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March 2014 | Volume 71 | Number 6
Using Assessments Thoughtfully
Last year, our state, Minnesota, issued new social studies standards. One of the consequences of this change was that our school district could find no suitable textbooks that covered the new topics that were now required. At the same time, two initiatives were at work at the district level. First, our teaching and learning department began an effort to move teachers away from textbook-based curriculum content and toward standards-based instruction and assessment instead. And second, we began to pilot a 1:1 tablet program at the middle school level.
This perfect storm of change made it the right time to begin increasing our use of technology to design curriculum and to access instructional resources. We're therefore moving away from our traditional reliance on the textbook and toward providing more online teaching and learning materials through our content management system, Moodle.
Moodle is a free application that educators can use to create online learning sites. Because our teachers had gained familiarity with Moodle in some of their staff development activities, they easily learned the mechanics of setting up courses, organizing units, adding learning activities, and creating assessments. What was more complicated—and remains an ongoing challenge—was finding instructional resources to populate the courses. Although both our district and our state provide high-quality commercial materials (including e-books, full-text magazine indices, and educational videos), these were insufficient to meet teachers' course needs.
Happily, our teachers, librarians, and teaching and learning specialists have found a wealth of excellent materials through open educational resources, also known as OER (Marcinek, 2013). The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (n.d.), which has been working to spread the creation and use of open educational resources for more than 10 years, defines OER as
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 repurposing 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.
Where can teachers start learning about and finding open educational resources? Any Google search will turn up countless links, but here are a handful of places our teachers have found particularly helpful.
In addition, a November 2013 article on the Edutopia website, "Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup" includes an informative introductory video, "Why Open Education Matters" a discussion of some challenges; a list of blogs about open educational resources; and links to open lesson plans and activities.
The term curation has become a popular way to describe the process of selecting, maintaining, and making accessible repositories of useful materials. Effective curation requires the ability to locate materials, to evaluate them for quality and appropriateness, and to consider what reading levels and information formats a collection of materials should include to facilitate effective differentiated instruction (Achieve, 2013). In our district, school librarians are the experts in finding and evaluating open educational resources—and helping teachers learn to do so as well.
If all this sounds like a lot of work—it is. That's why school leaders need to structure the development of online textbooks and online courseware as a collaborative effort. At a basic level, schools can help by creating core sets of materials for specific courses or grade levels, which individual teachers can then customize and use. We've found that one effective strategy is to pull together small teams of teachers and assign them to develop such sets of materials for specific units of instruction.
Good digital curriculum materials can and should be much more than just regular textbooks available in PDF format. The growing wealth of open educational resources and the ability to organize them through content management systems makes the standard textbook look positively obsolete.
Achieve (2013). Open education resources: OER evaluation rubrics. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://achieve.org/oer-rubrics
Marcinek, A. (2013, November 4). 6 open educational resources [blog post]. Retrieved from Edutopia's Education Trends blog at www.edutopia.org/blog/open-educational-resources-andrew-marcinek
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (n.d.). Open educational resources. Menlo Park, CA: Author. Retrieved from www.hewlett.org/programs/education/open-educational-resources
Doug Johnson is director of media and technology at Mankato Area Public Schools, Mankato, Minnesota. He is the author of The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2012). He blogs at the Blue Skunk Blog.
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