Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Educators as Content Publishers

As a company, we have been learning about, working with, and promoting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) for a while now. So when we heard that the Intermediate Unit and school districts in our hometown are starting to explore the potential of OER, we got very excited. Based on our internal learning experiences, we knew that educators would have questions about how and when to use them, why they should use them, and where to find them...and we are ready to answer those questions. 

But it’s always the question that you’re not quite prepared for that generates the best discussion. I recently attended a summit on Open Educational Resources hosted by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU3) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as part of Remake Learning Days 2016. The focus was to introduce educators in our area to the OER movement and to spark innovation among the participants. The speakers included Eric Westendorf, CEO of LearnZillion, Hetav Sanghavi from CK-12, and Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer of Rhode Island and former Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education. Each of them encouraged collaboration and group discussions throughout their presentations.

One particularly interesting group discussion prompted participants to envision themselves as the publishers of the instructional content that their students used on a daily basis. As we thought about this angle -- educators as content publishers -- a teacher within our group spoke up. She said that she had never thought of herself as a publisher. For her, the term “publisher” was an intimidating concept. She didn’t have the skill set to publish content for a large textbook company or publishing house. How could she ever be considered a publisher of instructional content?

Her question made me pause for a moment. As I said, it’s the question that you’re not quite prepared for that sparks the best discussion. She didn’t consider herself to be a publisher, and I’m willing to bet that many other educators feel the same way. How could they ever be on the same level as textbook companies and publishing houses? These are organizations that make billions of dollars creating and publishing instructional materials for students all over the world. They must know this better than we do. What I said to her is exactly what I want to share with you:

You know your students better than anyone. You know their needs. You know their likes, their dislikes, their learning preferences, their study habits. You are more qualified than any textbook company or publishing house out there to create, share, and modify any instructional materials for your students.

It might seem like a scary concept at first. I doubt that many of us think of ourselves as authors and publishers, myself included. But we are the experts, not only in our content areas, but also in the development and engagement of our students. We know what they need, when they need it, and how to deliver it to them. We don’t need to rely on mass-produced materials to drive our instructional methods, especially when we can create better ones that can actually reach our students and grab their attention.

The beauty of the OER movement is in its simplicity. You know your students and their needs best. Therefore, you should be the one driving the instruction in your learning environment with materials that are worthy of your expectations. Represent your students, show what you know, and begin thinking of yourself as a publisher of instructional content. Trust in your own abilities to reach your students and provide them with exactly what they need. Don’t hide behind the scary what-ifs, I-can’ts, or any other doubts. Instead, step into the spotlight as a content creator and publisher.

It takes a lot of courage to stand up and push yourself out of your comfort zone, to have a voice louder than the boxed curriculum and textbook companies that seem so intimidating, but you can do it. Yes, you! After all, I’ve never considered myself an author before, and here I am.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Preparing Teachers for 21st-Century Learning

By Laurel Tokarczyk

Whether in elementary, secondary, or college classrooms, many teachers have begun using open educational resources (OER) as an integral part of day-to-day learning. However, just as no two students are the same, neither are any two teachers. The problem with OER is that although the concept of freely accessible, openly licensed resources has been around since 2002, different states, districts, schools, and teachers have transitioned to using them at different rates, or potentially not at all. The margin is wide. Many schools, such as the Open High School of Utah, for example, operate by utilizing a curriculum that consists 90% of OER. The school’s founder, David Wiley, explained that content is delivered completely online and made available to students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Utilizing personalized learning to the fullest, schools like the Open High School of Utah are pioneers in the technological shift in education. While this and similar institutions are well established and functioning effectively, not all schools are advancing at the same pace.

According to a data report in The Journal, paper notebooks are very much a thing of the past, and school-provided technology is available at more and more institutions. The report findings show that in 2014, 33 percent of all high-school students used school-issued mobile devices. Additionally, 66 percent of middle- and high-school students had access to a laptop, and an average of 56% of both groups had access to tablets. Largely, this technology is providing the majority of students in these age brackets with the ability to access information through online portals, however much lower percentages of students are using this technology to read online textbooks or watch teacher-created videos.

Since it is likely that these percentages have increased since the publication of the data report, the following question naturally arises: How are teachers being developed to use educational technology in a way that best supports a student’s ability to learn?

