Touching Hearts, Not Keyboards

The challenges and opportunities of personalized instruction using OER.

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Wilhelm

CREDIT Knovation teacher imageTeachers are busy people. When they aren’t working with students, they are managing classroom materials and curriculum, grading assignments, interacting with parents, and engaging in professional development opportunities. As districts increasingly transition to using digital materials for instruction, educators have yet another item on their to-do list –sorting through online learning materials and organizing them into lesson plans that meet standards and address the diverse learning needs of their students.

With support from entities such as these, and technology that reduces the burden on teachers, curated, organized, and maintained OER is the key to unlocking the potential technology brings to personalizing instruction and getting every student to achieve his/her learning goals.

Digital content has the potential to increase engagement, broaden comprehension, provide opportunities for anywhere/anytime learning and personalize instruction – all this while saving districts money. But the vast amount of online resources available makes finding relevant and reliable materials a time-consuming process with high opportunity costs. In fact, a teacher spends an average of five hours a week looking through digital content to use in the classroom (The Learning Counsel, The 71 Characteristics of Digital Curriculum) – time that contributes to teacher burnout and distracts them from directly focusing and supporting each student in his/her specific needs. This issue hurts all parts involved: students, teachers and districts.

What if there was a way to take some work off of teachers’ plates by drastically cutting their search time to find relevant, aligned, comprehensive digital content to address different learning needs? Students would learn from high-quality, engaging materials, teacher burnout would decrease, and the teachers’ ability to do what they signed up for – impacting every kid in the best way they can – would increase.

The Beginnings of OER

Teachers recognized the potential benefits of digital resources long before district-wide digital conversions and White House-backed Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives took place. While recent efforts bring deserved attention to OER, they often don’t address the need for an efficient and consistent process to evaluate, organize, and maintain the millions of pieces of existing digital content.

In the early 2000’s, it became evident that a big part of instructional materials would move to the Internet, and some sort of curation process would be needed to manage the sheer volume. Over the years, organizations that took interest in digital materials have forged different paths to increase access to OER, and some have created platforms to better manage digital resources. Different approaches to harnessing OER in the early 21st century highlighted the need for a fine-tuned process for contextualizing, tagging and maintaining resources to effectively relieve the strain on teachers when personalizing instruction.

Searching for a Needle in a Haystack

The abundance of Open Educational Resources is both a blessing and a curse. Because digital instructional materials are plentiful, it becomes increasingly harder to find the appropriate ones. While many teachers have a good idea of what they are looking for, search results may return thousands of options. Selecting OER and trying to decipher quality among similar resources is like searching for a needle in a haystack. And the time spent searching and evaluating is time that could be better used working directly with students, helping each one of them learn and succeed.

Eighty-four percent of school districts expect that at least half of their instructional materials will be digitally-based within three years (The Learning Counsel, The 71 Characteristics of Digital Curriculum). Providing easy access to curated and maintained materials becomes key in maximizing the positive impact technology can have on teaching and learning. Ensuring that teachers do not spend valuable “student time” searching for reliable, engaging, standards-aligned resources is a much needed condition for the success of any digital transformation.

Finding a Solution

The effort to incorporate OER and free online content in K-12 instruction has been going on for years. Technology that provides teachers with quick access to instructional resources has come a long way.

OER is free by definition, but there are undeniable costs that take place when districts implement its usage on a larger scale – including teacher burnout, staff turnover, the risk of teachers using and sharing untrusted materials throughout the district, or the need for hiring additional staff to select, organize and maintain resources.

If teachers had access to a reliable, high-quality set of resources that were pre-selected and evaluated, tagged according to various criteria, aligned to standards, and maintained for relevancy, the time and effort required to find engaging content would significantly decrease – in the same proportion that the time and effort devoted to each student would significantly increase.

When done right, the benefits of using OER and free content vastly outweigh the costs.

Organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education have shown support for using OER. Last year, Andrew Marcinek was named the first OER advisor in the Office of Educational Technology, where he works to connect K-12 and higher education with educational resources. The U.S. Department of Education also champions this cause through its #GoOpen initiative, which shines a light on this movement and its benefits.

Additionally, the fourth annual Open Education Week took place in March and continues to grow as more teachers realize the potential in using OER.

With support from entities such as these, and technology that reduces the burden on teachers, curated, organized, and maintained OER is the key to unlocking the potential technology brings to personalizing instruction and getting every student to achieve his/her learning goals.

Embracing the Future of OER

Our mission to tame OER and free content to better serve all students began nearly two decades ago, and it continues today. I encourage districts to leverage the White House-backed initiative and to seek solutions that help teachers get back to doing what they do best – teaching – as opposed to spending valuable time and energy online, sorting through an overwhelming amount of resources. Touching hearts, not keyboards.

Randy Wilhelm is CEO and co-founder of Knovation, a pioneer and leader in helping schools and businesses tackle the challenges of OER curation, tagging, alignment and maintenance.


    Leave a Comment

    %d bloggers like this: