How has OER impacted professional learning or student learning?
In addition to providing a variety of learning resources that our teachers are able to use to differentiate instruction in their classrooms, the results of our OER integration can be seen in the improved content knowledge and clarity of instructional targets that our teachers have gained as a result of their powerful and rigorous collaboration time. As the teachers work together to determine what essential standards they should focus on, they work to unwrap standards into meaningful learning targets with success criteria, which in turn are used to match with appropriate, diverse, and rich resources provided through OER warehouses, developed in-house by Liberty Public Schools teachers, or discovered through online searches and networking. Incorporating OER as a philosophy mandates that teachers know their standards, expectations, and assessments at a much higher level and provides increased ownership in all phases of the curriculum they teach.
An unexpected but tremendous benefit in our transition to the use of OER has been the significant financial savings from the purchase of textbooks. This savings, with the approval and support of our district leadership, has been transformed into a funding source for participating teams to budget for, and design, professional learning experiences that include consultations with content experts, collaboration time, and attendance at learning events to develop content and instructional knowledge. One science teacher shared, “The funding also allowed high school science teachers to purchase anatomical models, which are used in lieu of printed text materials. These three-dimensional models provide advantages in learning that printed two-dimensional textbook pages are unable to provide.”
How has your approach to OER evolved?
The use of OER to support instruction has required us to evaluate and innovate our system’s practices of data team collaboration, policy and procedures around teacher created and curated materials (time, authorship, ownership, publication), and the process to select, review, and vet resources used to support instruction in all courses in our district (OER supported or not).
As more teachers approach their curriculum work from an OER viewpoint, the district is working to increase teacher awareness of intellectual property, specifically Creative Commons licensing. Understanding the vernacular and implications of Creative Commons is fundamental to both utilizing the work of others, as well as clearly communicating how materials created by the teachers in the school district can be used by others.
Teachers have benefited from the flexibility OER provides in tailoring the curriculum to current events, as well as local interests. A United States history teacher, for example, is able to not only teach the Civil War from a national perspective, but from a local perspective as well. Adding local and timely curricular materials has increased student engagement and provided rich opportunities for community involvement.
What do you value most about OER?
The primary reason why Liberty Public Schools’ transition to the use of OER has been important is the clarity of learning that the transition has brought to teacher teams as a result of curating, creating, and revising the resources for the courses. One of the driving steps in adding OER to our curriculum is the initial determination teachers must make of what to teach – from state, national, or industry standards – in what order the determined essential standards should be taught to our students, and the best strategies to use in order to ensure student understanding.
Our teachers work collaboratively to determine the order and importance of content standards for our students to be successful. From there, instead of just “following a textbook” to decide what content to share and what order the information is shared, they are given the freedom to review and select the best resources available that are completely aligned with their teacher-designed student-centered learning targets. One elementary teacher shared, “in the process [of researching OER] we have also found better quality resources because we have looked at and evaluated so many. With a textbook, you are tied to the resource even if all parts are not great, if they become outdated, or if something better comes along. With OER you can continuously evaluate the resources you are using, find the best, and even modify them to best meet the needs of your district/building/classroom. I feel like that has been a huge benefit we have found working with OER. We have found resources that are better than what we currently have and are able to add to or change them to make them work for our needs. I just think that has been really important.”
What do you wish people understood about OER?
Our wish is that you know that you are not alone. For districts and schools considering using OER as a primary resource for instruction, connect with us – join the network of districts using OER to support learning. The districts can be found on the Department of Education’s #GoOpen website. These districts share things that worked and things that didn’t in their journey to #GoOpen. In addition, one of the original steps in the #GoOpen process was to create a leadership team of teachers and leaders who are interested and/or already using OER as a primary resource for their instruction (they often are the ones with dusty books on their shelves and students deeply engaged in the learning process every day). These teachers provide a foundation for thinking about what is possible in the process of using OER, and they also provide insight into what and why transition is not successful. These teachers have been a powerful force in the firm foothold of OER in Liberty Public Schools.
Dr. Westfall currently works for Liberty Public Schools (MO) as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Staff Development. Jeanette has been an elementary classroom teacher, high school language arts teacher, gifted & talented English/humanities teacher, and secondary schools instructional coach. Dr. Westfall also served as a high school principal for eight years before joining Liberty Schools.
Dr. Westfall is honored to serve in a variety of state and national organizations. She is currently a member of the Learning Forward Academy Class of 2018, as well as serving as the Missouri Learning Forward Region 11 (KC) Representative. Jeanette is on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology #GoOpen Leadership Team working to support districts interested in growing the use of Open Educational Resources (OER). She has also served on numerous AdvancEd External Review teams in the state of Missouri and Illinois.
Dr. Jeanette Westfall has been an educator for over 20 years. Westfall’s degrees include a Doctorate in Education from the University of Missouri, a Master of Arts Degree in Education from Baker University, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Texas State University.