Many factors contribute to the answer to this question, the first of which being whether or not teachers are comfortable with technology in general and the technology that different schools have adopted in particular. It is suggested in an article from Education World, “Encouraging Teacher Technology,” that teachers may be hesitant to use technology because of “a lack of time, a lack of resources, or a lack of confidence in their ability to use the available technology.” Many traditional teachers may adopt the mindset of “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” However, this philosophy only serves to create a wider and wider gap between a district’s goal to implement technology and actually bringing the goal to fruition.

Assuming that teachers have begun utilizing technology, determining exactly how to do so can quickly produce a new barrier. The struggle to find ideal OER to use in the classroom was once an issue because of the limited number of resources available, and while this issue should phase itself out as more and more resources become available, the struggle then morphs into a new issue: OER can be overwhelming. College of the Redwoods Director Geoff Cain acknowledged that a volume issue exists when faculty members search for resources. Oftentimes, it is overwhelming to sort through the large number of resources available on a single topic, while it’s even more frustrating to find so few that relate to other skills.

In a perfect world, when a teacher identifies a gap that a new resource could fill, the creation of a new resource could solve the problem. This is part of the core mission of #GoOpen, but why are there still gaps? In a recent post by the Center for Digital Education, it is recognized that many faculty members still don’t know about Open Education or OER. It’s as though these resources are spreading around the globe like an elongated version of the telephone game. So how do we, as an educational community, translate the message to the masses? The answer is simple -- do what we do best: teach.

Professional Development (PD) sessions are a solution to help educators all over the globe by meeting them where their current skills and expertise reside, and helping to carry them toward the next generation: 21st-century learning. Not only can well-structured PD help instructors with distinguishing OER from non-OER, but it can also develop their ability to create their own OER and the confidence to do so. We all know that OER allow educators to “remix, revise, reuse, redistribute, and retain” content, but knowing how and when to do that unlocks the true potential for OER, in and outside of the classroom.

Professional Development sessions can be delivered through many different forms of instruction, ranging from a very general training session, to fully online webinars, to hands-on collaborative efforts. But what is most effective? In an extensive handbook by Learning Forward, research suggests that online sessions are less effective than face-to-face sessions, because educators are limited to working and learning alone instead of being a crucial part of a collaborative effort that promotes each individual to learn from the experiences and ideas of others. But the ability to scale the delivery of PD and allow for asynchronous access to the information secures a place for online content in OER PD programs. And as much as how, frequency also plays a substantial role in the success of a Professional Development effort. Multiple on-site workshop sessions, supported by online access to resources and follow-up activities, are the key to successfully developing the professionals responsible for implementing next-generation learning. Teachers are ready and eager to learn -- are you ready to deliver?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Welcome to the Copyright Jungle

by William Taylor

The movement toward going open is spreading like wildfire among the education community, but the challenge of navigating through the jungle of copyright law can quickly dampen that enthusiasm.
This image is in the public domain.

Teachers know how valuable it is to have access to the plethora of knowledge that truly links the minds of educators across the globe. They also know how important it is to share this vast highway of resources with students in brick-and-mortar classrooms, as well as on the Web. The high-quality materials produced by those institutions that have adopted #GoOpen tactics are readily available on the Internet, and all that teachers need to do is simply click into a search bar and find something relevant -- right? Well, let’s just say there is a little more to navigating copyright law than that. Before we enter a seemingly unbounded world of knowledge, it’s important to dissect the little details that make Open Educational Resources (OERs) “open” resources.

Free and Open are NOT the Same

It’s important to note that free and open are two very different things. You might think to yourself, “I was able to find it digitally, online, without paying; it must be open.” However, that is one of the most common misconceptions associated with OERs.

For example, while sites like YouTube house millions of videos that can be viewed by anyone on the Web, the majority of these videos lack any sort of licensing information, or just utilize a Standard YouTube License. For any resource with this specific license, it is essentially an “All rights reserved” license that is non-derivative.

In basic terms, it prevents many of the 5 R’s associated with OERs. Opencontent.org defines OERs as “open content” that “provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities: Retaining, Reusing, Revising, Remixing, and Redistributing content.” (Side note: YouTube has enabled users in recent years to add a Creative Commons license (CC BY) to uploaded work, which DOES enable those specific works to be used openly.)

