How has OER impacted professional learning or student learning?
In Carlsbad Unified, OER has greatly impacted professional learning. Our secondary English Language Arts (ELA) teachers are in the process of developing units of study from the ground up: determining essential learning outcomes for each unit, identifying essential questions, pulling together a playlist of openly licensed texts, along with other free and proprietary learning resources, and determining how specific texts fit into the larger picture of relevance for students today. The process is driven by collaboration – across grade levels, and between campuses – and our teachers report feeling more empowered than ever to make critical decisions about what to teach, and how to teach it.
How has your approach to OER evolved?
We originally thought we’d start with low-hanging fruit: our middle school science teachers already use a lot of digital content, and we imagined it would be an easy task for them to incorporate OER into their units of study. At the same time, we were beginning the process of investigating our next districtwide materials adoption for ELA. When the secondary ELA teachers learned about OER, they were enthusiastic about jumping right in, and asked to put the adoption cycle on hold for a year while they learned about OER. As this was a totally teacher-driven decision, we’ve seen great buy-in; it doesn’t hurt that our secondary ELA department chairs are some of our strongest, organizationally and instructionally. They are driving the process in directions we didn’t originally anticipate, and it’s really exciting to see.
What do you value most about OER?
I most value the fact that discussion of OER has brought teachers together to collaborate and create together. They are focused on learner outcomes – I’ve observed that teachers are spending much less time talking about texts and materials, and much more about what they want students to know and be able to do. OER has driven the conversation from “What reading should I assign” to “What do I want students to grapple with? What resources do they need? How can they make choices about their own learning?” Powerful stuff.
What do you wish people understood about OER?
I want people to know that OER is not the wild west, and that teachers are still working together on common outcomes for students. OER is not “throwing away the textbook” and letting teachers untether from the district curriculum; rather, it is giving teachers voice in the curriculum development process, and driving them to new ways of thinking about how they teach. We’ve developed new unit templates for common planning as a result of OER work, and the end result will be more aligned student outcomes, with more teacher and student choice.
Dr. Ben Churchill is the Superintendent of Carlsbad Unified School District, a K-12 school district of 11,500 students in Southern California. He previously served in the roles of assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, high school principal, and high school English teacher. Born in Massachusetts and raised in the Midwest, he began his 22-year career in education as an English teacher in China. Current areas of interest include classroom technology integration; implementation of openly-licensed educational resources; leadership development (for children and adults); and expansion of student learning experiences in the arts. Connect with Ben on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram via @SuptChurchill.