Since I’ve previously written about open source publishing and open access for scholarly resources, I thought it would be interesting to follow a thread discussing open source curricula in the K-12 arena. In an NYT article Ashlee Vance chronicles the slow adoption of open source resources explaining the trend as multi-faceted, and yet again, held up by the ridiculous preeminence of the California and Texas text approval processes.1 Since those processes are motivated purely by economic and political concerns rather than those having to do with sound pedagogical practices or the highest educational standards, the California and Texas systems have warped the publishing of educational materials for the worse. Nevertheless, publishers and powerful school boards are loathe to cede ground and open source adoption in the U.S. is moving at a snail’s pace. The other components working against rapid development and deployment are:
- A lack of funding for infrastructure and expertise,
- Traditional publishers who have a tight grip on this $8-15 billion/year industry,
- Few assessment tools to measure the effectiveness of open source materials
Curriki is a company committed to addressing these concerns and linking the constituencies that have something to offer: open source content developers (e.g., retired teachers who write curricula), teachers willing to try open source materials in their classes to meet state standards for NCLB, and assessment developers who can create metrics and KPIs that will compare the performance of students who have used open source versus proprietary resources to master subject material.
I support the open source movement because it provides access to materials for students who languish in classrooms that haven’t had the money for texts in the last 10-20 years. It allows for rapid innovation of materials and an exchange between professionals to create a quality pool of “best practices” and ready resources for teachers struggling to teach ever larger classes to perform on standardized evaluations. Whether the last goal is desirable, is entirely beside the point insofar as legislation mandates that schools meet standards or else. The reality on the ground is that teachers are compelled to guarantee AYP (adequate yearly progress) and are often saddled with dated, inadequate curricula and resources that haven’t kept up with standards in technology. Finally, K-12 open source delivers on one of the great promises of the Internet, to democratize knowledge.
The significance of opening access to quality resources cannot be understated. States with limited budgets are not upgrading hardware, software or text resources during this recession. Open source contributions provide a low-cost alternative with a constantly evolving pipeline of resources that can be accessed by anyone at any time. Organizing the material is another matter, but the situation also offers an advantage because instead of mandating lesson plans sequenced to the NCLB standards, teachers can exercise autonomy and tailor lesson plans/presentations to meet the needs of their students. While meeting NCLB standards and being creative should not be mutually exclusive, some low performing schools have been forced to adopt straightjacket approaches in order to satisfy policy makers, school boards, etc. Teachers can often assess the needs of their students in weeks, but the curricula they have access to is dated, ineffective, and full of unresponsive presentations via texts that are bloated and wordy. While some open source materials may share these undesirble attributes, the proliferation of open source resources should also provide lesson plans that are creative and engaging.
Finally, open source materials allow for the possibility of open exchange between educators and the organic establishment of new materials arising from a best practices, expert rated community. Materials submitted to Curriki are rated by professionals who teach the subjects in question. Teachers know what works; those who have extensive experience are often in a good position to evaluate the design of curricula and its possibilities for delivering on the educational objectives identified. Open source presentations can also be reverse engineered to specify pedagogic methods that either help/hinder student learning with the aim of refining the beneficial techniques.
For all of the above reasons and more, I say three cheers for open source.
1 For the full NYT article, see Vance, Ashlee. $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math. New York Times, Sunday Edition. 2 August 2010, accessed @ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/technology/01ping.html?ref=technology on 8/2/2010.