Confused by Copyright?

If you’re searching the Web to distinguish between what is open and what isn’t, you’ll likely find a lot of overly complicated explanations that leave you feeling more bewildered than when you started. Simply put, the “openness” of a resource depends on its license. The most straightforward way to share information is to submit it into the public domain. All resources in the public domain can be used in any way, however you wish, commercially or non-commercially, fully or in part.

There is a degree of differentiation between the public domain and Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons uses 4 elements to create licenses. They are described on the Creative Commons site as follows:

All of our licenses require that users provide attribution (BY) to the creator when the material is used and shared. Some licensors choose the BY license, which requires attribution to the creator as the only condition to reuse of the material. The other five licenses combine BY with one or more of three additional license elements: NonCommercial (NC), which prohibits commercial use of the material; NoDerivatives (ND), which prohibits the sharing of adaptations of the material; and ShareAlike (SA), which requires adaptations of the material be released under the same license.

Image created by Kamil Sliwowski, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Want an easy way to remember what is and isn’t an OER? Anything that is labeled as “ND” or “Non-Derivative” is NOT an OER. Non-Derivative licenses are the most restrictive, and clearly disregard the “5 R’s.”

Think about it this way: Bands and artists remake preexisting songs all the time. If the original song had a non-derivative license, then the artist who remade the song into a similar but not identical version would have violated that license. In that case, the artist may allow others to share his or her version, but not remake it into something else. Relating this example to education, the original song could be used for educational purposes, but a teacher would be unable to make any changes to or adaptations of the original version.

The CC specifics can be a bit confusing, but the overall idea behind all of the detailed licenses is to be able to share information, resources, and knowledge. Sounds like a great thing, right? When you take away all of the bells and whistles, it’s pretty simple: Creative Commons licensing enables people to share their work in a way that is clearly labeled, and allows others to understand what they can do with it.

As a community, we’ve come a long way in making sure that education is open and available to all people, but there is still a long way to go. Fully understanding what OERs are, and equally, what they aren’t, will help to grow the number of outstanding resources out there, as well as the number of instructors who are utilizing them. It will help to prevent misconceptions associated with risks involved when making work open, and will ideally eliminate all instances of openwashing, or misrepresenting resources as being open, as myths are combated with facts. Plus, it will give teachers peace of mind about using content without infringing on a copyright. Understanding what makes OERs “open” is the key to surviving in the wilderness of mysterious resources and lurking licenses.


William "Bill" Taylor is the CEO of Spider Learning, Inc.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Involved in Open Education Week

by Abby Johnson

Just as no two students are the same, neither are the resources necessary to connect with those individuals. Resources are changing, growing, and adapting with technology. 

Gone are the days of pen and paper. Now educators can access videos, images, simulations, and anything else you can think of! With these new resources, we’re reaching students in a whole new way, and with the spread of Open Educational Resources (OERs), we’re connecting to educators around the world, creating a larger, stronger educational community. 
Like any healthy community, we need to have community events to get together to discuss our needs, our goals, and our plans for the future. It’s important to get involved with big events that help to promote our community, and the next big event is right around the corner: Open Education Week, March 7-11, 2016. Sponsored by the Open Education Consortium, Open Education Week invites the education community to gather, discuss, and share ideas to create a world where all students can learn.

Still not sure why Open Education is important? Check out Creative Commons' challenge to ask people around the world to help explain it. The first-place video highlights the dangers of a world without Open Education, where even the most motivated student will struggle when stifled by outdated information and staggering education costs. By not attending our education community block party, we’re neglecting our neighbors, closing our doors, and shuttering our windows, and nobody wants to be that neighbor. Instead, embrace this opportunity! In fact, getting involved is easier than tracking down Aunt Mary for her closely guarded potato salad recipe.

Simply attending the event is a great way to start! Mark your calendars for the week-long event and celebrate with the U.S. Department of Education, Creative Commons, top universities, and many other community members. With in-person and online events, there’s no reason to miss out on this massive idea-sharing event. Learn how OERs apply to your life, your district, and your students, and also figure out how you begin sharing your own OERs with Creative Commons Licensing.

