OER—What’s this all about?

Posted by Geoff Belleau on December 20, 2015

A bunch of pennies“A Penny saved is a penny earned”…or something like that is what my grandma used to tell me. In life, it’s conventional wisdom to make your funds stretch as far a possible. Businesses get it.  People eating peanut butter or ramen right before payday get it. Schools get it too. Even now, as resources are starting to flow back into schools, we’re trying to stretch our funds, and one way that global education has been doing that is with Open Educational Resources.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” (http://www.hewlett.org/programs/education/open-educational-resources)

Education stateside is starting to take notice. In the fall of 2015, the US Department of Education released it’s #GoOpen campaign to encourage acceptance of OER. Many States have invested resources in platforms to help educators curate OER. In the ESSA update, Title IV can be used, among other things, to increase access to personalized learning experience supported by technology making instructional content available through OER. This can include providing tools and processes to support local educational agencies in making such resources widely available.

Internationally OER has gained traction. In 2012, two teachers “wrote” an algebra book one weekend. The effort expanded to include other complete textbooks. One of the strongest testimonies to the effectiveness of OER came from Italy where students were forbidden from starting their courses early using the OER course materials for fear that they would finish the course before it started.

Also in 2012, California passed landmark legislation, Senate Bills 1052 and 1053, which provides for developing a list of 50 lower  division courses for which digital open source text books and related material shall be developed and/or acquired, as well as creating a process in which faculty, publishers, and other interested parties may apply for funds to develop open source textbooks. (See examples.)

One of the premier teacher training programs on integration of technology for teachers, admin, and professional developers is Leading Edge Certification. LEC is complete built and shared on the Creative Commons Platform and a great example of OER.

For educators, OER can have an impact on instructional delivery and student learning immediately in at least two ways.

  •  When looking for supplemental instructional resources. Teachers often need additional strategies and resources for “find another way for a student to learn.” They might have already tried the traditional way, the way the curriculum suggested, the way the grade level team or other department teachers suggested, or even the way they learned the particular topic themselves, but the students still don’t “have it”. Instead of just googling it, a well curated OER process/system can help filter them to what they need to help their students. Maybe it’s a course half way around the globe that has what they need!
  • When searching for appropriate non-fiction text. Current text is hard to come by. OER allows teachers to access what they need for their students. One note of consideration, however, is how OER will be reviewed and vetted.  The traditional material review process is slow at best. After submitting the resource, waiting for it to go on an agenda, go through review committee and then onto the board agenda and approval after discussion, the currency of the material may well be gone. By the same token, if inappropriate resources are used with students, even with the best of intentions, serious consequences may result. No one likes explaining that to CNN. Reviewing your process and procedures for selecting and using open educational resources time well spent.

Yes grandma, a penny saved is, indeed, a penny earned. Saving or redirecting funds saved by using OER truly does help students live in the rapidly changing world!

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What can BYOD programs learn from cycling events?

Posted by Geoff Belleau on October 31, 2015

“No child left offline.”Smart phone on bicycle handlebars

That is the challenge California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction has put to schools in our state. All students and teachers should have access to an electronic device that will connect them to the Internet. How in the world can this happen? One possible solution is “bring your own device”—or BYOD as it’s commonly known.

Over the past few months I have participated in several organized cycling events. One was to raise money for diabetes. The other, the “Tour de Tahoe,” was for a similar purpose and took us all the way around Lake Tahoe. In both events, a group of people got together and rode for a cause, for fitness and for fun.

Parallels abound

I see parallels between BYOD for computing and for cycling. Obviously, in both cases you bring your own equipment! But more importantly, BYOD is about the experience and not about the device. In the Tour de Tahoe, there were expensive bikes and cheap bikes. There were people with lots of experience and expertise and others who looked like they had just jumped on their bikes for the first time. Those who are novices have a harder time than those who are “in-shape.”

In both situations, lots of things are assumed. In the cycling event, there were no directions on how to get around the lake, how to ride a bike, or how to put your helmet on.  Similar expectations tend to apply when we ask students to bring their own computing devices to school. We assume that if they own them, they know how to use them.

