A former school district Director of Technology muses on finding quality resources for educators.
GUEST COLUMN | by Zach Vander Veen
Find and create.
Much of an educator’s job requires finding quality resources for the task at hand. This may be lesson plans, an engaging video, or even a workflow for positive behavior supports.
Educators create resources. For some, starting from scratch is a central joy to the profession. Others iterate and build on those who’ve come before. Tweaking and adding to rich ideas builds a better mousetrap.
Locating greatness. Sometimes creative ideas are right in front of you. (Source: Dan Meyer’s “The Next Gen Lecturer” CC 4.0)
Creating relates to finding, as the quality of work an educator makes is often linked to the source materials consumed.
As both a teacher and as an administrator, I spent a good part of my day searching for materials, looking up applications, and evaluating frameworks.
And while the joy of discovery supplemented the frustration of taking so much time, one central idea remained: education markets are fractured.
A Messy Agora
Consider the state of finding education resources in 2019.
If in a rush, I’ll browse over to the website Teachers Pay Teachers. TpT features content I purchase or download for free. Quality control is two parts: Their review system and your own judgment.
Or perhaps I want to use Open Education Resources. OER Commons features a Wild West of resources grouped by hubs and individuals. OpenStax holds a library of open textbooks. CK-12 offers textbooks and courses.
Software and technology requires a different way of searching. There are the various app stores (limiting as most schools use laptops/Chromebooks). Google will soon release an “educator hub” that highlights education products. Schoology, WordPress, and Moodle have their repositories and stores of plugins and apps. For the nerdy who like to go to the source (literally), Github hosts projects that users can fork or install for their own needs.
Education resources are siloed by type. Class resources like handouts, curriculum maps, and textbooks live in one silo. Applications and technology management systems live in a separate silo. An emerging agreement on interoperability standards such as those defined by IMS Global make it more possible that the two silos can talk to each other. Yet in terms of discoverability, we see very little cross pollination.
Tying all this together is Google search. And given the normal usage pattern of folks, search results rarely go past the first page (not to mention gaming of the SEO system).
This is not ideal.
What would an ideal education market look like? If we want educators to find and create quality content, but do this in a manner that takes into account the varying complexities of every stakeholder in the school system, what would be core axioms for developing such a system?
Finding content, creating content, and sharing or selling content needs to be a frictionless process.
2. Use a Standard Schema
Standard schemas help translate all resource types and create machine readable opportunities.
Fortunately the non-profit schema.org provides a framework for defining core aspects of a resource.
For example: I’m a creator who wants to share a simple presentation about the US Declaration of Independence. I would display a schema using the popular json format:
Using a schema leads to the next core axiom.
3. Exist where the eyeballs exist
Educators and districts invest in different platforms and frameworks.
Some districts may use a simple school website for communicating instructional needs. Others might use a particular flavor of LMS such as Moodle or Schoology.
Some innovative districts might develop their own solution or invest in complicated student information systems. Either way, an ideal market should exist where stakeholders gather.
Plugging in. WordPress plugins appear in both the application and in diffused third-party locations.
Schools are flooded with data. It would be ideal for some level analysis of the data to be operating in the background in order to suggest content to achieve a goal.
For example, if a platform knew I taught U.S. History and my students struggled with the concept of popular sovereignty, the market would serve suggested resources for reteaching the lesson.
Of course, this would need to be handled with care and with transparency.
How might this happen?
Creating a truly functional market that hosts both open and commercial resources presents challenges. Eyeballs are the key. Ideally you would see collaboration with some of the big market vendors (Google, Pearson, etc,) to agree to such schema standards in their products. This would drive end users towards using the market.
As more vendors and consumers use the market or the schema of the market, this will lead to frictionless adoption and allow educators to find the best resources to fit their needs in educating students.
Zach Vander Veen is now co-founder and VP of Instruction at Abre Inc., a leading education management platform delivering connected apps designed for schools who use the web to manage information and to deliver instructional content. He’s been a history teacher, technology coach, and administrator. He is former Director of Technology for Hamilton City School District (Ohio). Learn about his work and thinking, and connect with Zach through: