November 7, 2021: The Power and Potential of Open Education Resources

Another blog prompt, another anecdote to start us off…

The first class I took in my graduate studies was the research methods course. In this course, we were tasked with writing a hypothetical literature review on any topic of our choosing. After much deliberation, I decided to write my review on teacher collaboration and the impact it has on student achievement. At the time, I was working in a collaborative situation with two other teachers. This would have been my third (ish) year teaching, while my co-teachers had about 10 or more years under their belt. Up until this point, I hopped from temporary contract to temporary contract and was a new teacher. I felt so lost on my teaching journey and was constantly wondering, “Am I doing this right…?” I was unsure and could not figure out how people have lives beyond teaching, as I was learning just how demanding this career can be. Eventually, I landed a permanent contract and was told I will be working alongside two other teachers. The concept intrigued me, but was also terrifying. “What ifs” flooded my thoughts, “What if we don’t get along? What if they think I am the worst teacher? What if…”. In the end, it was the best possible thing that will ever happen to me, career-wise. Nysa and Nicole not only embraced my ideas, but I learned so much from them. In a lot of ways, they saved me from eventually burning out from teaching. They became my mentors and friends. In addition, they’ve been an integral part of my master’s program. They somehow always end up getting involved and it’s the best– check out my EC&I 832 Major Project for proof! Since we are in different places on our teaching journeys, after my second year working with them, they were moved to another school. I was sad to see them leave, but gained equally as awesome new co-teachers the following year, which was a blessing too. This year with all the shuffling throughout my school division, my situation is a little different, but my confidence and resource hub has significantly improved and I owe that to developing my own little network of teaching partners. Hence, my decision to write my literature review on teacher collaboration. Simply put, it was the resources and collaborative opportunities that allowed me to grow in a professional way that never would have been possible if I were completely left to my own devices. Although this happened “in person”, lately, I’ve been imagining the possibilities by harnessing digital technologies…

During this the research process for my literature review, I actually stumbled across a variety of articles that discussed the value of Web 2.0 technologies, which I discussed in my paper. I was also introduced to open education resources (OER) and contemplated incorporating this into my literature review as well. However, I was struggling to really understand the concept and wasn’t comfortable including it in my paper. In class last week, Alec mentioned some terms that I recall from my research on this topic that I was grappling with two years ago: copyright, copyleft, open education resources (OER), and massive open online courses (MOOCS). Needless to say, I was looking forward to exploring these concepts further!

My Context: Impacts of the Culture of Sharing and Open Education Resources

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation define OERs as, “high quality teaching, learning, and research resources that are free for others to use and re-purpose. OER presented an extraordinary opportunity for increasing access to education, sharing knowledge, fostering instructional innovation, and supporting personalized learning” (p. i). In addition, they highlight the materials provided by school divisions do not always meet student needs and constrain the teacher’s ability to adapt these resources. This was something that I could relate to. Paper copies of textbooks cannot be easily adapted by teachers. In addition to this issue, more often than not, textbooks always seem to go missing and there is never enough to go around. ISTE explains that unlike proprietary resources (such as textbooks), OERs can be updated and remixed to improve their quality, ultimately benefitting the students we teach. ISTE highlights the benefits of incorporating OERs:

  • Empowered Teachers
  • Expanded Access to High Quality Materials
  • Reinvested Funds
  • Collaborative Culture

Empowered Teachers & Collaborative Culture

I almost feel like these two benefits could be clumped together. As you could probably tell from the above anecdote, collaboration and working as a team was an empowering experience for me. It not only boosted my confidence, but I became a better teacher knowing that I had a support system behind the educational decisions I was making. In addition, I believe it is important to recognize teaching as an art or craft that has been refined over years of experience. ISTE notes that when using OERs it allows teachers flexibility and the opportunity to evaluate which OERs will benefit the unique needs of their students, rather than being pigeon holed into strictly using proprietary resources. As we all are, I am a big fan of Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). I completely understand teachers attaching a fee to their hard work of developing resources for (generally speaking) reasonable prices and for their work to be copyrighted. After grappling with the idea of open access, I’ve began to wonder about the potential of removing the cost associated with these resources and allowing other teachers to remix and share the content that is already out there. I know of some teachers who have actually quit classroom teaching and have made TPT their main source of income. This group of people would most likely oppose this idea, but I do believe that it could lead to some pretty amazing resources and positive outcomes for students. The more people with access, the better these resources can become. The ISTE article I’ve been referring to also highlights that if schools are to make a transition to using OER materials, this would be difficult to do in isolation. I find this ironic because the whole premise of OERs is to collaborate, but to even learn how to maximize the use of them also requires collaboration!

Shared in Alec Couros’ EC&I 831 Course on November 2, 2021.

Alec shared a quote from Eric S. Raymond that resonated with me when it comes to developing and sharing information. Essentially, it isn’t about what you get, but about what you give.