Both involve issues of equity. Like bicycles, computing devices vary in features, style, power, and capabilities. Users vary in their own abilities which may dictate specialized equipment; in our Tahoe event,  one gentlemen “pedaled” around the lake with his arms, rather than of his legs, and had a partner who rode with him to make sure he was always seen, since he was only about six inches off the road surface! Equity also suggests we need to provide devices for those participants who do not, in fact, own their own.

Planning is key to success

Finally, BYOD in either case needs planning, organization and coordination to succeed. In the Tour de Tahoe, everyone knew the cyclists would be out there. There were rest stops and Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles to help give worn out cyclists a ride when needed. BYOD in schools requires similar advance planning and special arrangements such as solid WiFi and good policy to keep everyone safe and allow students and educators to communicate, create, and collaborate in school as effectively as they do when they are outside the doors of their school.

Remember it is about the journey, not the device, and the trip around the lake is always more fun and safer with a friend.

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From Digital Immigrant to Digital Colonist

Posted by Geoff Belleau on June 17, 2015

School’s out for summer and the digital natives are beyond happy about it.  So are the teachers and administrators! We’re all ready for a break. It gives us an opportunity to slow down and think about things.

Old auto with people coming from Dust Bowl to California
Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress collection

One of the things I’m thinking about is the whole idea of digital natives. That’s what we call kids today; but if they are digital natives, what are we? Many people have gone with the term digital immigrants. However when I think of immigrants, I think Grapes of Wrath. I picture the hopelessness, despair and tribulations of people fleeing the Dust Bowl to make their way to California. They have hope. They seek opportunities and things that are new.   Yet still, I picture a guy in dusty overalls—maybe John Malkovich’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Such images are not a ringing endorsement for encouraging others to try something new.

Several years ago though, I read an article in which the writer coined a new term, digital colonist.1  Digital colonists are the ones who not only move but move in. They build a home in their new place. They make a living. They thrive. For a late Gen X like me this idea struck home and really made me think about how I try to grow my “digital colony” with others.

This spring, for the first time, TICAL held a regional workshop in the Capital City area.  To attract participants, we were getting the word out via the usual digital colonist ways—emailing flyers, tweeting, posting information on LinkedIn. As I was doing my part to publicize the event, it dawned on me, “I don’t think the people I want to be there use these tools!” Only a small number of school administrators use Twitter professionally. Many have set up a LinkedIn page but their effort ends there. How do we reach those dusty digital immigrants and help them set up shop in our new digital colony?

Here are my ideas.

Go old school. Create and print a flyer with the workshop information, then actually take the flyer to those you are targeting. Get it into their hands. You’ll be able to get the flyer to some people yourself, but for others you’ll need help. Tweet a link to the flyer and say, “Friends help friends tweet. Print this and share it with someone you know,” or “Help your principal! Print this and give it to them.” Another approach I took was to post the flyer on my Pinterest Board with a note for teacher to invite their principals. There are some teachers who ignore all other media, but if they follow your board, you have their attention!

Lead with them. Invite someone to go to trainings with you. It’s always more fun to do things with someone else. If you just know a little more than the next guy, you are the expert! It helps those around you know that you are “in.” The personal touch goes a long way for all of us. When we get a personal invitation to go, be honest, it makes one feel special and one of a kind. Who doesn’t want that? It is our job as leaders to build up those around us, and doing it with them, no matter what “it” is, will make them want to come and take notice.

Be an advocate. For as little as you may feel you know, you are still better equipped than anyone else to make a digital change. A teacher may go off to a training and get excited with creative ways to teach and lead these digital natives, but then policies at school, district and state levels prohibit them. Some policies need to be updated, but some can’t be. As leaders at district, county and state level, we are positioned to bring about policy change if needed, and also must be the best communicators and advocates for our students, teachers, and parents. If George Washington popped out of TARDIS today, one of the only things he would recognize is the classroom. We must be as courageous as George to bring about the policy changes needed to accommodate and support digital learning.

