In a small, mountainous Asian village with no electricity, amongst a curious group of middle schoolers, Kim Jones carefully revealed an iPad she had brought along on her trip. For nearly all of the students present, it was their first exposure to such technology, and their reactions said it all: “They went crazy! I pulled up several examples from the Curriki website [a nonprofit providing free learning resources to the world] and they could not believe so much was available,” she says. “They were thrilled.” Around the globe, in poor and developing countries students are unable to get books due to lack of resources, and teachers do not have access to the latest in ‘for fee’ online curriculum. Even in the U.S., the cost of commercial textbooks and teaching materials has become prohibitive for local school districts. “It’s clear that the cost structure of education must change, and that technology must be leveraged more effectively in the classroom to deliver better outcomes for more students,” says Kim, who is Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of Curriki. Kim was formerly an executive for Sun Microsystems for more than two decades where her duties included serving as VP of Global Education, Government and Healthcare. During her leadership, Curriki was incubated in an open education development forum known as the Global Education and Learning Community. Under the vision of former Sun Microsystems CEO and co-founder Scott McNealy, Kim made Curriki a nonprofit. “In developed countries like the UK and America, we spend about $100K per child, while in developing countries less than $400 is spent on a child over his or her lifetime,” Kim says. “The potential impact of the work Curriki is doing could make the same quality educational experience available globally for all children.” Here, Kim talks about the origins of Curriki, why textbooks don’t do the job, what she learned while visiting a small country nestled between India and China, and what she thinks is the key to human progress.
Kim: Curriki is a play on the words ‘curriculum’ and ‘wiki.’ Think of it like a wikipedia for education. We want to make learning possible for anyone, anywhere in the world.
Victor: What is it? Who created it?
Kim: Curriki is the most popular K-12 global community for creating, sharing and finding open learning resources that improve teacher effectiveness and student outcomes. Curriki brings the best of digital life to education via open source, affordable and peer-reviewed content and collaboration tools that are used by teachers, students, parents and developers globally. Curriki was founded in 2004 when I was an executive at Sun Microsystems, a pioneer in open technologies. At the time, I was working within the Global Education and Learning Community business unit. It was clear that so much money was being spent on textbooks, which required that students be taught in a specific way. I realized that digital technologies would allow us to personalize the learning experience so that students could learn at their own pace and have instant access to the latest information. I co-founded Curriki with then-CEO Scott McNealy, and it became an independent nonprofit organization in 2006. Curriki originated from the idea that technology can play a crucial role in breaking down the barriers of the Education Divide – the gap between those who have access to high-quality education and those who do not. We believe knowledge should not be proprietary.
Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?
Kim: Curriki directly addresses these challenges faced in our schools today:
- Reduce costs by allowing teachers to share and access an ever growing library of free content—easing the budget burdens of buying textbooks or subscriptions to online content services.
- Textbooks don’t do the job. Teachers have long been aware that the traditional textbook does not meet their students’ needs given the diverse learning styles, challenges, attention spans, and interests. Curriki’s learning resources range from project-based lessons and workbooks to interactive games and videos to suit every student’s needs.
- Most digital materials require a subscription and prohibit modifications or redistribution, and materials that are free do not allow for modification or remixing. Curriki encourages the collaboration of diverse teacher experiences from around the world to develop “best of breed” learning resources and to create a culture of continuous improvement.
Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?
Kim: Curriki is the largest global learning community, with 7 million users worldwide, where you can find more than 45,000 free learning assets, ranging from lesson plans, videos, and worksheets to multimedia activities and courses. All of the OERs (Open Educational Resources) have been created and contributed by educators, curriculum designers, curriculum partners, and school districts. They are “mashable,” which means that teachers can select resources (e.g., lesson plans, videos, animations, photos, etc.), tweak them, or combine them with other resources to generate their own custom teaching tools. And many OERs have already been mapped to standards—both Common Core and state standards.
Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?
Kim: Simply visit www.curriki.org and browse our collections and resources.
Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?
Kim: This is the best part – it’s completely free. We encourage you to join today: www.curriki.org
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Kim: Teachers tell us they are improving student results by using new and different resources that were not previously available to them. Here are a few examples: “Being able to browse through Curriki has allowed me to bring effective lessons and teaching ideas into the classroom when my brain is too exhausted to develop them on my own. This has made Curriki an invaluable resource that I use on a daily basis. First, Curriki provides a virtual collaboration forum. Second, by providing strong ideas, Curriki has allowed me to tailor lessons to meet the specific needs of my students. Curriki has increased my effectiveness and creative capacities as a classroom teacher.”
