When district leaders in Spokane Valley, Washington, sought to improve the social studies curriculum and support inquiry-based learning, they focused on making primary sources more readily available to teachers. That was the indirect route that led my district to embrace the use and dissemination of Open Educational Resources (OER), with librarians and teachers building and curating digital resources that have since been shared with states and school districts across the country.
From my own experience with Central Valley School District’s OER work as head librarian in Spokane Valley, I’ve seen that advancing OER curation and expansion can yield exponential benefits. Our practical experiences as a district, however, also make clear that adopting these resources requires careful planning in order to be successful. Among the lessons learned:
- Communicate that while OER materials are freely available, OER implementation is not free. There is a cost to providing time for teachers to curate materials and for the district or school to provide professional development to help teachers feel comfortable with OER. Without this commitment to training, there will be no consistency in implementation and the best efforts will likely fail.
- Build support for OER all the way up and down the district hierarchy. Because OER adoption involves changes in both curriculum and culture, successful efforts need buy-in throughout the central office (superintendent, subject-area and curriculum directors, staff development, and finance), as well as at the school level—principals and especially teachers. Librarians need to work methodically, focus on their role while informing others about what’s at stake for them, and understand how to work through the decision-making process.
- Surround yourself with teachers willing to explore new approaches. Enlisting a coalition of the willing—teachers who are flexible and have interest in enhancing their practice with new tools—can result in the best marketers for OER adoption. When other teachers see the early adopters’ students reaching high standards, they will approach their peers and ask, “What are you doing that that I am not doing?”
- In collaborating with teachers, take the attitude that no idea is off limits. Be willing to try anything—but make decisions about what will be used based on outcomes. Be clear that the big question that drives decision-making about the kind of resources to use is “what we want students to get at the end of lesson.”
- If your district has collective bargaining, work closely with unions. We were lucky enough to have three rounds of Washington State OER grants to support our work. All of the teachers and librarians working in pilot groups were compensated for their extra time—a potential issue in union contracts, which requires advance communication.
- Provide ongoing training and continuously expand curation to new subject areas and more classrooms. Rather than revamp the entire curriculum at once, start with specific subject areas and continually expand to more subjects over time.
- Pilot OER in classrooms and iteratively improve content and the curation process. Pilot groups can test content and establish feedback loops that integrate teacher reflections on how to best implement tools and materials toward improved student outcomes and satisfaction, with input from students themselves.
- Pay close attention to potential bias. OER resources are not the definitive word—they are living documents that can change and evolve. Those leading the work must recognize there always will be materials that will require correction, editing, and revision. They also will have to be mindful of unintentional bias in the selection of materials and work to ensure they are relevant to the students the district serves.
- Ensure materials are accessible to all students. It’s much easier to ensure that OER materials meet universal design for learning (UDL) standards and are accessible to atypical learners and students with disabilities during the curation process than to retroactively add accessibility features. Other strategies to ensure broad adoption of materials include establishing manuscript guidelines, which limit word counts, and building word banks into documents to ensure that students of varied ages and abilities are exposed to words and concepts with which they may not be familiar.
- Give yourself time to find resources that advance instructional purpose. There are billions of resources out there, and the identification of openly available resources is the most time-consuming part of curation.
These and other lessons are embedded in a new resource for librarians developed by the Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization, the Institution for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), the organization that manages OER Commons, in partnership with Florida State University’s School of Information. The resource is titled “The Role of School Librarians in OER Curation: A Framework to Guide Practice” and was supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. It is a first-of-its-kind guide that provides the missing roadmap to the OER curation process, and provides resources to help librarians upgrade their skills as curators and as leaders of collaborative networks that identify, rate, adapt, localize, and share OER across learning communities.
Author: Morgen Larsen
Morgen Larsen is head librarian at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley, Washington.