Need-to-Know-News: New Online Platform MasterClass, Emerging Battles over OER, & Salman Khan’s Lab School

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.MP9004055001. Classes Taught by a Master
What happens when a pop icon like Christine Aguilera meets an online learning platform? You get a ‘Masterclass’. A master—expert, one at the top of his or her field teaching a craft to others. That’s the rationale behind a new for-profit platform The concept is quite brilliant. MasterClass has taken the idea of the MOOC, leveraging a digital technology platform to bring experts to teach courses to the masses. But MasterClass courses appear more celebrity-focused rather than subject-focused.

San Francisco-based MasterClass was founded by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen on the idea that everyone should have access to genius. MasterClass makes it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to learn from the best through immersive online classes from the world’s most esteemed authors, actors, performers, athletes and more. MasterClass pairs world-class instructors with Hollywood directors and Silicon Valley engineers to create a brand new type of learning experience. PR Newswire, August 31, 2015

The platform launched in May 2015 and currently features six classes with celebrities teaching a subject (not the other way around, e.g. a subject being taught by an expert). For example Dustin Hoffman teaches acting, James Patterson teaches writing, Serena Williams teaches tennis, etc. The classes are fully online, self-paced and priced at $90.

  Tweet Below From Masterclass’ Twitter Feed

Insight: I first scoffed at the idea primarily because of MasterClass’ overt emphasis on the celebrity over the educational aspect. But after reading an article by a writer who took a class with James Patterson, I see instructive takeaways for educators and institutions involved in online education specific to technology, pedagogy and instructor-approach. MasterClass’ platform is user-friendly, appealing and according the student mentioned earlier, “extremely well-designed” (Maynard). Active learning seems to be a cornerstone to the pedagogy—embedded exercises in each lesson. For example in Serena Williams’ course on tennis, students are encouraged to take the course to the court and to “submit videos of your forehand for feedback from other students taking the class (and possibly Serena herself!)”. Instructor approach appears remarkably personable—James Patterson for instance through the videos appears engaged in the course and interested in the students. In one video he reads from a student assignment: discusses it, compliments it and suggests how to make it better. Impressive.

5093053155_515aedf1e82. Emerging Battles over OER
In October an associate professor of mathematics at California State Fullerton University, Alain Bourget, received a reprimand for deviating from department policy by assigning a course textbook different from the department-adopted textbook for an introductory algebra course. The department textbook cost $180; Bourget’s option $75 that included a textbook and a collection of (free) online resources (OER). Bourget filed a grievance over the reprimand citing academic freedom in his defense. The reprimand was upheld, yet Bourget battles on, “I am fighting for academic freedom, lowering the cost of education and especially to give a better education to my students — I will not abandon this fight” (Jaschik, 2015).

Insight: Bourget and Cal State Fullerton’s battle may be a sign of more power struggles ahead over textbooks, though I see it more as an indicator of battles ahead over use of Open Education Resources (OER). There’s been several articles and blog posts about OER of late, and according to the most recent Campus Computing Survey project: (81 percent) of the survey participants [417 university CIOs and senior IT officers] agree that “Open Source textbooks/Open Education Resource (OER) content “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.” Time will tell.

3. Khan Lab School
Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy has started a new school based upon the ideas put forth in his book “The One World Schoolhouse”. It’s a privately funded, tuition-free school in Mountanview California. There are no grade-levels, and it currently serves children ages 5 through 13, and has expansion plans to accommodate children up to age 18.

The lab school is a school dedicated to research-based instruction and furthering innovation in education. The school has processes and strategies for studying and sharing lessons learned regarding new educational practices.

Insight: I admire and respect Khan for his passion and commitment to education and for what he has done to move education forward by providing Khan Academy as an open platform. I do however, feel uncomfortable with the ‘lab’ concept of his school—the experimental nature of the approach using children, who due to the concept of ‘lab’, inherently become test subjects. In an article in Wired magazine about the school, it describes how companies that donate products or software are allowed to come in and observe children, “the stools and tables were donated by a furniture company, which in exchange gets to observe how the students interact with them” (Tanz). I see so many things wrong with this, besides it being just weird.

One Big Happy Family of OPEN – How to Get Faculty to Embrace Open Educational Resources

6555466069_3246e8b54e_zGetting faculty to embrace open education resources takes more than directing them to a good search platform. In this post I suggest a two-pronged strategy to help faculty embrace ‘openness’.

