Teachers & Open-Source : education’s spark

Teachers are an innovative bunch. I think you have to be, to keep twenty or thirty children engaged day after day. Entertain, grade, support, coach and teach and that’s before they tackle the work outside the classroom. With their innovative nature it’s no surprise that teachers embraced technology so wholeheartedly, two and a half decades ago. It was no surprise multi-media applications found their natural home in education and it was as if Apple had created iPad for education apps foremost.

Education technology  continues to evolve particularly with collaborative projects causing a stir for educators, students and parents. This is more than sharp teachers creating content on iBooks Author or Scrivener. A couple of years ago there was much talk about a visionary project at the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) in Alaska, USA – and how they replaced textbooks with an Open-Content, Creative Commons licensed,  wiki curriculum project. This electronic curriculum provides thousands of pages of content that can be modified by not only teachers, students and parents but by outside contributors also, with content then reviewed by a Curriculum Committee.

“The district’s OpenContent wiki curriculum project has over 13,815 pages of education standards, curriculum content, staff development tutorials, and various user-oriented pages. Although some pages are very well populated, and some are article stubs, the body curriculum resources is increasing rapidly. Over 6,224 files have been uploaded, and daily use by students and staff was exponentially increasing as of October 2007.

Nearly all of the organization’s teachers, students and administrators have contributed in the first two years of the project. All content is Creative Commons licensed, and editing by educators and interested parties outside the district is encouraged.”

— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bering_Strait_School_District

Late last year I read a quote from a Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce official:

“Most debates about the curriculum start from the wrong place. Instead of asking ‘what should the curriculum include’, our starting question should always be ‘who should determine what the curriculum includes’? Such a question enables curriculum development to play a significant role in building and reshaping civil society.”  RSA Director of Education Joe Hallgarten

It’s more than forty years since Lawrence Stenhouse said there was “no curriculum development without teacher development” – and sharp minds, like those at BSSD have adopted Eric Raymond’s Bazzar of knowledge principle helping to foster the burgeoning movement for information socialism. Almost 90% of teachers in the UK believe  they should be free to design substantial parts of their school curriculum, and this atitude to open curriculum creation is gathering pace the world over. Open-source and wiki technology and resources are powering this movement. Imagine how the input of a class of local children at the heart, and place of a geography lesson can contribute to the curriculum of those learning about the place or event. Not just shared teaching, but shared facts. There would be less need for scholarly reinterpretation at the next edition of a textbook, instead students benefit from localised, accurate and personal views helping to shape an informed view of the world. More collaborative technology could allow school’s wikis to collect data from other schools wikis – a video or audio search across a wired world could enhance the experience students, delivering extracts from teacher designed curriculums across continents.

Broadband access remains an issue to be addressed globally, not only in developing nations but in many rural areas of developed nations; it genuinely is a human right now. We need one-to-one devices in the students hands. We need better interfaces for our wikis. and of course students still need to be entertained, graded, supported, coached and taught, – but I’m happy to trust our teachers to make that part happen.

External links & references

  1. BSSD Teacher Created Learning Plan : wiki
  2. Grand Curriculum Designs : RSA
  3. Eric Raymond : Cathedral & the Bazaar
  4. Global Schoolroom
  5. AHumanRight.org : 68% of the planet is off-line
Andy O'Donoghue

Andy O'Donoghue talks about technology, some say, too much.