Open educational resources

How do we support teachers in using OER? How should we share this content?

“The biggest challenge is that too many people still define curriculum by their texts – they buy a curriculum,” said Andrew Chlup, director of application programming and support in Alaska’s Anchorage School District. “Every one of those is a closed ecosystem by default. You’re not allowed to modify or share. Either a district itself starts to promote the Creative Commons, or you start tapping into the amazing resources out there, and it gives people the opportunity to grab it and let you personalize it.”

“I don’t think you should force people to do things,” said Alice Keeler, a Google Certified Teacher and the author of the book 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. “We should be concerned about quality. It’s great that [OER] are out there and free, but do we ask that the teachers wade through things that are not high-quality? There has to be an effective way to rate that, and crowdsourcing is not necessarily an effective way to do things. How do we have administrators and teacher teams look at the resources in a way that they’re not wasting their time?”

“I think there has to be a balance,” Chlup said. “Are you expecting people to go into it blindly and recreate things from scratch?”

A slow approach to OER integration is one option, Honeycutt said, suggesting that teachers take their least-favorite lesson to teach and make it more exciting by integrating OER, and build their OER repository lesson by lesson. “Take it one at a time, and more organically replace lessons with more effective models.”

IT management and instructional leadership

What’s the best model for managing IT? How should IT look in a school district? How can CTOs become instructional leaders?

“It really depends on how big your district is and what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Brad Waid, an educator and educational futurist. “Do you need a liaison between IT and teachers? What are your goals? Don’t create jobs just to create them.”

“It’s very difficult to be the expert in everything,” Bearden said. “I made friends and found mentors, and I learned from them. For CTOs, find that person in the district who is willing to bring you up to speed in the areas where you’re not strong. That struggle between traditional IT operations and the needs of the school–there’s always a tension there. Sometimes you go against traditional IT best practices to help teachers and students. The role of IT has changed tremendously and we need to be cognizant of that.”

Identifying what IT actions or initiatives will best support the district’s educational mission is a good start, too.

“Focus on what’s really important, and give feedback,” Keeler said. “What really gets down to the heart of the business of education? What’s really going to make some of those big differences?”

Transitioning from “fixing things” to focusing on instructional goals

Taking small IT items off a to-do list, or outsourcing those, can help free up IT staff to focus on larger or broader tech initiatives that support educational goals, Honeycutt said.

“Stop doing Level 1 tech support,” he said. “No more learned helplessness. Empower people to [troubleshoot their own IT problems] and take some small stuff off your plate.”

Hiring can make all the difference, too. “It’s important as IT leaders that we recognize what our strengths are, go out and hire people who are good at things we aren’t, and that we’re not intimidated by that,” Bearden said. “It makes your job easier.”

Makerspaces, fab labs, virtual reality, and 3D technologies: Are these things important in helping students learn, and should CTOs be helping teachers with these technologies?

“Yes, it’s important, but the tools will always change,” Waid said, noting that focusing on supporting teachers is more important than focusing on the actual technologies. “Kids in classrooms today will in the future have jobs we don’t even understand right now. Tools will continue to change, so what are the important things in learning? Being flexible, collaboration–the teachers will be the ones to make the difference, because they can make the connection between the tool and the student.”

“I don’t think you have to be experts,” Bearden said. “If you have people you can delegate being an expert to, I think of my role as being supportive of these initiatives. I’m not necessarily driving a particular initiative.”

What is needed from an IT director?

Communication and cooperation seemed to be the unanimous need, according to panelists.

“I need support from administrators saying it’s OK to fail,” Keeler said. “Teachers should give IT staff room to fail. I need a little more teamwork and understanding, and the room for both parties to try something and fail.”

“I don’t think the CTO has to have all the answers,” said David Malone, executive director of technology and innovation for the San Francisco Unified School District. “If you make this model where IT has all the answers, you won’t move forward. Let’s decide together, instead of one person trying to steer the ship.”

“I want a partnership,” Honeycutt said.

“You don’t have to have all the answers, but if I have buy-in, I’ll follow you. I’m always looking for good vision and leadership,” Waid said.

“Communication between the academic and the technology sides of the house is so critical,” Bearden said. “Anything we can do to improve communication and break down silos needs to be a really important focus for both sides.”

“I encourage everybody in partnership and building bridges,” Chlup said. “There is no ‘you’ and ‘I,’ it’s the ‘we’ that matters.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura