In 2018, we are no longer bound to brick and mortar schools, desks in rows, textbooks, or traditions of yesteryear. Instead, we have a unique opportunity to change teaching and learning.

So often I’m asked what this looks like. And I generally counter with another question — what do you want it to look like in your schools?

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of school districts as they rethink teaching and learning simply by moving from textbooks to the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). OER are freely available educational materials that can be downloaded, edited, and shared—and can take many different forms, from individual lesson plans and activities to full textbooks and curriculums. Many of these districts transitioned with one grade level and content area to make it a feasible process. They organized district-wide teams to unpack standards, build a scope and sequence, and curate resources to help meet the standards. Those involved in the process held robust conversations about what students need to know, which resources are best suited to help teach that, and how various instructional models would help them attain all of this. Not surprising, the end result looked pretty different than a “typical” classroom. Some even moved to completely new student-centered models to meet students’ changing needs and ways of learning.

In the month of January, several PreK-12 district leaders shared their experiences making this transition in a series of blog posts for the Open Education Consortium Year of Open 2018. In order to continue highlighting the district work around OER, you can read three examples from these leaders below.


Teacher and Student Choice

Carlsbad Unified School District, CA

How has OER impacted professional learning or student learning?

In Carlsbad Unified, OER has greatly impacted professional learning. Our secondary English Language Arts (ELA) teachers are in the process of developing units of study from the ground up: determining essential learning outcomes for each unit, identifying essential questions, pulling together a playlist of openly licensed texts, along with other free and proprietary learning resources, and determining how specific texts fit into the larger picture of relevance for students today. The process is driven by collaboration – across grade levels, and between campuses – and our teachers report feeling more empowered than ever to make critical decisions about what to teach, and how to teach it.

What do you value most about OER?

I most value the fact that discussion of OER has brought teachers together to collaborate and create together. They are focused on learner outcomes – I’ve observed that teachers are spending much less time talking about texts and materials, and much more about what they want students to know and be able to do. OER has driven the conversation from “What reading should I assign” to “What do I want students to grapple with? What resources do they need? How can they make choices about their own learning?” Powerful stuff.

–Dr. Ben Churchill, Superintendent

OER is a State of Mind

Grossmont Union High School District

What do you value most about OER?

I value the willingness of the participating teachers to give their time and expertise to this project. The sense of community each team has developed and the opportunity for collaboration across all of the schools in our district are creating a foundation that will allow us to push instructional practices to the next level.

What do you wish people understood about OER?

I wish people understood that it is not just a free, online textbook. OER Is a state of mind. It deliberately and systematically harnesses the power of the internet. The development of openly licensed materials is an opportunity to build a new context to help us break out of a system of misguided standardized tests and teacher-centered classrooms. It ensures that our students continue to get vibrant and relevant resources while rethinking and reworking instructional practices. This movement empowers teachers to customize the learning experiences that reflect the needs of today’s students.

–Dan McDowell, Director of Instructional Technology

Reinvestment in Teachers

Garnet Valley School District, PA

How has OER impacted professional learning or student learning?

OER has really helped us to focus and individualize our professional learning for our teachers. It has allowed us to connect our prior focus on student-centered curriculum design using the Understanding by Design framework to student-centered resource design using our Open Educational Resource modules.  By connecting our resource collection with definitive student learning goals aligned to the standards, we were able to shift our teachers focus from ‘content’ first to more of a ‘skills’ focus in terms of long term transfer and assessment.

OER has also been a nice bridge for our students, in that we are moving towards more blended and online learning. The use of OER within our content management system (Google Apps for Education) and Learning Management System (Schoology) is providing the opportunity for students (and teachers) to get comfortable with interacting with digital content for learning. Our student feedback has been very positive so far.

What do you wish people understood about OER?

I wish people understood that if done well, and integrated into current curriculum and instructional design systems, OER can help teachers connect the dots and shift their focus from resources to the skills that their students need. It is helping us make concrete, student-centered design tied to skills. Additionally, OER allows for a district to invest in its teachers by giving them time and support for focused, meaningful collaboration.  

–Anthony Gabriele, Supervisor of Learning, Development & Professional Growth

These three examples happening at the district and classroom level are just a few ways in which OER has sparked change. When I step back and think about that, it’s pretty incredible to be a part of something so seemingly simple, yet deeply significant to the future of teaching and learning.

Next month, I will be joining CUE for the BOLD conference to work with district teams on incorporating OER into their instructional materials and reimagining what teaching and learning can look like in their classrooms. I’m looking forward to the rich conversations around this topic and hope you consider joining!

Kristina Ishmael is a Public Interest Technology and Education Policy Fellow at New America where she supports states, districts, and educators transitioning to Open Educational Resources (OER) to rethink teaching and learning. Previously, she was the K-12 Open Education Fellow at the Office of Educational Technology, where she developed and grew the #GoOpen movement. Prior to her work at the U.S. Department of Education, she worked as the Digital Learning Specialist for the Nebraska Department of Education where she collaborated with 245 public school districts and 17 Educational Service Units, led professional learning, and advocated for school libraries. This experience granted her a unique perspective on deploying educational technology to provide equitable access and opportunities in urban, suburban, and rural school systems. Before her role with the state, Kristina was a teacher to high-risk elementary ELL students in Omaha, Nebraska.



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