Connecting dots of digital learning

Open Content On The Horizon of Education – Part I (#OER)

The movement toward open content reflects a growing shift in the way scholars in many parts of the world are conceptualizing education to a view that is more about the process of learning than the information conveyed. Information is everywhere; the challenge is to make effective use of it. Open content uses Creative Commons and other forms of alternative licensing to encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well. Part of the appeal of open content is that it is a response to both the rising costs of traditionally published resources and the lack of educational resources in some regions. As this open, customizable content — and insights about how to teach and learn with it — is increasingly made available for free over the Internet, people are learning not only the material, but also the skills related to finding, evaluating, interpreting, and repurposing the resources. Recent data from Edcetera indicate that open educational resources make up three quarters of the content in most MOOCs; paid content, such as required textbooks, is less than 10%.

These data reflect a notable transformation in the culture surrounding open content that will continue to impact how we think about content production, sharing, and learning.

Overview

Open content, as it is described here, has its roots in a number of seminal efforts, including the Open Content Project, MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative (OCW), the Open Knowledge Foundation, and work by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, among others. Many of these projects focused on creating collections of sharable resources and on devising licenses and metadata schemata. The era of Creative Commons has established recognized alternative licensing standards, which promote and protect the work of authors and producers under the rights that materials can be shared and distributed openly. This environment has produced an expansive network of education collaborators — teachers who are creating, adapting, and sharing media — and numerous repositories brimming with rich content.

While work in universities paved the way for open content to find traction in the classroom, its recent entrance into the K-12 sector is partly rooted in the financial benefits. Open textbooks have proven to be worthy competitors to standardized textbooks, forcing manufacturers to offer digital, customizable alternatives. An added result is the surge of educational enterprises that are providing easy to use platforms for the creation of open source texts and curricula centered on open resources. Apple’s iTunes U, for example, enables educators from every sector to build courses online using the iTunes U Course Manager, which offers access to over 500,000 free public resources (go.nmc.org/itunesu). Not-for-profit repositories such as Wikibooks (go.nmc.org/wikibooks) are building ever-growing platforms that feature free, open source textbooks that are easy to find.

This philosophy of open content and open education acknowledges that information is not the only useful and distributable commodity among educators. Insight and experience can also be collected and shared. Equipped with web-based tools and a better understanding of alternative licensing, educators are more confident about creating and disseminating their own educational resources. Support for these educators is offered by a number of foundations and initiatives that promote
the personalization of education through customized content. The Orange Grove, a digital repository of educational open content based out of Florida, for example, has a dedicated YouTube channel with animations that help educators understand the proper protocol for creating, remixing, and licensing their own open educational resources. (go.nmc.org/orange)

As open content prompts dialog among educators and administrators in K-12 schools, there is much discussion about what is required to scale open resources. Typical business models for open content developers reflect those of non-profit organizations, foundations, or other grant or donation dependent institutions, though there are other paths to sustainability. Some open-content providers have explored models that offer opportunities for sponsorship, membership fees, and customer or premium services. Seeking partnerships with textbook publishers is also proving to be a sustainable avenue for content producers.

Meanwhile, open content has achieved global recognition as an effective means of distributing high-quality, accessible educational materials to schools in both developed and developing countries. In many parts of the world, national and state governments have allotted funds to support open content initiatives in education. In Latin America, for example, the governments of Colombia and Uruguay have launched strategic initiatives that incorporate the production and management of open educational resources. Similarly, in the eastern Pacific, Indonesia and Australia have also committed to developing frameworks to deliver open content in order to meet the needs of widely dispersed populations (go.nmc.org/surv).

Likewise, in the United States, the most recent National Education Technology Plan put forth by President Obama’s administration promotes the development of open content to create more innovative and accessible opportunities for learners.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

The use of open content promotes a set of skills that are critical in maintaining currency in any area of study — the ability to find, evaluate, and put new information to use. The same cannot be said for many textbooks, which can be cumbersome, unchanging, and particularly costly for K-12 schools. Educators are taking advantage of open resources to expand their curricula with mediarich tools and texts that can be used and adapted to specific lessons. Formerly bound by the framework of standardized course materials, teachers now have access to a wealth of digital information that they can use to meet district expectations.

In schools, digital textbooks have been the most widely used open educational resource, as projects have been launched to address the high cost and shortages of hardbound materials. For example, founded in 2001, the California Open Source Textbook Project established a precedent as a sustainable source of high-quality digital content that adheres to state mandated K-12 curriculum standards. (go.nmc.org/opsctxt)

A similar initiative in Utah propelled the adoption of open textbooks for K-12 throughout the state. In 2012, the Utah State Office of Education announced that it would begin developing Utah-specific open textbooks for secondary education with the intention that schools across the state would be using the first texts by 2013. Similarly, institutions in the state, such as the public charter school Open High School of Utah, are being founded with a mission to teach 21st century skills using a curriculum based on open content (go.nmc.org/ophigh).

For schools that have not yet developed open texts for their students, organizations such as the CK-12 Foundation offer free resources. Their FlexBook System is an online platform that helps educators assemble, author, and distribute media-rich digital books. (go.nmc.org/ck12found)

While open content has been available for a long time, the topic has received increased attention in recent years. The flipped classroom model, for instance, encourages more teachers to create videos or use media developed and shared by their colleagues for students to explore outside of the classroom. As a result, more educators are tapping into the wealth of content within open repositories as well as familiarizing themselves with the Creative Commons licensing protocol.

(to be continued)

Citation

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

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