We Need to Prepare Teachers for New Digital Roles with Open Education

According to a recent PBS study of digital learning, K-12 educators overwhelmingly turn to the Internet to find supplemental content. About nine in 10 of the more than 1,500 teachers surveyed in the 2015 Future of Digital Learning Survey say they find digital learning materials through Web searches, free education websites and online digital libraries, and video sites like YouTube. Teachers also say these readily available materials are sufficient for their needs: More than three quarters of teachers say they have the content they need to support teaching and learning in their classrooms.

The same study indicates that teachers recognize that new technology and the availability of new resources will also change their roles in the classroom. The majority say they expect to focus more on teaching with technology, and will require new skills in using online tools to serve their students.

As professionals, teachers especially require new understanding, training, coaching, and support for better integrating and sharing digital and open learning content. They don’t just need a few hours of how-to instruction but deep, meaningful professional development that helps them become content adapters and curriculum curators.

However, one of the biggest hurdles is helping teachers make the shift from being a consumer of educational resources, to one in which they regularly adapt and curate resources for their own needs and make these tools available to others.

To do this, teachers need to experiment within new social environments, wikis, and other tools unfamiliar to them in order to learn to curate content by adding tags and other metadata to organize materials to make them more discoverable and usable by others.

We are seeing some progress in making this happen. A number of states that we have been working with at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, are deeply engaged in supporting shared teacher expertise and peer-based learning through open educational resources and practice.

Teachers working with ISKME are using OER Commons —  a comprehensive digital public library of more than 100,000 curated open educational resources — to align the content to standards, evaluate their quality, and share them freely with other teachers online. Networks of teachers in a number of states are using OER Commons to create state digital libraries tied to their own standards that are then also available for use across states.
For example, ISKME offered a teacher leadership network in Minnesota to work in partnership with five key agencies — including state higher education groups and the state’s department of education — to gather OER materials and align them to the state’s standards.

With state support, New Hampshire school librarians have taken on instructional leadership roles using OER. ISKME is helping teachers and school librarians create their own STEM open educational resources to share with educators across New Hampshire and in other states.

Hawaii has specific groups working to curate material in English language arts, math, STEM, ELL, and in alignment with Common Core standards. Groups of curriculum specialists working with the Hawaii Department of Education are using open content to evaluate and organize materials using a taxonomy that aligns with the state’s priorities for subject areas and learning progressions. This is part of the state’s effort to build its own collection of OER that it will share with its schools.

This is a good start to provide even more high quality content to teachers to implement college- and career-ready standards. But we need to provide more professional development and training to unleash the power of open educational resources in schools nationwide.

That is one of the reasons I am optimistic about a new campaign that holds real promise for supporting teachers in 21st century schools. It is called TeachStrong, and comes from a coalition of 50 influential policy organizations determined to make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top education policy issue of 2016 and beyond.

The campaign rests upon the belief that creating systems to attract and retain great teachers is the key to establishing an excellent and equitable education system and ensuring success for all students.

The coalition believes that all students, especially those from low-income families, deserve to be taught by great teachers. To accomplish this goal, the coalition believes that the United States must invest in and develop policies that better recruit, prepare, support, and compensate teachers through all stages of their careers.

TeachStrong has nine policy principles that rest on changing the way education does business. It boils down to creating a system that strengthens teacher preparation and recruitment, and retention, but also pays careful attention to designing professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement. Equally important, TeachStrong advocates for establishing career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.

We have found teachers are hungry to use OER to improve their practice. Despite the promise, most states have yet to fully tap into OER or the capacity of classroom teachers to put open education content to use to transform teaching and learning. With campaigns like TeachStrong, we can go so much further to give teachers the support they need for 21st century schools and make sure our national leaders hear the message.

Blog Post from Lisa Petrides

February 29, 2016