We’ll be there, too! Mark your calendars for March 7 at 1 p.m. EST to hang out with our CEO, Bill Taylor, and chat about finding, sharing, and using OERs to Weave Your Web of Resources. No covered dish needed, just join us here.

Open Education Week is the event to share what you know as an educator, get involved in conversations with some neighbors around the world, and break down the barriers that students are facing on a daily basis.


Abby Johnson is a Subject Matter Expert at Spider Learning, Inc.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Weave Your Web of Open Educational Resources

by William Taylor

Open Educational Resources (OERs) have been recognized as one option for solving the challenges of today’s educators. In many schools, teachers struggle to work around funding issues, low student engagement, and providing individualized learning pathways without the proper tools. OERs offer solutions to these problems by providing teachers with the opportunity to reach beyond what’s provided within their classrooms.

With the number of open-source textbooks growing, through the efforts of Connexions, ck-12, and others, schools now can build their classrooms around numerous digital textbooks designed to be used as needed. Additionally, these online alternatives can be aligned to state standards in order to ensure quality information is being presented to students. The results of these actions are staggering. According to a 2013 study conducted by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative solved the nearly $19 million gap in the budget. In 2015, Columbia Gorge Community College reported saving students over $35,000 in textbook costs in just two years after implementing an OER program. With budget cuts and funding issues always threatening educators’ classrooms, OERs offer a way to put effective, powerful resources in educators’ hands.

Educators using OERs also report increased levels of student engagement and retention. Nearly 70% of educators in an OER Research Survey reported an increase in learner engagement, interest, and satisfaction. Tidewater Community College in Virginia saw higher retention rates and lower student withdrawals after utilizing OERs. The diversity of OERs, coupled with the accessibility of these resources, leads to students accessing classroom information in new ways and forms.

In addition to listed perks, OERs create new opportunities for personalized learning pathways. With formats including videos, images, and interactive elements, teachers are now able to incorporate high-quality resources into traditional teaching strategies. This culmination of diverse media elements serves to accommodate individual learners' needs, provide remediation as necessary, and also connect students with more challenging information when applicable. Platforms, such as Khan Academy, now create a personalized experience for students based upon their performance, tracking student data and offering additional open resources in order to support students. With more options for differentiated instruction, educators can quickly adapt materials in order to reach students based upon academic performance, learning styles, and disabilities.

Shockingly however, according to the Hewlett Foundation in 2013, only 40% of K-12 educators in the United States are using OERs as supplemental materials. With the advantages of OERs being so clear, why aren’t more educators utilizing them? Solving the mystery of OERs requires work in three categories: identifying high-quality, vetted OERs; implementing OERs in the classroom; and collecting informative and actionable student data.

Here are three steps educators can take to take advantage of OERs.

Identify engaging, relevant, and appropriate OERs

With unlimited resources constantly within reach, the challenge is finding ways to find the right OERs. In addition to using well-known sources, such as Wikimedia Commons, thousands of reputable OER repositories exist. The Learning Registry, which was created by the U.S. Department of Education, provides educators with one to search over 380,000 resources. Additionally, OpenEd, ck-12, and Connexions all work to provide open textbooks and resources for educators to use as standalone or supplemental material.

When searching for OERs, educators need to ensure they are selecting appropriate resources that are closely tied to their objectives, accessible for all students, and available for use. With Creative Commons licensing, copyright navigation is more transparent than ever before, protecting educators from illegal use of resources.

Deliver OERs to meet your instructional model’s needs

OERs can be implemented in any type of instructional model -- flipped classrooms, traditional classrooms, blended programs, and online coursework. The implementation will differ based upon the model in order to ensure the effectiveness of the OER implementation. Depending upon the lesson and the OER, the resource may work best as remediation material, as a prerequisite to instructional time, as independent work, or even as a standalone lesson. Educators can make these decisions based upon their understanding of their students, but they also face the challenge of finding a way to deliver the material.

Delivery platforms go beyond acting as a resource repository, serving as a space where the teacher can get the OERs in front of their students. Gooru, Zaption, and Fishtree offer educators a space to curate OERs, modify content when allowed, and build lessons around the resources.

