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Magazines > Information Today > October 2017

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Information Today
Vol. 31 No. 8 — October 2017
What’s Up With OER Adoption
by Corilee Christou

One state that has successfully embraced OERs is Washington, whose 295 districts are all considering adopting them or have done so.
The time has come for K–12 educators to embrace the digital age and, along with it, OERs. As Erik P.M. Vermeulen states in his Aug. 13, 2017, Hacker Noon post “Education in a Digital Age,” we need “a whole new approach to education … [because] we are experiencing a ‘digitization of reality’. This is the result of the global proliferation of new technologies. We all now live in a ‘digital world’ that is characterized by fast-paced, technology-driven social change.”

Sadly though, not all children — especially those living at the poverty level or below or in rural areas — have access to or live in a digitally empowered environment. Enter the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) describes some of the benefits of using ESSA funds to support digital learning: “improving and personalizing professional learning and other supports for educators, increasing access to high-quality digital content and resources for students, facilitating educator collaboration and communication, and providing devices for educators and students to access digital learning resources. Funding in these four areas is important because technology itself is not a panacea.”


According to the National Education Technology Plan, OERs are openly available educational resources for teaching, learning, and research that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their free use, reuse, modification, and sharing with others. Digital OERs can include complete online courses, modular digital textbooks, and more granular resources such as images, videos, and assessment items. In October 2015, the OET launched the #GoOpen campaign, in which school districts were challenged “to make one small change — to transition one textbook, in one subject area, in one grade band, from being traditional instructional materials to openly licensed educational resources” ( #GoOpen serves to connect a community of both expert and inexperienced educators to the OER movement. The effort has been extremely successful, and as of Oct. 31, 2016, 91 districts and 18 states had taken the pledge to #GoOpen.

Additionally, the Department of Education issued regulations, which became effective in May 2017, specifying that any grantees it gives competitive funding to will be required to make the content created with these funds available under an open license to enable better dissemination and modification of the materials. These regulations will be fully implemented beginning in FY2018.

Organizations Back OERs

Closing the gap in education is a key element in OER adoption, with organizations such as the NAACP recognizing its value. The NAACP has pledged to support OERs as an equalizing factor for schools everywhere and at every funding level. It says that its “embracing of open education resources (OER), as detailed in the 2016 Advocacy to Promote Use of Open Education Resources Resolution, suggests a way forward that brings together the resources and knowledge of state education agencies and the grassroots influence of civil rights advocates. Together, they can create the conditions that can advance the use of OER in schools across the state—which, in turn, can help create better educational opportunities for every student” (

Although several studies have been conducted that identify the cost savings associated with OERs, even more significant for educators is the open licensing component, which lets teachers share, modify, and edit content. This is particularly important when content is shared from state to state, as it allows changes that are needed at the individual state level. According to Cable Green, director of open education at Creative Commons, “Most K–12 providers use several of the [Creative Commons] licenses to put works in the public domain. The following licenses are OER compliant licenses: CC BY, CC BY SA, CC BY NC, and CC BY NC SA.”

Green says that “lack of awareness, lack of policy support and funding, and the need to develop a culture of sharing” have all contributed to the less-than-aggressive adoption rate of OERs by K–12 schools. Creative Commons has developed several resources to help educators with their OER needs, including FAQs for teachers and policymakers, regular keynotes at K–12 conferences, and a Creative Commons Educator Certificate that “aims to ensure all educators have the grounding and digital literacy associated with successfully using Creative Commons for open educational resources, open practices, open policy, and open pedagogy. Learning activities generate practical tools and resources to be applied and used in work right away” (

State Adoption

According to a November 2014 survey of all 50 states conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), 36 states want to learn more about curating an OER repository, 26 are using or promoting OERs, 20 are currently planning OER initiatives, and 18 are sharing OER initiatives (

One state that has successfully embraced OERs is Washington, whose 295 districts are all considering adopting them or have done so. Barbara Soots, OER program manager at Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), implements state legislation directing the collection of K–12 OERs that are aligned to state learning standards and the promotion of OER awareness and adoption throughout the state. She is a keen supporter of OERs and their associative benefits. She says they “enable flexibility to reallocate resources to support teaching and learning and have the capacity to provide equitable opportunities to access strong content materials for all students, regardless of the fiscal situation in their school.” Each district presents its own unique challenge in implementing OERs and requires a needs assessment to address areas such as quality, cost, equity of access, and policy (e.g., does the school board approve?). OSPI provides a support website for educators entering the OER space that focuses on key components of online and alternative learning ( It has approved course providers, informational webinars, model agreements, and FAQs.

