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Open-Content Options

October 17, 2008 3 min read
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More and more educators and ed-tech leaders are experimenting with “open content” to fill their curriclum needs. Open content, which is free for others to use, change, and republish, is seen as a useful tool for improving curricula while also saving money. But some educators are concerned about the the lack of measures in place to ensure the quality of open content. In a recent online chat, Lisa A. Petrides, the president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, which researches and supports the use of open content, answered questions on this topic from educators across the country.

Lisa A. Petrides

Should a teacher be able to evaluate and accurately measure the relevance of open content against standards and benchmarks?

Petrides: Yes, most definitely. Teaching materials in the classroom need to be aligned to standards, and there is a lot of research work being done in this area. There are currently different methods of doing this in the online world. I was recently working with the European SchoolNet in Brussels, and they are trying to do this across 26 European Union countries and in multiple languages! In this country, a good example is Teachers Domain. [See www.teachersdomain.org.]

Can open-content materials be used to deliver online professional development?

Petrides: Open content can be used and is being used to deliver professional development. We conduct workshops with instructors about the creation and use of open content to bring them deeper into the role of curriculum creator, author, and remixer. Courses delivered in learning-management systems, such as Moodle, could be made accessible. Those systems are closed, in part to protect student privacy, but the course materials themselves could be made open and searchable, while collaboration across courses has the same potential for improvement as it does in any environment.

What is the role of the principal as the instructional leader in supporting teachers’ use of open content?

Petrides: The role of the principal as instructional leader is really key in supporting teachers’ use of open content. If you look at current textbooks, it is often teachers who are hired to write those textbooks, so they certainly do have, or have acquired over time, the expertise to be developing curriculum. I often hear of teachers retiring with huge tomes of curriculum that they have developed over three or four decades that just go to waste. Yet, even though we know this is commonplace, teachers don’t often get the support they need from their principals or in their professional development to necessarily take these materials to the next level. The role of the principal would be to encourage the sharing of these materials, facilitate the process of feedback and critique, so that the materials are improved over time—then we have a real transformation of teaching and learning taking place.

How can teachers, administrators, and other curriculum experts integrate or choose between open content and content from state- or district-funded sources?

Petrides: First, I would say [they should make their choice based on whether] content is of the highest quality, readily available, easy to find, use, and modify for specific purposes, and if it is aligned with state standards. I might ask, if state funds are available for textbooks, might some of those same funds also be used to create open content as well? After all, state funds are public monies. In terms of creating the materials themselves, yes, textbooks are important, but so is the process by which teachers craft and integrate what they have learned about teaching in the classroom into the materials themselves. I think that is what an “open” perspective is more likely to bring into teaching and learning because it puts the teacher in control of the relationship between materials and pedagogy.

Are there models/resources out there that specifically guide teachers in how to navigate through the world of open content?

Petrides: Yes, that is extremely important. This is an area that many of us around the world are working on. As we speak, there are dozens of individuals, organizations, schools, and even governments creating models and resources to help guide teachers. Because this is still a very nascent movement, there are multiple efforts and we are all learning from each other at a rapid rate. Think search engines in 1998! There’s a lot of energy around open “books” right now, including textbooks. For example, a new initiative around creating open textbooks is brewing in California. Also, the state of Utah has just created the Open High School of Utah [http://openhighschool.org], and there is The Orange Grove, a K-20 digital repository in Florida [www.theorangegrove.org/index.asp].

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—Compiled by Kevin Bushweller
A version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as Open-Content Options

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