Collect data, reflect, and implement change

In addition to implementing OERs, educators need to be cognizant of the information they can learn from using OERs in their classrooms. Data analytics can provide valuable insights into student performance and engagement, and as a result, educators can make reactionary changes in their classrooms. Educators need to create plans to decide how to collect data and what data they actually want to collect. Additionally, this data should highlight the clear actions educators need to take in order to adjust their teaching strategies, implementation techniques, and plans for students.

With the challenges of today’s educators remaining a permanent obstacle for the foreseeable future, OERs shine as solutions for navigating budget issues, increasing student engagement, and differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students.

Learn more about OERs:

Featured in Getting Smart Feb 20, 2016.


William "Bill" Taylor is the CEO of Spider Learning, Inc.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why is #openeducationwk such a BIG Deal in the World of Education?

by Laurel Tokarczyk

It’s a time to explore, a time to learn, a time to share. Open Education Week, coordinated by the Global Network for Open Education, embraces the idea of openly sharing education and educational resources among all educators. In technical terms, we’re talking about Open Educational Resources (OER). If you strip away all that education aims to accomplish, the bare-bones concept entails sharing ideas and information as a method for teaching and learning. Sharing is anything but a new concept, so why should the experience be limited to the student-teacher relationship? Educators are not alone, and sharing educational resources among individuals all around the world in the education community embodies the goal of Open Education Week.

The beautiful thing about education is that it’s truly unbounded. Concepts are not finite; there are many different ways to explore a skill, idea, or piece of knowledge. Learning limits exist only when the vast world of educational resources is inaccessible -- but that is very much a thing of the past. As technology only becomes better and better, so does education. The Internet offers a limitless, and now well-organized, collection of open educational resources that cannot only be accessed, but also modified, fine-tuned, and even collaborated on. The key term in the Open Education movement is “Open” -- and the goal for educators, when exploring the thousands and thousands of available resources, is how to best weave them into a workable web for students.

Just as no two students are the same, neither are the resources necessary to connect with those individuals. The ability to access a vast repository of videos, images, formative assessments, presentations, graphics, simulations, and just about anything you can think of opens the door for being able to reach every individual student, and to build a community within a curriculum.

In order to build a community within a curriculum, it’s important to first establish a community outside of it. Open Education Week strives to establish just that, with events taking place both on-site and online. Participants can get involved in several different ways. Video submissions, resources, self-hosted events, online discussions, and educational webinars are just a few methods for you -- yes, you -- to take part in Open Education Week. Want to see who’s on the agenda to present? There are just a few things you need to know. All of the action will be taking place March 7-11, online and just about everywhere around the globe! Events will cover a wide array of topics, all centered around OER and the #GoOpen initiative, a campaign created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology “to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials.”

Open Education Week will feature webinars by more than 20 not-for-profit and for-profit organizations and universities through the Open Education Week website (http://www.openeducationweek.org/). Spider Learning, Inc., is eager to take part in the discussion by hosting an online webinar, “Weave Your OER Web,” which will be held Monday, March 7, 2016, at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Bill Taylor, the CEO of Spider Learning, Inc., will discuss how OER can be implemented in a classroom setting, how they can be harvested from a variety of sources, and how they can be altered and used by others through Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons, a nonprofit that encourages the legal sharing of creative work through transparent licenses and language, will also be hosting an online webinar Monday. “An Introduction to: Creative Commons, Open Educational Resources & Open Policies” will be presented by Dr. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons. Dr. Green will discuss new OER projects and examples of how the open licensing of resources has helped in the effort to deliver a higher education as a basic human right.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education will present “OET Tech Tuesday: Planning your #GoOpen Strategy.” A panel of school district leaders who have transitioned to OER will discuss their experiences developing #GoOpen strategies and how the use of OER has impacted their school districts.

Other webinar presenters include the Open Commons Consortium, the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education, and California State University.

Where would the world be without learning? In the words of George Washington Carver, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” It is in the philosophy of Open Education that the freedom to utilize knowledge is the key to education. Freedom and education are at our fingertips, and the ultimate goal is to understand how to attain them.

Don’t forget: Join us Monday, March 7 at 1 p.m. EST for the “Weave Your OER Web” seminar. Join us here. See you then!


