By Erika Aparaka
On March 17, I had the opportunity to attend the first #GoOpen Mid-Atlantic Convening hosted by Colonial School District in New Castle, DE. The district maintains steady efforts to support schools integrating Open Educational Resources (OER) in the classroom. Colonial School District has a total of 15 schools and is facing what many districts across the nation are trying to address--ensuring a diverse student population is receiving curriculum and instruction that recognizes that diversity and connects students and parents to the learning process.
One of the most revealing aspects of my day were conversations with educators who wanted to know more about how to implement OER effectively. I had the opportunity to speak with Greg Napoleon, a fifth grade teacher with 16 years of experience. Greg is just getting familiarized with the OER landscape. He explained how he has used OER, but not necessarily under the OER title. With one prior training, Greg shared with me that he hoped to gain "a better way of organizing information." He was also seeking strategies to improve efficiency and organize learning materials he finds online.
Paul Rothbart and Charla Williams, both 11-year teaching veterans who teach fourth and fifth grade respectively, shared that they hope to learn how to better organize their OER content and also better support parents to engage in their children's learning. Williams' hope with OER is that she can use online content to help parents support their child's learning and that OER can provide comprehensive materials to do that.
Early in my day it became clear that the teachers in attendance wanted a better understanding of OER as a means to better support parents. Rothbart shared with me, "We push for help at home to reinforce what is happening at school. We want parents to feel educated about the system. Some parents are hesitant to come to school because they don't feel 'smart enough' or valued. It's important to cultivate the parent-teacher relationship and I'm hoping technology can be a tool to help parents better support their children."
Pete Leida, the Director of Elementary Schools in Colonial, officially opened the convening by explaining that one of the goals was to bring districts together that may not usually get together. Leida expressed, "Learning needs to be personalized for students to flourish in a globalized society."
The conference theme was aptly titled 'Choose Your Own Adventure.' Participants were able to choose from three workshops per session. During the first session I attended, facilitator Janice Vargo, Director of Knowledge Management & Impact at Education Elements, focused helping participants better understand the problem OER is trying to address, be able to recognize the impact of OER across the district, and determine how districts should prioritize actions. The culmination of the workshop was to draft a district framework to help guide decisions. The second session, "Open Educational Resources: They're Magically Delicious" discussed Colonial School district's professional development plan to inform key stakeholders around OER,support an understanding of OER, and share how they evaluate resources using an OER Evaluation Rubric. Finally, Dr. Lisa Petrides, from the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), discussed in detail what OER are, how OER commons provides curated collections for educators, and how OER present a shift in teaching practice and offer opportunities for educators to expand their roles as collaborators, curators, instructional designers and leaders in their communities and beyond.
Between sessions, I was able to talk briefly with Leida about the impact of increased OER use and the intended outcome of the day's convening. "It's really beautiful to see so many districts coming together around a common area of focus and challenge in our schools right now. So many roles coming together to discuss OER. We have to support each other in this work for our kids."
As someone who is new to this work it was helpful to take my knowledge level from the conceptual to the concrete. Seeing educators express their understandings of and hope for OER was invaluable. I will definitely use this experience to inform my future OER work.
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