What are Open Educational Resources?
Open educational resources (commonly referred to as OER) are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others,” as defined by OER Commons. Although often associated with openly licensed digital textbooks, The Hewlett-Foundation explains, “OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support the access to knowledge.” The rise of OER in K-12 education provides new opportunities for districts to reinvest funds that have traditionally been allocated to the purchasing of static, print resources to the professional growth of their teaching faculty.
Andrew Marcinek, who served as the first Open Education Adviser for the United States Department of Education, believes systems that support OER ultimately foster the innovative nature that is innate to many educators. In a blog entry titled “Open the Future” published on July 15, 2016, Marcinek asserts that innovation “can be seen in our classrooms across the country. By nature, educators are researchers and designers within their classrooms and have always thrived on their ability to share and repurpose.” He continues, “Openly licensed educational resources can help spark this culture and promote innovative teaching and learning by openly sharing and amplifying what educators create daily. It’s time we recognize the innovative capacity of all educators.”
The United States Department of Education began to publicly encourage school districts to transition to OER in October of last year, with the launching of the #GoOpen campaign, which also proposed a rule requiring that all educational materials created with federal grants be openly licensed so that any school can have access. “In order to ensure that all students–no matter their zip code–have access to high-quality learning resources, we are encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks and toward freely accessible, openly-licensed materials,” stated the the former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. “Districts across the country are transforming learning by using materials that can be constantly updated and adjusted to meet students’ needs.”
SWPA OER Network
Although talk of OER has existed in the region for several years, the impetus behind the SWPA OER Network was built on a growing energy sparked by the OER Summit held at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) during the 2016 Remake Learning Days. Kevin Conner, the Curriculum and Instructional Technology Coordinator at the AIU and organizer of the OER Summit explains, “In May 2016 we had 100 educators turn out to hear from 3 well-respected OER leaders: Richard Culatta (former head of the USDOE GoOpen initiative), Hetav Sanghai (representing CK-12), and Eric Westendorf (CEO of LearnZillion). These three presenters exposed the audience to the game changing potential of OER, allowing for a change in resource allocation and instructional practice.”
Building on this excitement, the AIU announced the creation of the network in August, inviting districts to join them in building a regional collaborative of early adopters using OER, and hosted two well-attended informational events at the end of summer. The Network will meet quarterly during the 2016-2017 school year.
In the first of these meetings, Kristina Peters, the K-12 Open Education Fellow at the United States Department of Education, presented on how schools across the country have initiated the transition to OER and enrolled participating districts as official #GoOpen Launch Districts. Additionally, Peters helped districts as they set goals for the year and began strategizing an implementation plan tailored to their specific needs.
“Using the power of our regional human network to connect locally while being just a hop away from the U.S. Department of Education and others across the country for insight and updates on the latest work of the #GoOpen campaign is extremely valuable and timely for our district,” stated Edward McKaveney, the Technology Director at Hampton Township School District. “As we work to ensure that Hampton is Future Ready through the development of a comprehensive multi-year educational technology plan, the OER Network is precisely positioned to help. The regional collaboration within Southwestern PA is helping to accelerate planning for the desired changes in our instructional resources, while ensuring that our efforts will be successful.”
By the end of the session, Kenneth Locket, the Assistant Superintendent of the Avonworth School District, along with his team, had drafted a plan on how OER would impact their district. “By using open educational resources, our teachers and students will have access to relevant, up-to-date resources to support learning,” Locket explained. “Using OER will allow our teachers to serve as curators of materials and not have to rely on a textbook table of contents as only or main source of information.”
The second SWPA OER Network session will be held on December 8th at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, where Matthew Miller, the Superintendent of the Mentor School District in Ohio will discuss how the use of OER has been implemented in his district.