[an error occurred while processing this directive]

learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
November222006

Course Forge: Posting Your Entire Curriculum Online

Last week a Washington state school district announced an ambitious plan to put its entire curriculum online for public access. They’re one of the first K-12 districts to follow the lead of higher education’s open courseware movement, which is changing the way the world accesses educational knowledge.

As reported by the Seattle Times, the Bellevue school district has just received a $1.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an online tool that will give the public access to all curricular materials from each class and each grade. For the last two years, the district has been fleshing out the tool, known as the BSD Curriculum Web. According to the article,

The site allows teachers to post lesson plans and ideas for each school day, and allows other teachers to rate how well they thought the lesson plans worked, similar to rating a book on Amazon.com…. Students and parents can also access the site and see what is being taught, and even watch video clips of a teacher giving the lesson.

With the latest infusion of cash from the Gates Foundation, Bellevue hopes to take the website to the next level, making it easier for people to participate, utilizing the curriculum and adding their own value to it. “Our goal is to turn Curriculum Web into a site as Wikipedia-like as possible,” said math curriculum developer Eric McDowell. “We literally want every teacher with access to the Web to add their thought, hints, suggestions and reflections in teaching. We hope it becomes this organic thing so that it can become an incredibly rich resource.”

The service could also be a boon for parents interested in following their childrens’ studies, noted local parent Ronna Weltman. “I ask him now, ‘Are you studying enough?’ but if I could see exactly what he is learning, then I could say, ‘Do you understand the Peloponnesian War? Do you understand the big things you’re supposed to know about the war?’”

Bellevue is breaking new ground in the K-12 universe, but they’re in very good company when it comes to higher education. In 1999, MIT Provost Robert A. Brown asked a taskforce of students, teachers, administrators to help the university come up with a distance learning strategy. The result of this process was the MIT Open Courseware Initiative (OCW), the first large-scale attempt by a university to put its curricular resources online. The website provides free public access to lesson plans, lecture notes and videos, exams and other relevant materials for more than 1400 courses representing more than 30 departments. By 2008, they hope to have that number reach 1800 courses. OCW doesn’t substitute for an actual MIT education, of course, but it provides the basic building blocks used by its faculty to instruct their student body.

Since the launch of OCW, other universities around the world have followed suit. Educational ministries from various countries, notably in the Pacific Rim, have begun the process of translating these materials into local languages and adapting them for use in their educational systems. There’s now an international network of universities that have subscribed to the open courseware movement, each contributing materials to an ever-growing body of knowledge available to anyone with Internet access.

What will open courseware mean for K-12 education? District administrators, of course, are excited about being able to better align instructional practices, so they can ensure that students are best prepared for passing those important standardized tests. But I’m most excited about seeing lesson plans treated in way modeled on the open source movement. Rather than developing and utilizing a lesson plan in total isolation, teachers will now have the ability to share their best practices with a community of their peers, critiquing each other’s work and building upon the best ideas. Teaching techniques that might never go beyond an individual classroom’s walls will be able to spread based on merit, adoptability and creativity. And educators will be able to tap into a network of like-minded professionals trying to accomplish the same curricular goals. Of course, communities of educators are hardly a new phenomenon online, but too many of these conversations occur in a curricular vacuum. Open courseware will make it possible for teachers to access and manipulate these rich resources while engaging in a public conversation over the best ways to enhance instruction. -andy

Filed under : Cool Tools, Digital Divide, Policy, Wikis

Responses

Andy, I think this is exciting, especially for parents. I think it’s one thing to be able to check my child’s grades online, and see the district curriculum guides, etc. But to actually be able to be engaged with the whole curriculum is something different entirely. Maybe this will allow more parents to engage with what their children are learning on a new scale. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out…

Chris
www.edleadersonline.org

Weltman. “I ask him now, ‘Are you studying enough?’ but if I could see exactly what he is learning, then I could say, ‘Do you understand the Peloponnesian War? Do you understand the big things you’re supposed to know about the war?’”

THERE IS NO DOUBT that this is and exciting and potentially very promising step forward in education. I have several concerns and/or comments. First, the quote above. The parent is NOT asking the right questions. A better way to quiz one’s kid(s) is to state, ‘Tell me what you learned about the Peloponnesian War.” or “What caused the Peloponnesian War?” Questions need to be engineered so the kid can’t just say ‘yep’ and lead the parent to an unrealistic understanding of the kid’s actual knowledge.

The other issue I have is with the statement regarding who will view and comment on the lesson plans and determine what is/was successful - other teachers?? This is a bit too incestuous for my taste. The main thing wrong with our public education now is that we have teachers and administrators rubber stamping way too much of what is going on in the classroom. Measuring achievement and success is not as simple as having other teachers review lesson plans. Would that it were so.

I have been a classroom teacher and a homeschooling mother. I own a learning center for teens in substance abuse recovery - the first of its kind in the country. Success with teens and younger kids must be more hands on - the teachers must be able to spend time with each child to gain an overview of the student’s understanding. There is no othe way. Clearly our standardized testing does not give us a good picture of reality.

I strongly applaud the demystification of institutional education. I even more strongly encourage any concerned parent or student to read a couple of nontraditional ‘education’ books.
The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down by same
Better Late Than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore
and both of Grace Llewellyn’s books.

Do NOT leave your children’s education in the hands of educrats and beaurocrats. Or, do so only if you like the system in place now.

I am very interested to see how the concepts outlined in this article play out.
jd narayan,
st. louis MO

JD wrote:

The other issue I have is with the statement regarding who will view and comment on the lesson plans and determine what is/was successful - other teachers?? This is a bit too incestuous for my taste. The main thing wrong with our public education now is that we have teachers and administrators rubber stamping way too much of what is going on in the classroom. Measuring achievement and success is not as simple as having other teachers review lesson plans. Would that it were so.

I don’t think the idea here is to have other teachers review or rubber stamp your lessons. The operating concept here is collaboration - improving lesson plans, identifying shortfalls, pointing out new resources or techniques to enhance the learning experience. Even the best teachers in the world can sometimes stand to benefit from a second opinion.

If the lessons stayed static and teachers merely rubber-stamped them as you suggest, I could understand being underwhelmed. But that’s not really what’s intended here. -andy

[an error occurred while processing this directive]