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Open Ed. Resources Encourage Teachers to Tinker

Educators often argue that they need more control over the development of the curriculum they are teaching. Open education resources may be the answer, said several educators during presentations at the Open Education Conference here in Vancouver on Tuesday.

"The nature of using [open educational resources] allows teachers to do what they do best—to tinker, to teach, to change, to evolve—all in response to students," said Sarah Weston, the technology and curriculum director at the Open High School of Utah.

Teachers at the Open High School create their own courses and curricula entirely from free and open resources. While it can be challenging to pull together so many disparate resources to form a comprehensive course, it also has its benefits, said Weston. "It encourages constant revision," she said. "Our teachers are always wanting to go in and change things," especially since new resources are frequently being developed, she said. And another big advantage is that all of the resources that the teacher creates and finds do not leave the school or district when he or she decides to move on. Instead, they are available for other teachers to use, so that the same materials do not have to be created over and over again.

To determine how well the curriculum is working, teachers base their decisions about curricula on student feedback as well as data, said Weston. Data such as how long students use certain parts of the curriculum, as well as achievement data help to inform teachers about what aspects of the curriculum should be changed or revised. In the end, it is open education resources, data, and good teaching that work together to form the vision for Open High School, she said.

In a different session on Tuesday, Alana Harrington, the project director of Saylor.org, talked about different partnerships that the foundation, which provides online, open, self-paced courses for higher education students, is working on developing with colleges and universities to ensure that students can receive college credit for the work they do on Saylor.org. So far, the organization has partnered with CLEP (the College Level Examination Program) as well as the National College Credit Recommendation Service, or NCCRS, to align certain Saylor.org courses to those examinations that students can take in order to receive credit for those courses.

The organization has not done much work in the K-12 sector, focusing on higher education instead, which also seems to be a theme here at the Open Education Conference. While there are some K-12 education members represented here, they are vastly outnumbered by their peers in higher education, reflecting the broader atmosphere of the open education movement, which has gained a stronger foothold in higher education than K-12.

Cynthia Jimes, the director of research at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, or ISKME, which operates the OER Commons, spoke at that session about the institute's work mapping out the different types of recognition that students are receiving for open courses. Three types of recognition have emerged, she said, ranging from digital badges to certificates of completion to formal degrees and course credit. How closely the organization providing the open courses is associated with a formal school system (be it K-12 or higher ed.) typically determines which type of recognition the student receives, with the closest associated partnerships receiving degrees and course credit and the organizations most distanced from formal institutions of learning awarding badges or certificates of completion.

Jimes also emphasized that providers of open courses should not miss an opportunity to develop deep and meaningful partnerships with institutes of learning as well as the workforce to more closely tie content in open courses to usable skills needed in the job market.

Tuesday was just the first of the three-day conference, so expect plenty more discussion about open education to come.

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