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Open Source Curriculum

I have been thinking a lot lately about the amount of money spent each year on textbooks in the U.S. K-12 education system.  The most recent article I could find regarding educational publishing sales, from the Association of American Publishers, lists over $3.5 billion dollars spent in K-12 for 2010, and I would guess it has increased for 2011.  I have recently become very interested in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement and wanted to share some information and resources I found and some of my thoughts on the topic.

I think back to my days in the classroom, and how useless I found most of the textbooks and the overabundance of student workbooks that came along with them – many of them for (ugh!) test prep.  With the multitude of information available online, I found it much more effective to have my students working in small collaborative groups on the 5 computer workstations in my classroom to search for and evaluate information to solve questions they would encounter in the real world.  While I admit that it is more time consuming to design 21st century lessons instead of using the district adopted textbooks, we are doing a disservice to our students by being caught in the strangle-hold that the large educational publishers hold us in.

In my mind, schools and districts across the nation need to seriously begin considering open source curriculum.  Educators need to band together to leverage existing free and low-cost digital content that can be aligned to district, state, and national Common Core standards.  As more districts looks towards blended learning environments, open educational resources can provide cost and time savings, leaving more of both available for teachers to plan engaging and effective lessons, evaluate student data to guide instruction, and further their own professional learning.  Below, I have listed some of the organizations leading the way in the OER movement.

Curriki is an online community for creating and sharing curricula and teaching best practices.  The Curriki repository contains over 32,000 free K-12 lessons, units, assessments and multimedia learning objects across all subject areas.  Curriki’s free platform enables educators to build their own curriculum by assembling Curriki resources, as well as their own, into collections similar to an iTunes playlist.

OER Commons is a network for teaching and learning materials.  The OER Commons web site offers engagement with resources in the form of social bookmarking, tagging, rating, and reviewing. OER Commons has forged alliances with over 120 major content partners to provide a single point of access through which educators and learners can search across collections to access over 30,000 items, find and provide descriptive information about each resource, and retrieve the ones they need. By being “open,” these resources are publicly available for all to use, and principally through Creative Commons licensing, many thousands are legally available for repurposing, modifying and improving.

Connexions is a dynamic digital educational ecosystem consisting of an educational content repository and a content management system optimized for the delivery of educational content.  It houses more than 17,000 learning objects or modules in its repository and over 1000 collections (textbooks, journal articles, etc.). Its content services the educational needs of learners of all ages, in nearly every discipline, from math and science to history and English to psychology and sociology. Connexions delivers content for free over the Internet for schools, educators, students, and parents to access 24/7/365. Materials are easily downloadable to almost any mobile device for use anywhere, anytime.

Other sites to check out for great free educational resources include:

  • The Khan Academy – A library of over 2,700 educational videos and integrated skills practice, with student and class performance data available for teachers and coaches.
  • WatchKnowLearn – A wiki-like index of over 20,000 educational videos.
  • SchoolForge.net – A directory of free educational software for kids. Educational games, student information systems, learning management and course management.

Many of the large curriculum publishers have been jumping onto the technology bandwagon over the past few years, but I haven’t been overly impressed with much of the digital content that has been developed.  There is a distinct lack of essential 21st century skills involved in many of the programs and supplemental digital content being developed, sold, and used in today’s classrooms.  Where is the collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking in a series of drag-and-drop, right-or-wrong, multiple choice activities?  How are these materials helping to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s economy, a place where the skills they will need to prosper involve evaluating material from multiple sources, not just the information a publisher determines important and necessary?  A place where they will need to collaborate, communicate, and problem solve with people from all over the world?  For the amount of money our nation spends on these resources, I have higher expectations.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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One comment on “Open Source Curriculum

  1. Nice Post! I am definitely following you. Very interesting perspectives on education!

    Also, could you please leave some feedback on my blog? I write mainly about Education and Society.

    Keep it up.

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