Rethinking Teaching and Learning

Open Source word cloud


The development of open source curriculum materials opens the door for new ways to teach and learn. The state of Virginia has begun to develop their own textbooks. In 2009 the state released a beta version for an open-source course in Physics. The textbook is a collaboration by state departments of Technology and Education as well volunteer educators, engineers and scientists. According to William Jackson on his blog, “The book, titled “21st Century Physics FlexBook: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies,” has been produced using the FlexBook platform developed by the CK-12 Foundation of Palo Alto, Calif., and could provide students with timely information about nanoscience, dark matter, quarks and leptons.”

In Alaska the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) has replaced its textbooks with online content that can be modified by teachers, students, parents, or anyone who wants to participate in the project. In article in Mindshift, John Concilus, the educational coordinator at BSSD, shared the rationale for the impetus of the project, “Roughly five years ago, we got the idea for this from a really well-known treatise by someone named Eric Raymond. He was part of the original open source software movement. He wrote eleven precepts about how and why open source projects should be built and why it’s better to use a “bazaar,” or free exchange of ideas, versus using a “cathedral,” or top-down, regimented approach. When I read it as an educator, I was really interested in its application to school curriculum.”

In New York City the School of One has moved beyond differentiated instruction into personalized learning by combining direct instruction with technology. In a December 2010 feature, Mindshift outlined the key to success in this breakthrough approach to teaching and learning. “There are things we hold near and dear about what school is, but we’re asking people to reimagine it,” said Christopher Rush, co-founder of  School of One. Students each day have their own path that is aligned with standards. At the end of the day students take an assessment that uses an algorithm that tailors the instruction to the needs of the learner. Students may work directly with with a teacher, with an online tutor, or with a team of other students. Both teachers and students feel more successful since everyone is learning.

At Carnegie Mellon University the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) features thirteen courses that are free and available for use by students anywhere in the world. The OLI initiative has been recognized by the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan. It embeds assessment into the learning process. The courses use a blended or hybrid approach to learning by combining an online tutor that responds immediately to student responses to build the skills and knowledge necessary to move into more complex applications of ideas and concepts. In the Fox Chapel Area School District we are testing out the approach as part of a virtual course in Physics. The CMU research indicates that the speed of learning can be improved up to 50% by using this approach.

MIT and other universities offer entire courses or units through Apple’s iTunes University. Students in the Fox Chapel Area School District, where I worked, wanted to learn how to create apps for the iPad. They downloaded a course from Stanford and in a matter of months the middle school students launched their own app now available at the iTunes Store.

Curriki, a leading online community for creating and sharing K-12 open source curricula, features new instructional units  that can be used or adapted by teachers across the world to enhance their existing curriculum, saving teachers valuable time and adding interactive, new ideas.

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