OER and Sustainability

As with most of my posts this one is presented from the perspective of K12 education.   I am sure some of the comments, suggestions and issues would be applicable to post-secondary but I am speaking generally about the unique aspects of elementary and high school education.

At the present time I would not classify any support for the creation or utilization of OER provided by most school divisions [mine in particular] as institutional.  Examples can be found for particular attempts to provide gathered links to content for use by teachers [a referatory of sorts] but I have yet to find one example in my province where content is both created or found and shared for the purpose of reuse, repurposing or remixing.  One example of a fantastic collection of online resources found and organized according to provincial K12 curriculum outcomes is GSSD Grade Level Resources initiated by Michelle Morely and supported by the Good Spirit School Division here in Saskatchewan. Even though this collection might not be considered an OER the value in the resource is obvious. Other school divisions do have similar [on a smaller scale] examples of collections like this.  While this is positive it also speaks to the nature of how work like this is done….each school division does its own thing with little or no collective work being done in the province.  The work in many cases relies very much on the initiative of one or two key people so sustainability of the resource remains an issue.

As with many provincial or state curricula my province [Saskatchewan] puts their complete curriculum online in an environment that is available to everyone.  This repository includes all relevant curriculum documents as well as suggested or approved resources.  Housed within an environment [Blackboard] that is available to all teachers in the province this repository could also provide for the opportunity to build an online content creation community that further supports curriculum. It has great potential as a source of OER.

Saskatchewan does have a history of OER [or at least learning object] development. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the provincial ministry of education initiated the development of online content through something called Central iSchool and the WBLRD [web-based learning resource development].  Individual teachers and teacher groups were seconded from school divisions to create online content to support the delivery of online courses and professional development.  The content created was made available from a central online repository and was accessed by educational organizations from across the province, country and around the world. Because of changes within the ministry and changing government mandates [and funding] the development process ended and even the repository no longer exists.  The content can still be found housed with individual school divisions and online courses are still available using much of the content created but the central nature of the work is now gone. Sustainability, even at this level, is obviously an issue.

As with most initiatives within educational environments equal provision of top-down pressure [school, division, provincial] and ground-up [grassroots] interest is required for success.  In the case of OER development teachers must recognize the inherent value of the content and be able to participate in its creation at many different levels for OER initiatives to succeed.  This “interest” will have to be cultivated in an environment where school, division and provincial level support and encouragement are provided.  If participation in both the creation and utilization [access] of content is not relatively simple it will not be sustained.  Teaching is becoming an increasingly complex process.  The increased diversity in classrooms related to such things as inclusive education, increased numbers of EAL [english as an additional language] as a result of immigration as well as changes resulting from educational reform  have vastly increased the demand on teachers.  Any OER initiative would have clearly supporting teachers in meeting these new demands.

I think there is great potential in emerging and existing technologies to finally make OER [its creation and utilization] a fundamental part of what we do as teachers.  Even though it is not a complete answer [because of its rather proprietary nature] the introduction by Apple of iBooks 2, iBooks Author and iTunes U does speak to one required element….simplicity. It does not get much simpler than running an app like iBooks Author and making it available with an environment like iTunes U. There is something appealing to teachers about being able to access a repository like iTunes U and have what you need available in a digital form right now.  Whether this actually happens is yet to be seen but it does suggest a different future for both content creation and content distribution.

There is of course one very significant issue to be addressed. Student and teacher access to the tools required to participate in any ecosystem dedicated to OER [digital content] creation, distribution and use is absolutely required.  Without the learning appliance full participation is just not possible?  How departments of education, school divisions, schools and parents will make this possible remains to be seen?

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2 Responses to OER and Sustainability

  1. damoclarky says:

    I just posted a comment to Vincent’s blog making the comment that the K-12 context is probably a nice fit for the development of OERs across a district. What you described was what I thought would be productive and sustainable. But alas I did not consider the political side of the equation. Rationalisation of funding by governments can often be short-sighted and unfortunate. I particularly like the fact that teachers from the district were seconded to develop the resources, rather than bringing external parties in. In a modern-day implementation using social technology, it is not hard to envision a re-emergence of such an initiative and in a more effective way. A colleague of mine often makes the comment that initiatives of this type of often more effective when they aren’t institutionalised, meaning that when they are adopted from the ground up in an organic and evolutionary way, they can often side-step the overarching managerialism that embodies what has happened in your district. Perhaps now is an opportune time to see if you can gather even a small group of interested colleagues and starting sharing resources between schools again. It is surprising how such news can spread and people emerge wanting to participate.

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