“Free” open educational resources (OER) are gaining acceptance in U.S. schools. Fueled by funding from large foundations, several OER organizations have developed core curricular programs in reading and mathematics that are now in use in varying degrees in many school districts.
OER’s movement into development of core programs is a turning point in the evolution of open resources. For many years, most OER consisted of supplemental pieces – not large core programs that form the bedrock of instruction at the K-12 level.
But, development of core programs is complex and intensive. Programs must be aligned to academic standards, have scope and sequence and meet requirements some states and/or school districts impose to ensure programs are fit for purpose. The complexities increase further with the development of customized digital programs for personalized learning, which many school districts are adopting.
Despite the complexities, new technologies have been created to support development. Let’s take a look at the development process and the new solutions that have emerged.
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The Development Process
At the outset, developers must establish an instructional design with learning goals, a pedagogy and a research base. The design determines the structure, scope, and sequence of the program so that the curriculum builds over a semester, a year, and across multiple grade levels. In addition, special components are often included (and sometimes required) to address differentiated instruction for a variety of learners: English language learners, special education students, advanced learners, and other kinds of students.
As editorial work on the program begins, subject area experts are engaged to provide input and expertise. Developers must align content to the prevailing academic standards in each state. Such standards may be developed by states or by national not-for-profit organizations that have created Common Core State Standards in math or English/language arts, the Next Generation Science Standards, and other bodies of standards. Correlations between the standards and draft content are created.
Graphs, artwork, photos, and maps are created for use in the materials. Permissions must be secured if the media is copyrighted. In keeping with the spirit of “open,” many OER developers seek to use media that is openly licensed.
The program must be fact checked and copy edited multiple times to ensure content is accurate and objective. Independent authorities, evaluators, and master teachers must also vet the prototype program before the program moves into the final phase of production.
Core programs also include ancillary materials for students, as well as teacher editions and other support materials. Publishers provide professional development so faculty can effectively deliver the program. Assessment services are sometimes provided, too.
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Customized Curriculum & New Solutions
Development processes have evolved considerably in recent years, as many publishers and developers have started to create digital, personalized learning systems. Personalized learning marks a departure from textbooks and monolithic courses toward flexible, customized content that meets the needs, strengths, and skills of individual learners. These systems can include both OER content materials as well as proprietary or licensed materials. The value proposition for publishers expands from simply providing high quality, well scoped and sequenced content (which, arguably, OER developers can provide) to include being able to provide the right material at the right time for a particular student or classroom.
Customization and personalization demands the use of a powerful content management systems, that provide content discovery, collaboration, production, and dissemination.
More specifically, discovery tools allow for content tagging, sequencing, and repurposing. Authoring and editing content can be done collaboratively with instructional designers.
All types of learning objects, including videos and interactive content can be stored and managed, along with metadata, standards, and rights and permissions. Courses can be disseminated to web services, apps, district learning management systems, and/or print production.
In sum, this system moves development and production into a “digital first” approach that has been embraced by many educational publishers. And, like so many other aspects of publishing, OER developers will embrace it too, assuming funders are willing to foot the bill.
As has been noted repeatedly in discussions about OER, quality content is not free. It requires funding to create it, organize it, support it and update it on a regular basis.
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