Expanding open educational resources (OER) policies remained a modest, but tenaciously persistent education reform trend in 2012. Many innovation-minded federal and state leaders championed OER, including calling for and securing new OER investments at the elementary, secondary and post-secondaryz levels.
In addition, increased media attention – driven largely by ground breaking public and private OER ventures – significantly expanded the public’s recognition of OER’s potential to help improve teaching and learning. While these recent developments represent exciting progress, the most important long-term impact of these still nascent policies – which focus almost exclusively on content development and to a lesser degree educator and school leader awareness building – could be the foundation they lay for an even more powerful and sophisticated set of next generation reforms focused on promoting effective OER use aligned to college and career ready standards.
Promoting standards-aligned OER use at scale will require deeper and more strategic integration of OER values and concepts into a broader array of education reforms. Next generation OER policies must be appropriately aligned to the teacher effectiveness, accountability, assessment, data systems, and school improvement policies underpinning states’ transition to the Common Core and burgeoning efforts to promote deeper learning.
In other words, ensuring that all students have access to the high quality instructional materials they need to graduate read for college or career is only a first critical step. Comprehensive and coherent OER practices and policies must be developed and adopted to empower and enable educators to seamlessly collaborate (with each other and students), including enabling them to customize and personalize content and instruction.
State and local leaders significantly advanced OER policy and practices in 2012. Utah’s open textbook project began to expand statewide, including the development of open books for all secondary language arts, mathematics, and science courses. Utah leaders also integrated OER policy into the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver plan, which was designed to permit the state to implement innovative K-12 reforms. Washington State approved a new OER law, supported with first year funding of $250,000, directing the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a collection of openly licensed courseware aligned to the Common Core State Standards and an associated awareness campaign to inform school districts about the availability and potential of open resources to support student learning.
Perhaps most significantly (if measured by the number of potential students impacted), California approved two new laws designed to provide all students at the state’s public postsecondary institutions with access to free digital textbooks for popular lower-division courses and to open source the curriculum to facility members.
National organizations also got into the act, by providing critically needed technical assistance and by creating opportunities for state and local leaders to discuss and develop OER policy. Leading interstate collaboratives like the Council of Chief State School Officer’s Innovation Lab Network and national organizations like the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, and Achieve made OER technical assistance a core element of their work with state, district and school leaders.
These collaborative state efforts were supported by publication of valuable new OER tools and resources, including a new paper published by SETDA- Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age - and the launch of a new State Education Policy Center describing and cataloging recent policy developments in the instructional materials market. Additionally, to help support open materials adoption, Achieve developed and published OER rubrics for teachers, administrators and other stakeholders to evaluate OER quality.
Federal leadership and support for open educational resources development also continued in 2012. The Department of Labor granted $500 million (part of a four year, $2 billion effort) for community colleges in every state to develop open curriculum and tools focused on meeting the educational needs of displaced workers. The Department of Education made OER an element of the Administration’s marquee Investing in Innovation (I3) program. The Fiscal Year 2012 i3 program included a competitive preference priority for applications proposing to use OER and other actions “designed to significantly increase efficiency in the use of time, staff, money, or other resources while improving student learning or other educational outcomes.”
The Department also made OER a part of the Administration’s update to the sweeping Comprehensive Center’s program (the national system of research and technical assistance supporting all 50 states), and OER was also featured in smaller competitive grant programs, such as the higher education-focused Strengthening Institutions initiative.
Though very meaningful, these recent federal, national and individual state efforts must be expanded and improved if open educational resources are to achieve their full potential for improving teaching and learning. The next generation of OER policies must move beyond simply investing in high quality content and tools and instead also focus on deeper strategic integration with other policy reforms aimed at promoting college and career readiness. In short, new OER policies must be aimed at better promoting OER adoption and use at scale and ensuring their successful implementation in classrooms.
As numerous states continue implementing the Common Core State Standards, and as many states also work to implement complex ESEA waiver plans, the OER community must be prepared to help policymakers, educators, and school leaders understand how to fully leverage high quality OER. Absent seamless integration with policy reforms in other education reform areas, teachers and school leaders will be unlikely to make full use of OER as a tool for transforming education. If policy makers ultimately grasp the importance of moving to a more sophisticated “OER policy 2.0,” however, 2013 could be an historic year for moving closer to the goal of making high quality OER a powerful tool in every American classroom.