David Der Sarkisian, teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School, NY
“We are using Curriki in San Jose Unified School District to maximize the impact of individual teachers’ lessons, ideas and teaching resources. Curriki has been a wonderful partner in these efforts and we look forward to expanding our program to continue enhancing teaching and learning across our district.”
Felicia Wells, teacher, San Jose Unified School District
“I can research Curriki and find the exact worksheet or resource that an individual child needs. When your children are as diverse as mine [Special Ed], it is timesaving and beneficial to look at your site first.”
L. Olson, Special Ed teacher, Hanover
“I am principal of a primary division at an international school in India. I have shared Curriki with my faculty so they can turn to it to help make their lessons more interesting, more interactive, more currently topical… Curriki is a most wonderful tool to help teachers who don’t have access to professional development, who have been trained with provincial resources, to open their world, and the world of their students. I love Curriki.”
Sarah C., a teacher working in India
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Kim: The Curriki community consists primarily of teachers, parents, students, and administrators from 194 countries. However, anyone who is interested in education and lifelong learning is welcome to join.
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Kim: We need to make systemic changes to the education system. We need to lower the cost of delivering education – we spend $7 Billion to $12 Billion in the U.S. alone on textbooks and supplementary materials! At Curriki, we believe education is the key to human progress and that teaching is among the most important professions for civilization. As a community, we’re creating new and better resources, by compiling classroom-tested, peer-reviewed, “best of” ideas from educators around the world – and not just from a single textbook.
Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Curriki?
Kim: Although I ended up being “successful” in school and graduated from UCSD with honors, I always had a hard time concentrating as a child when I was in school. I had an active mind and it was hard, particularly in elementary school and middle school, to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher lecture. I often caught myself thinking about other things. When I got to high school, I happened to have two fairly progressive teachers who assigned work that allowed students to move at their own pace. They would combine lectures with projects and real-life experiences. I found myself very engaged and moving quickly through the curricula at my own pace. By the time I left for university, I had grown to really enjoy learning! I started working in the technology field when I graduated from college and soon started thinking about how technology could potentially be used to really change education. I knew it had the potential as a tool to reinvent the education process – to make content interactive, allow students to move at their own pace, and make learning available anytime, anywhere. In running the Global Education and Research Line of Business for Sun Microsystems, I worked with many universities and schools and continued to see the opportunity expand. It was during this time that Scott [McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems] and I had a meeting with a number of Ministries of Education from around the world, who were in need to quality content and resources. That was the inception of Curriki.
Victor: How does Curriki address some of your concerns about education?
Kim: The goal of Curriki is to make a high-quality education universally available. When assessing the quality of life of an individual, or the economic condition of a nation, one fact stands out – education makes a measurable and positive difference. Improving educational opportunities improves a country’s economy and the lives of its people.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Kim: I believe that Open Educational Resources (OERs) will become the future standard so that we can bring personalized teaching and learning to the classroom. It’s the combination ofonline education + digital OER + mobile devices + etextbooks that is driving the transformation from the “assembly line factory model” of education into a new model where the emphasis is on understanding and critical thinking skills.
Kim: Two years ago, I visited the village of Gangtey in Bhutan, which is a small country nestled between China and India. While I was there, I attended a sixth grade social studies class. Some of these children live in the mountains and walk nearly 2 hours one-way to attend school! There is no electricity in the schools, which is typical in this part of Bhutan. Not surprisingly, there are no computers in Gangtey, and in fact there are no Internet cafes here so most of the children are very sheltered from the rest of the world. I showed the students my iPad and they went crazy! I pulled up several examples from the Curriki website and they could not believe so much was available! They were thrilled. The Bhutanese government has a plan to bring electricity to this valley and its villages in the next year. Hopefully, Internet access and Curriki will soon be available to everyone in Gangtey, as well as to other remote locations so that everyone can benefit from free, high-quality educational resources.
Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Curriki?
Kim: Not all children are alike. Not all children learn the same way. Technology is certainly not the answer in and of itself, but it can definitely be an excellent tool in enabling the transformation of education. With the right access to different kinds of educational resources that fit different learning styles – for example, video games or other visual media – we can allow children to learn at their own pace using various learning methods that meet their individual needs. Teachers will be the coaches to help students find the right learning paths, and the right tools and digital content. We have a wonderful opportunity to customize education for students everywhere and to provide the education they need to shape their futures.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. To enter the EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to: [email protected]