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13 States Kick Off Open Education Resources Initiatives

The U.S. Education Department is helping lead the charge at the state and district level to shift to openly licensed educational resources.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. — State leaders across the country are sending the message that they will support schools that adopt openly-licensed educational resources.

The U.S. Education Department announced 13 state commitments to advance open education resources (OER) at a #GoOpen Exchange event on Friday, Feb. 26 hosted just outside of San Rafael. With OER, educators pull learning materials from a variety of sources at no cost and can mash them up in their classrooms to help students learn.

“When we started, there was no guidance, no support for doing this,” said Joseph South, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Department of Technology. “#GoOpen states make open education resources the center of their state’s strategy.”

The 13 #GoOpen states are:

  1. Arizona
  2. Georgia
  3. Indiana
  4. Maryland
  5. Michigan
  6. North Carolina
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Oregon
  9. Rhode Island
  10. Utah
  11. Vermont
  12. Virginia
  13. Wisconsin
Along with these states, 31 school districts pledged to replace at least one textbook with OER material in the next year. Nine other ambassador districts — districts that already have taken steps toward implementing OER — will mentor them through the process of transitioning to OER resources.

One such district is Missouri’s North Kansas City Schools. Sean Nash, the district’s online learning coordinator, said North Kansas City’s OER implementation was driven by budget constraints during the 2014/2015 school year. Instead of continuing traditional content models, he said, they “looked at a way to do it better, to co-create a system with teachers, where teachers would co-create and vet content.”

Interest in OER drove the district to ask a number of questions, including: “Can we do this? Would this product steer us in a direction we want to go? Are we seeing instructional dividends from this?” he said. “That’s a key question for us.”

Now that the district is using OER, teachers say they won’t go back to the traditional model, Nash said. “This is the new normal.”

Cara Bosler, a sixth-grade science teacher for North Kansas City Schools, shared with her peers what she’s experienced with OERs thus far. “I’ve seen firsthand how this has changed teaching and learning; we feel empowered … this is something done by us not to us, so to speak,” she said of educational tools teachers co-create and curate.

As for student impact, Bosler noted she’s seen a more interactive approach. “It creates ownership for students using open educational resources and digital tools,” she said. “The best thing is the fluid nature. We need something that’s changing with the world that is changing around them.”

The U.S. Department of Education has been investing in OER efforts since September when its Office of Educational Technology hired Andrew P. Marcinek as the first open education adviser. Marcinek launched the #GoOpen campaign and hashtag within a month of starting his new job and has been leading efforts to increase OER adoption in schools.

If more school districts start using these resources, they could potentially save money on expensive textbooks, provide more current information to students and modify resources to meet their needs. But in reality, it takes time to sift through all the resources out there to find quality content. The 13 #GoOpen states have committed to helping districts tackle this challenge, and a number of nonprofit associations and for-profit companies are providing resources to help them.

Acting Secretary of Education John B. King joined the event via Google Hangout, and noted that the U.S. Department of Education thinks that states and districts are leading the way in this movement.

“This is not just a technical solution but requires a cultural change,” he said. “We must make sure parents know what to expect and we’ve got to work to shift students’ expectations. … This is not just a way to save money, but to continually improve opportunities for students.”

Disclosure: The Center for Digital Education is working with Inquiry Schools and ISTE to create a digital content and curriculum guide for districts to follow as part of the #GoOpen campaign.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:40 p.m.on Feb. 26 to include information and quotes from the #GoOpen Exchange event in Marin County.