The bottom line? We are preparing students for their future with the digital tools of today, not the analog tools of our past. We’ll do a better job when we have friends around us in our digital colony.

What do you think? What other ideas do you have for bringing the immigrants into the digital fold? Leave your comment below!

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1Stern, Ben. “Troubleshooting Advice from a ‘Digital Colonist’ (EdSurge News).” EdSurge. N.p., 24 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015. <https://www.edsurge.com/news/2012-12-24-troubleshooting-advice-from-a-digital-colonist>

 

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When Winning Isn’t Enough.

Posted by Geoff Belleau on December 31, 2014

It's not enough.As 2014 draws to an end, schools are reaching halftime in the Big Game of 2014-2015. Last Sunday, I watched the San Francisco 49ers win their last game of the year, and then bid farewell to a coach who has posted a winning record over the past four years. Twitter blew up with comments like “What are they thinking? Winning isn’t enough?!?” (And those are the nicer comments.) It made me stop to think, which led me to re-write this blog post.

What if winning isn’t enough? What if, over a span of four years, it’s not OK “just” to win and never fail? From what I read, the problem between 49ers management and the coach all boiled down to relationships; they just couldn’t get along.

Relationships matter

Relationships matter. Getting along is important. It is something we try to instill in students early on. “Learn to get along and play nice.” What does that look like today?

It seems to me that there are at least four things we can do as educators so we don’t end up in the same kind of situation the 49ers are experiencing: look for new ways to curate, create, communicate and collaborate.

Curate

First curate. There is so much out there today and so much content. As a school leader or leader anywhere, no one has time to read everything. Also, you don’t want a censored feed delivered. Two of my favorite curated content providers are Zite (now Flipboard) on my mobile/tablet and paper.li on the computer (emailed or tweeted). Only recently have I started tapping all that is available with my Amazon Prime with Amazon music and Amazon movies.

Create

Look for new ways to create and share content with those around you. With a camera (both still and video), recorder, and so many new apps/tools released every day, the possibilities are endless. Teachers are some of the most creative people I know. Who else would take a app designed to make comic books and use it to identify parts of a carburetor in an auto class or document a process using the storyboard feature?  Don’t forget augmented reality apps like Aurasma to create 4D. Or how about starting to asking questions that must be answered with video and students can work together and to record then post the video to your YouTube channel. Be sure to have them answer these three basic questions before diving into a new technology: 1. What training have you had? 2. How will this impact how students learn on a daily basis in your class? 3. How will you keep inventory control? This will help focus the creativity.

Communicate

It seems like we almost can communicate too much now, but it’s a glass half full or half empty view and how each of us views the way and amount of communication that goes on today . Start where we are and let’s see what else we can do! Use Cel.ly, Remind or Twitter to connect with others. Don’t forget classic channels. My family sent out a few printed Christmas cards and letters to those we care about but not in the digital world. There were some tablets, and other mobile devices that were under the tree. Find a way to communicate with those around you using them so that they are a asset and not a hindrance. If you wonder how many devices are in your school or in your district, go sit on a bench during passing period or at lunch on a campus near you and just be a “fly on the wall” watching what comes out of backpacks/pockets as students/teachers move around the campus. How can these assets be tapped instead of banned?

Collaborate

Finally Collaborate. How can this be fostered? What is the difference between collaborating and cheating? Let’s be honest; that is a question that many struggle with. It needs to be answered, though, and a way to do just that is to start. Start small with something like Google Slides and have everyone create a collaborative slideshow. What is your favorite tool/app for collaborating?

There are many things up in the air right now with school funding, changes in staff with retirements, and any number of other forces, but nonetheless halftime for the class of 2015 is right ahead of us. Before we know it, these kids will graduate and a whole new class of seniors will start in the fall—as well as a whole new class of kindergartners with backpacks larger than they are. The time to get busy is now.  It’s not good enough just to win, we also have to get along!

P.S. Share your favorite tools in the comments!

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Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.

 

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