Resources for Adopting OERs

Still not sure how best to integrate OERs into the curriculum? The nonprofit public policy organization New America has staffers and resources to serve as guides through this process ( Kristina Peters, a public interest technology fellow, collaborates with the Education Policy program to support states and districts. She works with individual schools and school districts to help them identify the infrastructure, content, and tools that will add value. Her focus is building equity and core principals, particularly for early learning and K–12 students. She says, “The biggest barriers to adoption are steeped in the tradition of instructional material procurement. This is not a typical textbook purchase, which can cause alarm. This process requires everyone to be on board, from district level administrators to classroom teachers, because they will all be involved in some manner, whether it’s through unpacking standards, curating resources to meet standards, vetting resources, etc. It can be time-intensive and overwhelming, but it’s so worth it! Every district I’ve worked with will tell you this, too.” (Before joining New America, Peters was the K–12 open education fellow at the OET, where she led the #GoOpen campaign.)

New America’s website also features research and articles such as “#ReadyForSuccess: Department of ED Highlights District’s Strategic Use of OER,” “OER Policy Coalition Calls on White House for Executive Action on Open Licensing of Federally Funded Educational Resources,” “Open Education Resources: Bursting the $8 Billion Bubble,” and “Why 14 States Are Choosing to #GoOpen.”

The Best OER Hubs

Locating OER courses—particularly those that support the Common Core State Standards—presents a challenge to wannabe online educators. There is no magic formula. However, there are several new resources available known as OER hubs, which are central locations to help users find and create OER content. They include the following:

  • CK-12 (, a SIIA CODiE Award winner in 2017 for best virtual learning solution, which covers math, science, and English
  • Siyavula Education (, which focuses on high-quality learning experiences in math and the sciences
  • Open Up Resources (, which features math curricula for grades 6–8 and ELA curriculum for K–5, as well as others that are in the works
  • Khan Academy (, a provider of resources in the fields of math, science and engineering, computing (including coding), arts and humanities, and more
  • EngageNY (, one of the most widely used hubs, with Common Core components for math, English language arts, social studies, and science
  • Great Minds (, which has the only comprehensive math curriculum aligned to Common Core at every grade level and a Wit & Wisdom English curriculum that uses literature, history, and science to adhere to the standards

OER Commons ( is one of the best (if not the best) hub sites. Founded in 2007 by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), it offers professional learning programs and workshops designed to help instructors and curriculum specialists use and adopt OERs. It is also a “digital public library and collaboration platform, informed by [ISKME’s] pioneering efforts in knowledge management and educational innovation. OER Commons offers a comprehensive infrastructure for curriculum experts and instructors at all levels to identify high-quality OER and collaborate around their adaptation, evaluation, and use to address the needs of teachers and learners” (

Lisa Petrides, ISKME’s founder and CEO, has advised foreign governments and U.S. government agencies, states, schools, and colleges on education reform at all levels. She strongly believes that “to embrace OER as a practice requires a shift in how we think about the role of teachers, librarians, and learners, and not merely as an end in itself. As such, I would like to see the momentum of current OER efforts be used as an opportunity to recommit to teacher professionalism (educators as part of the OER process) and student-centered learning (personalized and adapted), with an intentional focus on collaboration, sharing, and discovery as a means to the continuous improvement of content and pedagogy, and access for all.”

Are we there yet? Certainly, OERs offer teachers and students the opportunity to engage in learning at a more personal level, to collaborate, and to share their expertise. A recent survey on schools’ evolving priorities conducted by EdWeek Market Brief found that 48% of school district leaders plan to acquire OERs in the next year ( Expect to see adoption levels increase significantly as more schools recognize the value of OERs as more than a cost-savings measure—they facilitate a shared culture of learning and student development.

Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models. Send your comments about this article to