This morning I attended OER in K-12 Education hosted by Karen Fasimpaur. She began be answering the question, "What is OER?" She defined it as "materials, tools and media used for teaching and learning that are licensed for anyone to use, modify, and redistribute". She contends that OER is relavent to K-12 because it is a wise use of public funds and it gives educators the ability to use content in different formats. She explains that this allows a teacher to differentiate instruction because the same material can be taught using different level materials and in different formats. According to Fasimpaur, OER increases flexibility for teachers by allowing them access to varied content which can be tailored to meet their needs. She provided the link http://content.K12opened.com which can be used a a starting tool kit.
The remainder of the session was guest speakers from different schools throughout the country who are providing courses using OER. The first speaker was Jeff Mao from the Maine Department of Education. He disucssed the program in place in Maine that has provided each student with a laptop. He said the assumption is that each all students have access to a computer, and because of that access, materials are developed using the resources. I found this interesting. I think the assumption often is that students today have the access and ability to use computers. In my experience, this is a false assumption. While every student in my school has access during the day to technology, many do not have the same resources at home. This lack of resources certainly prevents them from taking part in OERs. Mr. Mao shared the website HippoCampus. http://www.hippocampus.org/ which offers free educational resources for middle, high school, and college students, and instructors. The site seems to offer a number of courses for many different levels.
The next speaker was DeLaina Tonks of Open High School of Utah. http://www.openhighschool.org/ She said that they, too, provide each student with a laptop, and advocates that OER allows for a tailor made curriulum. She said their courses are fully online, and their teachers are hired full-time. The staff is expected to have 4 hours of office time in which they would work with students answering their questions or helping them with content. The remaining 4 hours are to be used to "tweak" their content and curriculum. This "tweaking" seemed to be very important as the content seemed to change continually. Clearly there is no pulling the same test out of the file cabinet that you've been giving for the last 10 years. This constant changing of the materials and curriculum keeps the content relevant and current. She said that her students have an 80% pass rate which is higher than national statistics.
The final speaker was from the Montana Digital Academy. http://montanadigitalacademy.org/index.php He shared his program which relies heavily on Moodle, Joomla, and Wordpress. He said that his students spend 80+ hours a semester completing courses. Courses at this school run year round. The school states, "MTDA puts no limits on learning. Students can access coursework whenever and wherever they want. This way course conflicts are completely eliminated allowing more students to graduate on time".
The speakers were followed by a brief Q & A. One of the Q&A participants asked what the average prep time is for an instructor teaching an online course vs. a typical teacher in a brick and morter school. The response was that initially, a teacher of an online course will probably work much more than eight hours a day tweaking the course and looking for new materials and programs to integrate into their curriculum. The experts said that this levels off, much like it does with a traditional teacher. The consensus seemed to be that after awhile, the amount of time would not be any different between the two types of educators.
I found this session interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about cyber schools... which is what these places seem to be. I know that every year we have students leave our district to attend cyber school. I don't know the exact statistics, but I do know that many (the majority?) eventually return. Much like taking classes online, I don't think this type of environment is appropriate for every learner. I like that the option is available, and I enjoyed hearing about these three very successful programs.