Expanded Access to High Quality Materials & Reinvested Funds

ISTE also highlights that by using OERs teachers have access to materials that better meet student needs by being culturally diverse and representing students from all walks of life. In addition, these well-thought out and inclusive resources can reach larger populations if they are open-licensed and have permit-free distribution. I also want to extend this a step beyond OERs being created by educational professionals. I was inspired by Larry Lessig’s TedTalk and I appreciated that he made note of the value of amateurs engaging in read-write culture. I think it is important to bear in mind that people who may not be professionals can still make meaningful contributions purely because they are interested and find enjoyment in engaging with that particular content, not for monetary gain. Lastly, OERs are free. This means that school division budgets can be allocated elsewhere. The cost of one textbook in a school can be expensive… Then, multiply that by enough for a whole class. By using OERs and less proprietary material, large amounts of time and money can be saved

It is important to mention that I don’t believe all proprietary materials are bad. However, I do believe that OERs offer a lot of potential. As educators, we should be looking more seriously into these resources, as this can bring about more accessible learning opportunities to serve our students well.

Well. I wasn’t planning on spending four hours watching Larry Lessig’s speech on Aaron Swartz or the documentary, The Internet’s Own Boy. I figured a half hour each would give me lots to write about. However, once I started I couldn’t stop. I was so captivated and moved by the scope and breadth of the accomplishments Aaron Swartz had achieved by age 26, but I was also overcome with sadness by his tragic and unjust death. In previous classes with Alec, we’ve discussed the story of Aaron Swartz, so I did have some background knowledge. However, I decided to take a deep dive into this story because as devastating as it is, I think there is much to learn from this tragedy.

In my opinion, the world wasn’t ready for Aaron. I had watched The Internet’s Own Boy and I was blown away by the possibilities he recognized at a whopping 12 years of age. Before Wikipedia existed, he had already began embracing the collaborative potential associated with the internet through his creation of The Info Base. As a matter of fact, Tim Berners-Lee called him a connector and noted that he was part of the culture movement. All of this, before he was even 15.

Aaron’s brother noted that he found school boring because he could just learn whatever he needed on the internet by himself. This statement made me reflect on a conversation that I have every year with my students. They are shocked to find that I make mistakes and that I don’t know everything there is to ever know. As flattering as this assumption is, I am just as much of a student as they are. This conversation reflects an antiquated way of thinking that teachers, schools, and books are the only places where knowledge can be found. With the worldwide web being an integral part of our world, we can learn from others and connect with people so easily. I think we often take for granted the fact that the worldwide web was created for all people to use, free of charge. Without Tim Berners-Lee making his creation free for all to access, we wouldn’t have exposure to the wealth of knowledge we have at our fingertips or only those who could afford access would be granted it.

After watching the documentary on Aaron Swartz, the thing that frustrates me the most about his case was that he wasn’t doing any harm and this could have been handled differently. He was simply fighting for open access rights to allow knowledge to be shared by all. Gabriella Coleman explained that there are tons of hackers out there that are causing people harm that require the FBI’s attention. Aaron’s case never should have landed in the hands of the criminal justice system. He was being made an example simply because the government could, which is disturbing and unjust. The prosecutors were trying to prove that what he did was harmful. However, his fight for open access rights to scholarly articles led to 15 year old Jack Andraka developing a quick test that can detect pancreatic cancer. I believe that all of this boils down to providing equal access to knowledge. It can change the world because you never know whose hands this knowledge is going to land in. This documentary also highlighted that it was old copyright law (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) from 1986 that ultimately led to Aaron’s demise. His case, a contemporary issue where Web 2.0 technologies are ubiquitous, was being judged with outdated laws to determine the trajectory of this man’s life.

I have shared this quote before on my blog, but it is one of my favourites and very relevant to this current post…

A piece of knowledge, unlike a piece of physical property, can be shared by large groups of people without making anybody poorer.

Aaron Swartz

When I first started my post-secondary studies at the University of Regina in 2011, I was fresh out of high school, and quite frankly, didn’t have a clue about anything. I didn’t recognize the privilege it is to be able to attend school, let alone post-secondary and to have access to all kinds of knowledge. Aaron’s story highlights that knowledge is power, but that it is also reserved for certain kinds of people. Larry Lessig explains in his speech that current systems reinforce the notion that knowledge is for the elite and as for the rest of the world, not so much. In addition, he shares a tweet from Carl Malamud that highlights the financial gauntlet associated with gaining access to scholarly information. I found this tweet frustrating because you can buy a hardcover book for $20.00. Larry mentioned something that surprised me. It isn’t the authors of these scholarly articles or even JSTOR that is the issue necessarily… It’s the publishers of these pieces. There aren’t many authors out there that wouldn’t want their work widely distributed, free for all to engage with and JSTOR does not facilitate the pricing of journals on their database. For example, when the pandemic first hit, teachers were scrambling trying to find ways to make their instruction accessible online. Curtis mentioned that his school had posted a read aloud on their website, with permission from the author. I was shocked to find out that even with permission from the author, it means very little if the publishers own the copyright. I found myself in a similar situation as Curtis. In March of 2020, I was reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau to my students and they were loving it. I was hoping to keep this novel study going strong and debated about getting in touch with the author, however, I see now that wouldn’t have protected me. I lucked out and a colleague of mine mentioned that Random House, the publisher of the book, was providing open access for their books to be read online. In order to do this, the YouTube link needed to be unlisted and sent to their email to keep a record of these read alouds. This made me think of one of the slides Alec showed in class (see below), mainly the, “Who controls knowledge” piece. From what I’ve been seeing, it is the people or companies who have some kind of financial investment.