Laurel Tokarczyk is a Quality Analyst at Spider Learning, Inc.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Finding OERs

by Abby Johnson
The world is shrinking. Not literally, but our ability to connect with people around the globe is never more than just a few clicks away. Let’s embrace our roles as educational pioneers in this frontier. With recent developments of Open Educational Resources (OERs), teachers are warmly invited to bring the world into their classrooms. Educators can instantly collaborate to meet the same goal: provide a powerful learning experience. After all, why not connect with Mrs. Jones, who is already doing this across the globe, and together weave a web of resources designed to catch students’ attention and guide them through the learning process?
OERs exploded in the twenty-first century. Suddenly, a student in Detroit could see a lesson built by a teacher in London. Education became a world restricted only by the imagination. Now, more than ever, high-quality OERs become available every day.
The trick is finding the right resources and getting them in front of your students. Luckily, it’s never been easier.

Here are four awesome resources to get you started.


Free forever, Gooru takes a unique approach on OERs by having users gather and share Gooru collections, which are playlists of resources that can be turned into standalone lessons or used as supplemental material. Collections created by Gooru users consist of Web pages, online activities, and videos, among other resources, all aligned to national standards. Additionally, collections can host interactive questions and assessment elements to check for student comprehension along the way. This way, teachers can create material for students to work through at their own pace. The site does require teachers to sign up in order to create collections, but teachers and students can view any existing collections without accounts. If teachers do create courses and have students log in, they receive analytical data about student progress; they can use this data to support and respond to individual or group needs. Gooru is a great way to organize independent projects, lessons, and supplemental class materials.

Pros: Linking multiple resources; many collections

Con: Limited tools to provide direct instruction


An adaptive online learning platform, Fishtree provides an innovative and comprehensive opportunity in the world of OER implementation. The platform does require a subscription, but it allows teachers to both find relevant OERs and immediately get them in front of students. Teachers can create lessons tailored to their students’ needs. Fishtree stores OERs from more than 20 trusted publishers (including Khan Academy, Youtube Education, and Wikipedia) and aligns these resources to lesson material and content standards. The resources are organized by keyword, grade level, and "Learning DNA" tags to provide the most relevant, appropriate content for each student. Fishtree’s platform is easy to use, and its automatic resource generation dramatically cuts down teacher search time. The platform can be used to create standalone lessons or to find supplemental materials. Additionally, Fishtree offers real-time data about students as they work through the lessons, questions, and resources, and the system tracks the effectiveness of each resource as it is shared with students. As a result, teachers are able to remediate and challenge as needed without waiting for data to become available.

Pros: Automatic generation; customizable; student data

Con: Requires paid subscription


Zaption specializes in engaging video lessons that can be modified by teachers after creating a free account. Zaption pulls videos from YouTube, Vimeo, and Zaption users and allows interactive questions to be embedded throughout videos. With a free account, Zaption provides teachers with the tools to make OER media personalized around their own content, making clear connections to reach students while using the teachers’ individual voices. Teachers can link video clips, create interactive questions and aspects, and build an engaging lesson around OERs, and then share a link or push the content to a group of students. Additionally, the videos can be imported into many Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as BlackBoard, Moodle, and Schoology. Pro accounts feature additional access to analytical information and more account controls. With videos being uploaded all the time, Zaption has new content every day that teachers can use as standalone lessons or supplemental material to reinforce key concepts.

Pros: Many resources; interactive and customizable

Con: Search tools in Gallery could be improved

Learning Registry

Created by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Defense, the Learning Registry features more than 380,000 OERs gathered into one easy-to-use database. This free platform invites publishers, developers, and educators to share a space where content is gathered and distributed. The Learning Registry allows quick searches by topic, subject area, and standards. It includes articles, interactive elements, and more. Once a teacher finds a great resource, he or she can incorporate it into a classroom lesson.

Pros: Easy search; resource variety

Con: Broken links; no delivery system

OERs can act as standalone lessons or supplemental material, depending on the resource. Just remember: the OER should reinforce and promote student learning. These are just a few sources to get you started. Need help finding some more? Have questions? Let us know!

Until then, happy hunting!


Abby Johnson is a Subject Matter Expert at Spider Learning, Inc.

