Open Source Curriculum

I know of people who are proud that they do not use a textbook and that they eschew all formal curriculum resources. I used to be one of those people but no longer.

If we define curriculum broadly as a collection of physical and digital resources that are used to support teachers with students in their classrooms, then every teacher has curriculum. The quality and quantity of that curriculum just vary.

A collection of resources found via Pinterest

 

The primary problem with a lack of access to curriculum is that every teacher in this situation is then left to invent their own resources to use with students. While I think many teachers are capable of doing this, almost no teachers actually have enough time to create really high quality resources for every lesson. I have been working on a set of interleaved, spaced, retrieval practice assignments aligned to our Algebra I curriculum and after a dozen or so days working on these assignments, I am about half-way done. These resources are for one small part of a collection of resources intended to support students across a year of Algebra I and are by no means perfect. How long do you think it would take a teacher to create all of the resources necessary to teach Algebra I? And why do we expect thousands of people who teach Algebra I to do so much duplicate work?

Further, almost all resources made benefit from additional eyes looking at them. About half the time when I share a resource via Twitter, someone finds some way of improving that resource. Here is an example of me sharing a collection of resources via Twitter and asking for feedback.

 

A few people who have used these resources have offered suggestions or found minor errors and we use that information to iterate on and improve the original collection of resources. If you can imagine this effort scaled up so that thousands of teachers are each iterating on and improving the same original set of curriculum resources, very quickly the diversity and quality of those resources would far outstrip what any individual teacher could create.

Here is an open-source content management system that has 23362 modules and 1642 themes each one representing many dozens of hours of work from individuals. As a collection, this project represents millions of hours of effort devoted to one project with the fruit of that labour available for free anyone who wants it. Where is the similar effort for curriculum?

Illustrative Mathematics and New Visions for Public Schools are creating curriculum licensed under a Creative Commons license but neither yet has a good mechanism that allows sharing of modifications of curriculum back to the greater community. I’m not even sure exactly what they would look like.

If you were designing a system to allow users to build curriculum collaboratively in the same way the open source software movement allows for thousands of people to collaborate on software, what would it look like? What would you want it to be able to do?

 

Here are some thoughts I have so far:

1. It would be nice if formatting of the resources was a consideration of the technology. We have our resources created in Google Docs, which allows for easy formatting and sharing but Google Docs is proprietary and given Google’s tendency to turn off services, even popular services, this could be problematic.
2. People need to be able to easily create their own copies of resources (or even branches of curriculum) and share them back to the community and these revisions should be easily visible for people looking at a particular resource. Benjamin suggests some additional detail around this idea here.
3. People should be able to comment on resources, either to share their experiences using a particular resource or to suggest modifications.
4. It would be nice if resources could have additional or supplemental resources added to them, like videos of a resource being used in a classroom or pictures of student work. Obviously this raises issues around student privacy which suggests that this community would need some agreed on rules of how student work is anonymized or scrubbed of identifying student information.

 

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6 Comments

  • Over the weekend I watched a webinar or two that showed up on my twitter feed for #OER. https://forum.rebus.community/ seems to be working towards this.
    I think the “ancillary materials” — the additional resources and things like the retrieval practice — are extremely important because that’s where things can be adapted.
    I’ll also be participating in “Power in Numbers” where we’ll be putting together what they’re calling “curriculum” for adult ed math OER but which I think (based on the contract I signed) will involve putting a few lessons together in a way for other teachers to easily use.
    I was contemplating on the bus ride in (4 inches of snow yesterday and 17 degrees this morning… bike’s staying in the garage…) that it is TIME to connect and create and collaborate, and I was trying to figure out who (at Parkland College) I should nudge and prod…

  • David Wees wrote:

    Susan,

    I like that you are bringing in the adult education perspective on this. Universities and community colleges have done a far better job than k-12 in producing open resources for their courses. I think the way these materials are shared generally makes sharing modifications back to the community pretty difficult unfortunately. So if you do end up creating OER resources, thinking about how to help others share what they have created based on your work seems like a critical aspect of building a community around those resources.

    David

  • Thank you David for this post and for the great NVPS resources! Many teachers are not using a book which can be fine if they have a pacing calendar.

    However, many s’s do not get to see all the content which they will need for end of year testing (esp in NY, Regents and state tests) as well as for the next school year’s Math content.

    Teachers (and families) can benefit from a list/resources of topics that will be covered during the year as well as test items at each grade level to make sure their s’s are on track.
    I was in a 9th grade classrm last wk that has covered less than 1/3 of the Common Core Algebra I content…exam is on June 12

  • David Wees wrote:

    Robin,

    I’m not sure what your comment has to do with open source curriculum, but I think we should be careful with pacing calendars. They are a guide not a rule. “Here’s how long I think this should take you to teach” rather than “This is exactly how long you need to take to teach this material.” The second statement can lead to teachers covering material but not paying attention to whether kids are actually learning it, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

    However, I could interpret your comment as a claim that an element of an open source repository is some suggestion around timing of materials, perhaps both at an individual lesson level and at a pacing-guide-level.

  • Will Dunn wrote:

    I’ve considered starting a blog recently, and this topic was to be my first post. I’m excited you beat me to it! Just this morning I made a note to write a brief article on it for our state’s trade organization- Kansas Association of Teachers of Mathematics.

    Some of these are exactly the questions I wanted to pose, most notably the primary question, “How do we collectively build a curriculum all can use?” Specifically, I had math teachers of Kansas in mind. It needs to be said that I’ve spent a lot of this year poring over your material for NVPS.

    I get that your post is about how to build a curriculum in an open environment with formatting concerns embedded in the technology itself, but that makes me wonder if you feel there is a need to write a curriculum at all (since you have already done so in NVPS).

    Also, I do not eschew textbooks AND formal curriculum materials. I do think textbooks can be ignored in lieu of material developed by the teachers. Is this your current thinking, or are you saying textbooks have a place now as well?

  • David Wees wrote:

    Will,

    Textbooks are a resource so sure, they should be included. Some textbooks are even already licensed appropriately to be usable as part of an open source curriculum movement. Most are not.

    A critical aspect of textbooks, for better or worse, is that they have strong suggestions on pacing and sequencing embedded within them. Personally, I think giving these kinds of suggestions is helpful, of course individual teachers should be free to modify both the pacing and sequencing of materials based on student need.

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