#IMMOOC OER as Innovative Practice

oerThis is one of a series of responses to Discussion Questions in The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC and BPS Book Group.

Discussion Question: What is an example of a practice that you consider to be innovative?  How is it new or better than what you had before?

Without a doubt, the integration of digital and internet resources into teaching and learning has spurred innovation in education.  Within this broad arena, the sharing of Open Education Resources (OER) has the ability to be incredibly impactful and accelerate innovative efforts.

There is no universally accepted definition of OER, but generally they are unlicensed or have a creative commons license that allows for use, reuse, repurposing, and modification and are free for use by educators and students.  These can come in all shapes, sizes, and formats.  I’ve integrated online videos, readings, simulations, and assignments into lesson plans – all of which came from different sources and were blended into my own teaching.

The simple act of collaborating, sharing, remixing, and resharing is a huge shift from when I started my career.  I remember colleagues who would only share their lesson plans or worksheets after placing a © in the footer with their name and the date and then would hand you a hard copy so you couldn’t change anything.  (Depending upon my relationship, I may or may not have let them know that if it was created for use in their classroom, it wasn’t their intellectual property, it belonged to the school district.)

OER has started to dismantle those boundaries.  The assumption is that we will share. No one believes that the lesson they share will be perfect for anyone else, but it is a great start for someone to launch from in creating something that works for their students. We start with the understanding that by reaching out beyond our classrooms, our schools, and our districts and contributing to the greater good, we can build something stronger. There are states that are creating curriculum materials and posting them on their websites so that anyone can access them.  Unlike in the days when you had a single program in your classroom, you can pull a wide variety of OER from all over the internet to inspire your lessons and teaching and to give your students more ways to access content.

There are a number of organizations trying to curate all of this work in order to give educators a one-stop-shopping experience.  So far, none have emerged as the perfect solution. I would like a GitHub for educators.  GitHub is an online version management space where programmers can find pieces of code (APIs) that they can download and use, either as-is or after modification.  The only rule is that if you make a change and improve the code in some way, that you load that modified version back up to GitHub for others to use.  What if we had that for educators?  I might upload my unit on graphing and someone else takes it and makes changes so that it better serves their students.  They then upload that modified version and educators now have two versions to choose from.  I might even start using the modified version because that educator saw something I didn’t.

When first talking with many teachers about accessing ideas and lessons online, many express concern that online lesson plans are often not of high quality.  In a GitHub-like environment, these would quickly sink to the bottom because they would rarely be downloaded or remixed.  Alternatively, you may see mediocre lesson ideas greatly improved by other users.  Either way, expanding our concept of collaboration beyond our current PLNs to include OER is an innovation that needs to take hold.

OER fits the definition of “new and better.”  The question is, how do we change the culture so that all educators become part of the process?