Why Quality K-12 Online Education Is Important

by Abby Johnson
Sing it from the rooftop -- tradition prevails! Why fix something that isn’t broken? What crazy trend is happening now in education? If you’ve found yourself uttering these thoughts, you’re not alone. Education is changing... for the better! Educators need to be ready to keep up with the changes in order to best prepare their students for the ever-advancing world around us. Quality online education is no longer something we can associate with space-travel, hoverboards, and cloning -- as a thing of the future. In fact, we’ve tackled all of those things already; we’ve been to the moon; hoverboards have been invented; and have you met Dolly? The future is now, and by embracing it, we can push students to achieve things greater than we ever imagined and teach them what they need to know to grow potatoes on Mars.

First, though, let’s break down what online learning actually involves. Typically, this type of learning environment involves a student learning through technology. Rather than sitting in large lecture halls, students are encouraged to learn through self-discovery, with the teacher acting as a learning guide and mentor throughout the process. This independent new generation can finally stretch their learning muscles as they work asynchronously through courses, meeting with teachers as needed. However, supports can be put in place to ensure every student succeeds, and synchronous, regular online classroom meetings can serve to provide a more directed educational experience.

Also, let’s look at how many kids we’re actually talking about here. According to a National Center for Education Statistics survey, 11% of undergraduate students were exclusively enrolled in distance-learning courses, with the graduate numbers nearly twice that! Additionally, 14% of all undergraduate students and 8% of graduate students were involved with at least one distance-learning course. Total, that’s over a quarter of all higher-education students involved in distance learning, and these numbers are expected to keep growing!

Now, what about the quality of these e-learning courses? How do they stack up against traditional education? The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has answers for that, too. After evaluating more than a thousand studies and compiling the results into one report, the DOE found that students who participated in online courses outperformed students learning the same material in a traditional face-to-face environment. However, the online instruction does not simply guarantee success. The DOE report also noted that students taught in a blended learning environment had the highest scores. This isn’t too surprising, though; we all know education requires a recipe of strong ingredients to ensure success: a blended learning model, teacher time and dedication, quality curriculum, and applied pedagogy.

What about after students are out of the classroom? How is all of this blended learning preparing them for the “real world”; how will it make them successful in their careers? A 2015 Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans telecommute to work. Students can take the skills learned through independent study, technological integration, and the blended classroom model and apply them to new opportunities across various fields.

Let’s slow down for a moment, though. It’s clear that online education is solving our future problems, but what about some of the challenges that educators are facing in their classrooms already? How is a blended-learning classroom or distance learning helping to address subpar curricula and low student engagement? Let’s break it down together.

Due to budget constraints, textbooks can often be outdated or even irrelevant. Instead of acting as a primary resource for a course, this old, dog-eared, torn-paged paperweight can be found holding up a wobbly desk or collecting dust in a storage room. Does this scenario sound familiar? Or, for the classrooms where the textbook is up to date, does the sharing system sound familiar? Instead of every student having his or her own copy of the material, students have to work from a class set or have the teacher waiting in long lines at the copier. Online learning solves these problems by creating a curriculum that’s accurate, focused, and adaptable. Furthermore, brick-and-mortar classrooms can reap the benefits of this online community. Instead of relying solely on bound textbooks, these teachers can turn to the world of Open Educational Resources (OERs) and begin pulling these high-quality, trusted resources into their lesson materials.
Online learning is also tackling the issue of low student engagement. Long gone are the days of simply watching video lectures. Instead, these courses are turning to games, puzzles, and interactive simulations to enhance the learning experience. Are your students learning about space? Why not have them complete a space exploration simulation, filled with audio from real missions? Additionally, by having students engage with the material in new ways, educators are challenging them to really process and apply important learning concepts. If the space unit continues, why not turn to some footage of astronaut training? This will make a far, far away concept come to life for your students. Additionally, online learning materials are designed to incorporate interactive formative assessments in these resources. Think of an entertaining video that has pop up text boxes throughout, prompting students to consider different points and answer questions as they go along.
Online learning is changing the way we think about education; it’s challenging educators to take control of their lesson plans and create relevant, engaging material for students. Technology itself cannot support an entire generation of learners; instead, it requires the help of dedicated teachers who want to prepare their students for what lies ahead. This preparation can begin today, as we begin opening our classrooms to the world around us and take learning beyond the four walls of a traditional brick-and-mortar school.


Abby Johnson is a Subject Matter Expert at Spider Learning, Inc.