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.

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