I joined a Micro MOOC this week, LOER12 [Learning Open Education Resources] and discovered that the scope of open education resources (OER) is far beyond what I imagined; the number of dedicated educators and researchers working worldwide to expand, promote, and collaborate to advance the OER movement is extensive. One such group Evidence Hub for Open Education aims to promote and build a community of educators globally that work on Open Education initiatives that collaborate and build a collective memory. One project currently underway is OER mapping of institutional initiatives, an effort to track OER projects worldwide, a starting point for coordinating research efforts. The research in ‘open is a worthy one. Educators working on this project are eager to move open education forward, enhance the impact it has on teaching and learning, and determine its effectiveness.

And there is progress with OER, as evidenced by institutions implementing OER initiatives, such as University of Michigan with its Open.Michigan, an initiative that encourages faculty and students to share their educational resources and research with the global learning community. In the government sector, numerous states in the U.S. see OER resources as an opportunity to lower costs in the cash strapped education system. In California, legislation was signed last month that will provide college students text books at no cost, by way of openly licensed digital textbooks in three higher education systems.

What does it mean to Educators?
But, what do open educational resources mean to educators and institutions who have yet to implement OER initiatives? Should we as educators, be involved in adopting OER, even make a concerted effort to do so? What about higher education institutions? Without hesitation, I say yes and yes. Open education resources are more than digital text books, they have the potential to provide quality, diverse, media-rich courses, content and/or research materials that have the potential to transform education. It’s helpful to view OER not as stand-alone components, but as part of a bigger picture. OER overlaps with MOOCs, with competency based learning with learning analytics and other initiatives emerging in higher education. All are part of the ‘open’ movement.

800px-Global_Open_Educational_Resources_Logo.svg‘Open’ as a  Movement
The open movement is influencing all aspects of education. MOOCs are examples of open learning, defined as an approach that seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. And then there is open source, software applications open for use and improvement, for example the learning platform Moodle. There’s open data and even open access which gives unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles. It’s one big happy family of open, that when working together, functions as a collaborative system. Open is changing how we educate, how learners learn and how instructors teach.

So back to the question, how can we encourage faculty, and educators to embrace open as a movement, including OER? I suggest a two-pronged approach.  First, for educators the concept of open needs to presented from a professional development standpoint— promoting OER ‘training’ as personal development that becomes part of the educator’s personal learning network. This is not all my idea, but advice from Stephen Downes, co-founder of the concept of the MOOC. In a post I published recently Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time, I suggested that when training faculty in using the LMS platform Moodle, the focus should not be exclusive to the technical aspects, but include the why, and address pedagogical training. Stephen Downes commented suggesting that training of faculty be approached from a development perspective.

I think it [training in LMS] should be tied to learning. When I teach people about technology, my focus is on how they can use it for their own professional development. The application of that learning to the classroom will follow. (OlDaily, Downes, 2012)

Personal Learning Network
If an educator [or learner] views and uses open education materials as a means to enrich  their own personal learning, or to develop a skill set, or in the case of an instructor enhance his or her teaching, motivation is triggered. The educator then wants to learn how to use the resources, is motivated to search for content that meets his or her course needs. Furthermore, the educator will invest the time needed to find the resources, as he or she is vested and interested in learning. In a report released recently Growing the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education (Allen & Seaman, 2012), several  barriers to adoption of OER were mentioned by faculty including, [lack of] time to learn and use OER (59%), and difficulty in searching. Though there is validity to these issues, in the bigger picture it is about the mindset of the individual and the institution.

Institutional Culture
The second critical part to increasing the adoption rate of open is consideration of the culture within the institution. The survey mentioned above listed ‘lack of support for non-local curriculum’ as another barrier. This speaks to the culture that the faculty works within, which must have the conditions necessary to support the adoption and implementation of OER. If the culture is open to change, conducive to experimenting and learning, to creating and sharing, the chances of success with the concept of open are increased. Though this is not to say that individuals cannot be champions of openness. It is possible, that champions can influence others, though alone they cannot change the entire culture of an institution without support from leadership.

Closing Thoughts
Times of change can create feelings of excitement, maybe even fear yet the rewards can be great. Adopting a culture of ‘openness’ requires a new mindset for teaching and learning. Incorporating OER as discussed here requires a different approach, one that supports educators in creating their own personal development, where each can determine how OER can be used to fit his or her own teaching and learning needs. Educators can become highly motivated through this kind of professional development, and combined with a supportive institutional culture, one that creates conditions for  learning in the open, a win-win situation ensues for students, instructors, the institution and the Community of Open Learning.

Photo Credits: Open, by opensourceway, Flickr, and Open Education Resources, by Jonathasmello, licensed under Creative Commons

How to Create Excellent Courses with Open Education Resources

What are Open Education Resources (OER)?  Where does one find open resources and under what conditions can educators use them? If you don’t have an answer to one or more of these questions, you are not alone. In fact you’re in good company. Thousands of educators across the United States, academic leaders and faculty, were surveyed for a study on open educational resources, Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in Higher Education, (Allen & Seaman, 2012). Though respondents demonstrated a moderate level of awareness of OER, many were unclear on what even qualified as an open education resource. The uncertainty around OER is understandable given its newness, yet is a missed opportunity for educators.

