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the dangers of a world without Open Education, where even the most motivated student will struggle when stifled by outdated information and staggering education costs.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 ( 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.