April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Impact of Open Content on Education | Tech Tidbits

The Open Content movement refers to new ways of thinking about and gaining access to information. As we embrace Open Content, we move away from traditional, copyrighted sources of information with strict rules for use, and towards a more open52114creativecommons access framework where we can not only freely access information, but share it and modify it for our unique purposes.

Open Content is governed by Creative Commons licenses which allow creators to make their work available to others to use, edit, and share, for non-commercial purposes. The best known example of Open Content is Wikipedia, a global experiment in information sharing, which encourages everyone on the planet to contribute their own knowledge. Other examples are Khan Academy and The Math Open Reference, free tutoring sites which are meant to be used and shared, but not edited like wikis.

Open Content also refers to the increasingly global phenomena of colleges and universities making their coursework freely available on the World Wide Web. This is of particular interest to the educational community in that teachers and students from all walks of life now have access to coursework from formidable institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and Oxford, which have previously been accessible to only those able to qualify for admittance.

The Open Content revolution is also expanding to the realm of textbooks and supplementary course materials for all levels of education. We Broken Textbookscurrently spend a ridiculous amount of money on textbooks in K-12 education and these books, due to their exorbitant price tag, must be kept for years before districts can afford to replace them.  This ensures that the information we are putting in students’ hands is invariably out-of-date. Through the open content system, districts begin with textbooks authored and edited by experts and then pay their best teachers to revise and edit the textbooks so that they meet the specific goals and standards of their district or state. The result is a textbook that is customized, cheaper, lighter, and open for yearly revisions and adaptations.  This bodes well for historically cash-strapped school districts, but will pose a challenge to the publishing companies so used to a captive audience for their publications.

But more than just textbooks are at issue when discussing open content for educators. There are a plethora of online resources available where teachers share and rate classroom materials. The Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons website offers thousands of educational resources, free to download. You can first filter by level, preschool through graduate level, and then by material type, including audio lectures, assessments, games, OERprimary sources, textbooks, and lesson plans, to name a few. Each item comes with its own usage agreement, ranging from “no strings attached” to “read the fine print.” A wide variety of formats are available as well, including audio files, braille, ebooks, graphics, videos, and more.

It will be interesting to see how the Open Content revolution changes education. The access to information is unprecedented in our history, and all that is required is a learner motivated to seek out the information. The role of educators will expand to include the necessity of carefully editing and curating information to ensure that teachers and students have the most reliable, factual, and current information possible.

Krista Brakhage is a teacher librarian at Poudre High School, Fort Collins CO.

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