Shared in Alec Couros’ EC&I 831 Course on November 2, 2021.

Furthermore, Larry explains that Aaron did not have an issue with copyright. He had an issue with “dumb” copyright. This is where Creative Commons comes in and brought Larry and Aaron together. Essentially, the goal of Creative Commons is to encourage the sharing of knowledge by giving the proper attribution. As Larry explained in The Internet’s Own Boy, this makes the shift from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved.” There are various licenses to choose from and I found it incredibly user-friendly. This resource is a great way to use content generated by people and spread creativity, all while remaining within the legal framework.

In Larry’s TedTalk, he highlights the difference between re-creating and piracy. There is a difference between taking the content generated by someone else and distributing it without permission of the copyright owner and re-creating other people’s content to say something in a different way using digital technology. I appreciate that he highlights previous generations were part of the “read culture”, where participant creation was seemingly obsolete. Kids today are different because they have access to tools that allow them to not only read content, but to produce and/or remix what is already out there. Although this concept seems new, Larry makes an excellent point; television and film producers have been taking and re-creating content that already existed for years. The difference today is that this ability has been democratized.

It is now anybody with access to a $1 500 computer who can take sounds and images from the culture around us and use it to say things differently. These tools of creativity have become tools of speech.

Larry Lessig

Kids have become masters at creating/remixing content and sharing it with others. Technology has enabled this creativity and provided opportunities that previous generations did not have. Instead of making these actions illegal, Larry explains that we need a change in mindset when it comes to creating content:

  • Artists and creators need to choose to make their work more freely available. For example, saying their work is not available for commercial use, but is for non-commercial purposes.
  • Businesses need to embrace read-write culture.

I suppose my point is that we are better together. The realm of possibilities are endless when we open up our work for others to remix, give feedback, or engage with in some way. To a certain degree, we need to abandon our egos and this notion of knowledge being my property. As I conclude, I leave you with this:

  • What are some of your favourite education OERs? TPT is my go to, but I would like to explore other options!
  • What have your experiences been with collaborating with other teachers? Do you find collaboration is more effective in person or online?
  • Did anyone else watch The Internet’s Own Boy? I was quite moved by how ahead of the times Aaron was at such a young age. What were your thoughts?

Thanks for taking a read!

Until next time,

Leigh

5 thoughts on “November 7, 2021: The Power and Potential of Open Education Resources

  1. Dear Leigh. Great, informative blog post about Open Education Resources. You provided a comprehensive overview of Alex’s stimulating lecture. No doubt OERs are a fabulous resource for teachers to use, remix or modify to create materials that enhance learning . This approach is indeed collaborative. I also agree with you that given tools and technology, our students can accelerate their learning while creatively remixing.
    As a M.Ed. student I have had the opportunity to collaborate with other students both in person and online. Collaborating on a project is very challenging because it takes time to build trust, define roles and responsibilities and manage the various skills of the team. Because I am more or less a novice in using digital tools, collaborating on-line to create a presentation or video stresses me. My skill in using the tools and techniques is usually below theirs and I need to work hard to contribute. I’ve always learned something from the other team mates and feel proud of my contributions and growth in online collaboration. I am so impressed with the ability of younger teachers like you, Leigh, to remix online resources. Brenda Ives

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Brenda! By the way, I think you’re doing amazing! You’ve completely embraced the technological challenges this class has presented and I find that so inspiring. I think building trust is a huge thing with collaboration as well. Sometimes doing that in a digital setting can complicate the process or make things feel a little impersonal. However, since the pandemic, I’ve become more comfortable getting to know people through Zoom chats and collaborating with them. It definitely takes some getting used to!

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  2. I think collaboration can be done online or in person. I guess it really just depends on what you are doing and the compatibility aspect of the person you are working with. When you feel valued and that you belong, and are equal, it’s easy to collaborate and to share ideas. If you feel taken advantage of, it’s quite the opposite. So I’m not sure that it makes a difference online or in person, and in fact sometimes when we collaborate in person we are also working online on our computers.

    I also think the following sites are really helpful:

    https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/socstud/5to8.html

    https://www.readwritethink.org/

    https://www.commonsensemedia.org/homepage

    https://www.dcp.edu.gov.on.ca/en/curriculum/elementary-mathematics/resources

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  3. Kelly,

    Thank you for sharing some resources– really appreciate it! I love Common Sense Media!

    I agree! I thought I would absolutely despise completing classes online and working with others virtually on projects, but I’ve actually been loving it! Although I miss being in person for many things, my perspective has changed when it comes to collaborating in a virtual setting!

    Like

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