Page 15 - THE Journal, June/July 2017
P. 15

THE RISE OF open educational resources (OER) presents an opportunity for educators to untether instruction from textbooks, mixing and matching various digital materials to engage students with up-to-the- minute resources and personalize instruction in a cost-effective way.
But orchestrating the use of OER in classrooms can be challenging. How can educators find, curate and use high-quality instructional materials that meet rigorous curriculum standards? How can school leaders support their teachers in these efforts?
Columbus, Mississippi
When Philip Hickman became superintendent of Mississippi’s Columbus Municipal School District in July 2014, the school system had just received its eighth straight “D” rating from the state. Its graduation rate hovered around 60 percent, and 70 percent of students were performing at least two grade levels below average.
Nearly three years later, the district’s graduation rate is above 80 percent; attendance is up to 95 percent; and students are much more engaged in their learning. Hickman attributes this improvement in large part to the district’s focus on creating personalized learning environments for every student — and Columbus is using OER to help accomplish this goal.
One of Hickman’s first acts as superintendent was to send nearly $1 million worth of new textbooks that his predecessor had ordered back to their publishers. “The community was in an uproar,” he said. “Parents were saying: What do you mean our kids aren’t coming home with a backpack full of textbooks?”
Hickman held town hall meetings and traveled around the community to share his vision for instruction. “We were able to take the $1 million that was going to be used for textbooks and roll out a technology plan instead,” he said.
The district’s first task was training teachers how to adopt a new 21st- century instructional model, beginning with whole group instruction to introduce new material and proceeding to shared and then independent work. With help from Bailey Education Group, teachers learned how to use technology effectively to guide students’ understanding at each of these stages of instruction.
To support this model, district leaders developed a curriculum based on OER and grounded in next-generation learning standards. “Instead of a static textbook, our curriculum became a dynamic set of resources to help personalize learning for every child,” Hickman said.
Columbus also bought MacBooks for every high school student to take home and HP devices and iPads for its middle and elementary schools. The district set up WiFi networks on school buses, within city parks and in other public places to ensure that students could access information any time, anywhere.
To make it easy for teachers to find high-quality OER without having to spend time curating content for themselves, Columbus is using a commercial OER platform called Fishtree. The platform not only helps teachers find resources to weave into lessons; it also delivers customized resources for students.
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