In this post I’ll first define open educational resources and describe how educators can find and use high quality, robust content sources to enhance instruction. I am an avid user of OER. I frequently use OER materials as supplemental content to enhance the general education courses I develop with faculty for our institution’s online program. I’ve also used OER when creating enrichment programs for K-12 programming, and during research as a graduate student. There is a wealth of high quality content, available and accessible at our fingertips.

Definition of Open Education Resources (OER)
Open Educational Resources abbreviated as OER, are openly formatted and licensed documents and media accessed on the Web that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research that anyone can openly use and reuse, without charge. It’s not surprising many are confused about what OER really are, as this term is similar to open education, which refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. There is also open source, which generally refers to a [software] program or application where the source code is available to the public for use and/or modification from its original design.

The three terms all refer to distinct concepts, though the word ‘open’ is the operative word, but open does not have the same meaning as ‘free’. Open in these contexts’ refers to a level of collaboration, and is associated with an object, application or program that is accessible with few barriers. The level of ownership is also included in the term, where the creator [owner] is not working under a model of proprietorship but rather chooses the level of sharing he or she is comfortable with through a license. Usage guidelines are straightforward and I’ll review the different types in the next post.

OER Materials: Examples
OER can be video clips, interactive maps or timelines, e-textbooks, self-contained multi-media lesson units, and even complete courses. I use open resources as supplements to existing courses, and have eliminated the use of text books in two of our fifteen courses using OER. I’ll review two examples of open educational resources below, and conclude with where to find similar resources.

A screen shot of the DNA – Double Helix Game. Click the image go to the game.

1) The DNA Double Helix Game: This resource is used as a supplement to a module within a biology course. The game is used as an application activity, which students complete after they finish the assigned reading The Discovery of the Molecular Structure of DNA – The Double Helix. The game overview page provides information of what students need to know before beginning. The purpose of this activity is to reinforce key concepts by engaging the student in a low stakes activity (it is not graded, and can be completed as many times as the student chooses). This is an example of using an OER as a supplemental or even optional resource.

2)  World Literature: Bhagavad Gita. This resource is comprehensive, with numerous options for educational purposes. The first step to using any OER effectively is to identify the learning objectives of the specific unit or lesson. I will use a three-credit World Literature course that I am working on now for this example. I started by reviewing the instructional plan for this module, of which the Bhagavad Gita is one of the two topics. The objectives of the module [topic] are, 1) Identify three universal themes within the Bhagavad Gita, 2) Describe how the themes apply to current culture.

World Literature Resource from

Given there is much to choose from within this resource, I determine which content items will fit the needs, then select application activities, which will prompt the student to apply and use higher order thinking skills [which supports objective #2].  For our course, the student will read the Bhagavad Gita, watch a 20 minute prerecorded video of our professor discussing background of the story and introducing the themes. From this resource for content sources, we will 1) have students read the Background and Language sections under the READ tab, 2) review the timeline and map section under the EXPLORE tab, and 3) watch the slide show and listen to expert talk about each.

For the application activity, we want students to apply the content, use critical thinking skills and demonstrate they can meet the learning objectives for this module. For this module, there will be two activities, the first will be a graded discussion forum, where students will be required to respond to a question chosen from the Discussion Prompt section using two paragraphs. We will include one more activity, an assignment where the student will be required to describe and discuss the central themes, as well describing with examples how themes apply to today’s culture.

Where to Find OER
An excellent place to search for OER content is through OER commons, (I found the above sources through OER). It is platform that is open, you do not need to sign up to find content, but if you create an account you will be able to save content into personalized folders. There is a short learning curve to figuring out how to conduct a search. Though the site is easy to use, you can narrow the search by discipline, and grade level, primary, secondary and post-secondary.  Do be prepared to spend some time reviewing what your search turns up, there is a full and complete collection. Help is available through the OER help search tool. This video provides a quick overview of how to search using OER.

What meant to be a short overview, ended up being longer than I’d hoped. But learning how to use OER is important, and the time invested in learning how to incorporate open education resources is time well spent given the potential enhancements to student learning. In my next post I’ll review more options for sourcing OER, provide an overview of the restrictions so you can use OER with confidence, and discuss the potential barriers to using OER.

Resources and Related Reading
OER Commons,
Babson Report on OER in US Higher Education, by Phil Hill, e-literate