When I first got really into the ‘open’ movement nearly two decades ago as a Linux user, a huge part of it was for the issues of equality it promised. Free software meant more money could help students in poverty was the promise. Free educational resources, ideally teacher-created also held the same promise – replace expensive, proprietary textbooks with high quality, highly skilled content creators (Teachers).
So it has surprised me in the past few months to get to work on what I would have previously said, “that doesn’t concern me.” as a creator/sharer of educational content and not a programmer at heart – educational standards. I gave a conference presentation about this a few months ago at LibreLearnLab but became aware of an effort from IMS Global a few months later. It seems others in the ed-tech industry had already realized that a common language to describe the various fields that could go into an educational standard were lacking. For example, in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, there are a few things, “missing,” that could help both teachers, students, and ed-tech products:
- Example problems to demonstrate the standard
- Programatic progressions statements – ie this set of standards leads to this set. Yes, there are the progressions documents and it’s not too hard to figure it out, but not everyone can infer that the Expressions and Equations turn into the Functions strand in grade 8-high school unless they understand the pedagogy that leads them there – which I can tell you most engineers don’t care nor should they need to know this.
- Type of statement (Cluster vs Standard vs higher-level headings) – sounds minor but when we’re talking about thousands of possible statements differentiating between these statements can really help. IE the math practices are standards not searchable by a keyword, but a human curator can recognize when those practices are apparent in a particular math task or learning resource.
In addition, the only ways to see possible connections between other frameworks such as the TEKS standards and CCSS are either costly correlation services or manual search. Even with that, there has not been a formally defined way to write the TEKS statements in common ways. Thinking about time, spending time translating statements and searching in the dark for resources is not the most equitable process. Furthermore, at some point CCSS will be replaced by something else, and we will want some robust way to transfer the good curriculum activities/tasks to be in alignment (or not!) with those new standards. The NGSS introduce even more nuance with three dimensional standards that aren’t a simple tree anymore…
How Open Competency Frameworks Will Help K12
The advantage of machine-readable standards may not be apparent in their application to the Open Education movement. As standards change by jurisdiction or eventually new standards themselves, all of the hours spent categorizing and tagging resources may be able to be transferred over if the new standards have overlap. In addition, as opposed to monolithic PDF documents that States and Organizations normally publish their standards in, with an open competency framework those standards would be easily searchable and usable for content creators looking to find resources to help students.
The more metadata the standards have already on them – including notes, examples, rubrics as to what addresses that standard, connections to other standards and more – the better and more specific the OER content can be, which will give more choices of robust, rubric-evaluated standards-aligned curriculum to schools. Usually when standards are published they are not revised for 10-15 years which used to be the norm, but the world changes too fast now. Standards in an electronic format that automatically link to the updated format can become dynamically better (with major revisions every other year perhaps to address gaps as they arise or enhance wording, etc). Yes we need consistency, but just as once a student publishes a blog or other live-published feature we would expect some degree of revision based on feedback, so too should academic standards be open to revision and updating.
What is exciting to me – a curriculum guy – is seeing how the technical backend will enable better, more robust standards and description of the relationships between the standards down the line. As open educational resources are refined and revised, it is important that the standards they point too are not only the most accurate but also as informational as they can be.