifting in favor of the acceptance of OER both as a positive social movement and as a pragmatic solution to curricular challenges facing schools.
Much of the discussion at the meeting focused on the many compelling benefits of OER adoption and use, including but not limited to cost savings. Buoyed by examples of new and significant commitments to OER by companies large and small, governments of all levels, and schools, it is easy to see that the future of instructional materials over the next decade will look very different than it has over the last decade. This is good news and cause for celebration.
The bad news is that launching a movement and sustaining a movement – even institutionalizing it – may require greater focus on issues that heretofore have been downplayed: that is, the myriad issues related to implementation. This is where context matters most for the OER movement.
Implementation issues play out locally and in specific ways that are decidedly not global and K-20 in scope. Even within the U.S. K-12 system, the context for OER will vary across states and districts, across institutional types (regular public schools, charter schools, and private schools), across school levels (elementary, middle and high school), and across technological reliance and sophistication of schools (online/blended programs versus more traditional classrooms).
As a result, over the course of the meeting, I found myself (sometimes with others, sometimes in my own head) pondering issues such as:
- Whether (or in what circumstances or to what degree) policymakers and education leaders trust teachers to play a role in developing and refining instructional materials for (or even with) their students;
- Whether school districts, states, and teacher unions will need to address head on the issue of who owns teacher-created content (a topic on which I’ve written previously);
- Whether momentum in creating, adopting, and adapting OER is dependent on individual teachers knowledge of copyright and intellectual property;
- Whether we can simplify intellectual property issues for teachers either via technological solutions and/or scaffolded professional development approaches and tools;
- Whether (or to what degree) the provenance of instructional resources matters and whether it may become increasingly important in a world that seems less trusting of for-profit education companies and government;
- What pedagogical shifts are afforded by using OER, and how the use of OER by students and teachers may help advance the teaching and learning of information literacy (with a hat tip to New America’s Lisa Guernsey for this insight);
- To what degree these pedagogical shifts are recognized or rewarded by school accountability systems and whether OER practices could serve to help broaden the accountability dialogue as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is implemented;
- If teachers are rewarded sufficiently for adopting and adapting OER by their schools/districts and whether third-party teacher recognitions (such as awards or badges or micro-grants) might also be beneficial;
- Whether a key differentiator of OER versus other free digital resources may (or could) hinge on data collection and privacy issues;
- Who speaks for teachers committed to using OER in policy advocacy;
- Where teachers and administrators new to OER go to learn about the state of K-12 OER, trends, and news;
- Where teachers new to OER find OER content to adopt/adapt, including reasonably comprehensive lists of full texts/courses that may already be available (and to what standards they are aligned); and
- What professional development opportunities may exist for teachers and administrators interested in adopting OER practices in their classrooms, schools, and districts.
As compared to past years, this year’s Hewlett OER meeting seemed more inclusive of voices serving, supporting and working in U.S. K-12 education. For me, that was a welcome shift and led to some constructive dialogue about the state of the field and how we can help move it forward. At the same time, the Hewlett OER community is broad and deep, and I appreciate how difficult it must be to craft a meeting that meets all participants’ needs.
As the OER movement matures, we will need to be more inclusive of the diverse and context-specific voices of the field that are doing the heavy lifting of implementation and help them with the problems of practice after they have made the decision to pursue OER. My sense is that there is now a critical mass of educators working in U.S. K-12 education committed to OER. How these educators are supported and empowered will have everything to do with the ultimate success of the movement.