Education Opinion

Learn Your Way: CK-12 Adds Free Sims and Interactive

By Tom Vander Ark — August 08, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

CK-12, the Bay Area open resource nonprofit launched in 2007 by Neeru Khosla, continues to innovative with new simulations and interactives released just in time for the new school year.

New features of this Open Education Resource (OER) include more than 100 science simulations and PLIX, a new family of interactives (Play, Learn, Interact, eXplore).

Promoting deep understanding, Khosla wants learners to model their ideas. “Instead of learning a complex language [to construct a complex interactive] you just draw it,” said Khosla. She adds, “It’s free and doesn’t require more than a web browser to operate it.”

The interactive below allows students to rotate the moon around the earth and see a full cycle of phases.

An OER Backstory
Khosla was trained as a biologist. After completing a master’s degree at Stanford she served as a cancer researcher. In her thirties, Kholsa had four children and turned her attention to education. She was in classrooms daily at the Nueva School for 15 years and added another master’s degree from Stanford.

“I learned from the best including Dan Schwartz and Deborah Stipek,” said Khosla. She loved the child-centered approach: the flex lab and open concept.

Khosla sees learning as a personal journey. She launched CK-12 in 2007 to “enable everyone to learn in his or her own way.” (Hewlett Foundation was actively supporting OER by then, Curriki was launched in 2006 and the Cape Town Open Education Declaration was drafted in the fall of 2007)

Neeru’s co-founder Murugan Pal was a technologist and serial entrepreneur. Their first unique contribution was the ability to construct open Flexbooks: a free digital textbook combining open content from multiple sources. It allowed schools to adapt content to their own needs.

Concept collections were added in 2011, classes and study groups in 2013, and simulations, practice activities and interactives this year.

Khosla employ about 50 people at the family supported nonprofit (Neeru’s husband Vinod was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and is a noted cleantech investor)

CK-12 in El Paso
Two years ago, El Paso ISD was on course to spend $2 million on high school science textbooks before they met Neeru Khosla. After forming a partnership with CK-12, EPISD teachers customized digital Flexbooks that are now used district-wide and are available statewide. They have expanded from science to all core content areas and journalism, as well as languages other than English.

“The experience of adapting our content was also a great professional learning experience for El Paso teachers,” said Khosla. At first “teachers were nervous, but there was phenomenal change in two months when they saw that someone believed in them.”

Tim Holt, director of Blended Learning in El Paso (below with El Paso High School math students), agrees:

CK12 provided a rich set of content foundation with their Flexbooks that we then supplemented with other OER, Creative Commons and public domain material and aligned to our scope and sequence. We now have over 30 Flexbooks in our collection, which we are updating and expanding on a regular basis. Teachers, I think, are skeptics by nature. If something is provided for free, then there must be some kind of catch. We started the conversation with our teachers by asking them "Who owns the Periodic Table?" "What publisher has the copyright to the structure of the U.S. Government?" Knowledge is open to everyone. Of course no one "owns" the Periodic Table or the copyright to the structure of the U.S. Government. What is "owned" is how the information is presented. A publisher writes a book and the way the information is presented is what is copyrighted. When you start having that conversation, teachers begin to see that a $100 textbook full of general information perhaps is not such a good deal after all.
Perhaps even more important, for someone wanting to jump into this arena, CK12.org provides excellent hand holding and technical support. And the idea that you can change a textbook to match a district's or classroom's particular needs is empowering. Something that the big time publishers have not been able to match, at least that I am aware of."

The open resource texts are continuously updated, free and available to other schools. The district started with a commitment to four science texts and has now created 30 core high school textbooks and no longer plans on adopting traditional texts, which run close to $100 each. In a district with 18,000 high school students, the savings add up quickly.

There are hundreds of stories like this from districts and colleges nationwide.

But Wait, There’s More
CK-12 encourages schools to create pages to house their own content and to make it easy to iterate. Khosla urges, “Come and use us, give us your feedback.”

They acquired Stoodle.org, a free collaborative space where students can work with peers and create study groups, and teachers can host office hours and work with groups.

CK-12 also offers Braingenie to learn and practice math and science skills

They don’t store any personal information, so there are no privacy concerns.

Five of the of 10 U.S. DOE ambassador districts use CK-12 as part of the #GoOpen initiative.

Next in OER
“No one reads or learns the same way,” observed Khosla. “We started as a customizable PDF system ten years ago, and now we’re moving toward a complete system for teaching and learning that will include a fully intelligent recommendation system.”

The CK-12 team is tagging every piece of content. They are building assessments for key concepts. And not just true/false, but 12 customizable question types.

They are building an interdisciplinary concept map that will support integrated project-based learning.

CK-12 is sprinting toward Neeru’s anytime, anywhere, any path vision. “We believe that every child on this planet should have equal access to a great education”

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.