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Building the Infrastructure to Support the Next Wave of Educational Transformation - CONTINUED

On May 19, I shared the first post in this series, Building the Infrastructure to Support the Next Wave of Educational Transformation. In it, I discussed three major reasons why academic standards, open educational resources (OER), and Internet technology have not facilitated dramatic change in how education takes place. The reasons are: educational standards don’t align, correlated standard resources are not affordable and OER and aggregated content have real limitations. So - I’ve identified three problems, and now I’ll share three steps we can take to tackle them.

Step 1 – Opening Up Standards

The nation’s experience with Common Core demonstrates that even well-designed and strongly supported standards are not likely to be adopted wholesale at the national level. Given the diversity of standards that have received much less attention than Common Core (including international standards), the asset that has come to define the relationship between standards is the crosswalk. Few organizations have more data and more experience in crosswalking global standards than the Edgate Correlation Services (Edgate).

With a library of millions of individual standards, an efficient system for keeping those standards up to date, and patented process for correlation, Edgate is a major provider of standard content and alignment to major organizations such as Microsoft.

The work the Edgate has already done would take years to duplicate. Building an open infrastructure for standards sharing and alignment on what they already have in place is the fastest way to come to market with a non-profit dedicated to building the infrastructure needed to support what comes next in education.

Other initiatives are already underway to move from proprietary to open standards, most notably the CASE Network developed by the non-profit educational standards body IMS Global. The CASE network provides access to ELA and Math standards for all 50 states, free of charge, with standards frameworks built on IMS’s Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE) data format.

While the CASE network is a step in the right direction, the organization is only offering access to standards for two subject areas, and crosswalking between those standards is not part of their “package.” An organization dedicated to making the maximum number of up-to-date standards and the crosswalks between them free and accessible to all would:

  • build on work that reflects significant needs in today’s marketplace and

  • allow us to channel that market demand towards the end goal of empowering truly personalized, competency-based teaching and learning.

While Edgate has content, technology and expertise to drive forward this phase of the project, turning those resources into open tools will require moving from a proprietary service to an open set of applications, a la Drupal and WordPress, tools that have redefined entire categories of technology while opening up opportunities for new types of companies that provide services built on top of open technologies.

Step 2 – Reimagining Educational Resources

More than fifteen years after MIT’s launch of Open Courseware made Open Educational Resources (OER) a hot topic at all levels of education, there remains a split in the marketplace. Commercial content provided by educational publishers and courseware providers are well packaged, defined and aligned to standards, but expensive and proprietary. OER is diverse, low cost or free, but highly fragmented with no simple means to locate or evaluate the quality of specific content.

Companies such as Edgate, as well as some states like New York, have built systems that include OER materials aligned to standards and tagged to meet specific educational needs. Yet these systems tap only a small fraction of academic content available to teach standards-based lessons. Creating a much larger repository of material tagged to standards could give educators access to more diverse and valuable material. Yet this very diversity makes it difficult for educators to evaluate the quality of particular items, or wade through an ocean of resources to find content that meets specific needs.

The crosswalking tools described in Step 1 would dramatically expand access to content, allowing teachers in one state to access educational content tagged to an aligned standard from a different state. To make this content accessible, however, will require a more robust tagging system that allows content to be identified based on its:

  • nature (unit plan, lesson plan, assignment, quiz, etc.)

  • audience

  • level

  • pre-requisites

  • esource requirements

and other data that would allow educators to filter by more than just standards alignment.

The system would also need to establish the means for evaluating the quality of resources included in a repository, possibly through vetting by experts, supplemented by crowdsourced reviews and ratings.

As with standards alignment, resource alignment could be accomplished through partnerships with organizations already doing this work, notably OER Commons that have large pools of resources available with ratings and reviews, but limited alignment to standards and limited filters beyond content area and resource types. Such partnerships could dramatically expand the use of more diverse educational content in ways that would accomplish the mission of the new proposed non-profit organization, as well as the missions of allied partners.

Step 3 – Providing Accessible Applications

As mentioned earlier, alignment services tend to be based on technologies of most use to commercial clients such as educational publishers, often taking the form of “common cartridges” that add alignment data to existing learning management systems. Offering free access to such tools could rapidly increase uptake of services provided by the new organization, as well as open up opportunities for service revenue (similar to the Drupal model) that could help make the organization self-sustaining over time.

At the same time, delivery technology must evolve to meet the needs of a broader audience – including individual teachers – if it is to have the impact needed to dramatically change practice. This will likely require the development of new applications, defined based on the needs of particular audiences, that tap the same alignment data that remains the core of the new organization’s value.

Future Steps

Once the organization, tools and services described above are in place, there are a number of directions we could go next that would build on our initial work to accelerate even more dramatic change, such as:

  • definition of educational pathways that could serve as the basis for personalized learning programs

  • opportunities built on shared assessment content and data

  • the development of portable credentials based on mastery of competencies that can follow a student from one grade level – or school system – to another

  • research data that can support standards developers, curriculum and assessment developers and specialists

There is an opportunity to develop applications to make educational experimentation far more frictionless, turning standards from a barrier into an accelerant to innovation. Are you a believer? Please connect with me on LinkedIn so we can continue this conversation!

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