How seven school districts using OER meet the diverse needs of learners

How seven school districts using OER meet the diverse needs of learners

“Collaboration” was the theme of a recent Hāpara webinar, “Driving educational equity through open educational resources: A replicable model.” Five educators from Alberta, Canada introduced an inspiring initiative they and other educators from seven different school divisions (districts) had created. This high-quality collection of curriculum uses open educational resources (OER) to give all learners access to what they need to be successful. The result of the initiative was the collaboration of a sustainable set of shared Hāpara Workspaces. This also allowed for differentiation through Hāpara’s latest offering, Student Dashboard Digital Backpack. The story of how this set of resources came to life is a model for how school districts using OER can meet the diverse needs of their learners.

The panel consisted of:

  • Adelee Penner, Learning Facilitator, Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium
  • Kristin Basaraba, Career & Academic Advisor, Parkland Composite High School
  • Heather Rentz, Innovation Coach – Learning Services, Buffalo Trail Public Schools
  • Steven Ripkens, Supervisor of Learning Services and Educational Technology, Grande Yellowhead Public School Division
  • Sean Nicholson, Secretary-Treasurer, Grande Yellowhead Public School Division

The vision for school districts using OER

Adelee Penner spoke about the driving question for the project: 

“How might we come together, as a group of school jurisdictions, to share professional practices and to create learning activities and opportunities for students that would move our learning forward?” 

None of the participating schools had access to all the materials that their learners needed.  Many of the learners live outside of urban areas where school and public libraries are more accessible. 

The solution? The group created a shared set of OER. They invited educators within the districts to create a digital repository of resources they had curated or created. Previously COVID-19 had caused schools to move into remote learning. A regional provider of digital resources also moved from a free to a paid model of service. The conditions were set to develop a new solution to allow any partnering school district to join and use digital materials.

Creating the conditions for OER success

During the webinar, Heather Rentz described the process of creating a safe and trusted environment. This resulted in teachers sharing their resources with one another. One critical element emerged: a culture of collaboration existed where teachers were quick to share with one another. An additional condition for success was having a tool, such as Hāpara, that makes sharing digital resources between districts easy.

Previously teachers were housing and sharing their content in Google Drive, but that created a chaotic structure that wasn’t effective. Teachers needed a solution that integrated with Google Workspace for Education. Workspace made it easy to create, house and share their digital content.

The school divisions’ Workspaces consisted of a variety of instructional resources, including files. These Workspaces, which could be differentiated to meet individual needs, were then housed and categorized. Teachers from different schools, even a hundred or more kilometers away, collaborated on building Workspaces. The result was a collection of resources that any learner can access remotely—at any time on any device that connects to the internet.

Technical support for school districts using OER

Steven Ripkens addressed the technical support needed to make the initiative successful. He stated, “One of the beauties of this project is that it requires very little technical support.” Ensuring full integration with Google was essential for using Hāpara. Additional considerations included using the Chrome browser. While not required, it made the student experience easier. It also ensured that teachers had the training and capacity to create and implement Workspaces. 

Hāpara’s active Community was mentioned as an important resource that helped teachers with ideas for instruction and technical questions. Hāpara’s three ISTE-certified Hāpara Champion courses were also mentioned as an important way to support teachers.

Cost for school districts

Next, Sean Nicholson addressed the initial and ongoing costs. “My first thought is flexibility. The base costs are roughly $25,000-$30,000, but there is flexibility in what you get and what you need for your division.” 

The biggest cost identified was time. In order to find time, a variety of methods were used. Two of these methods involved using professional development days and finding release time during the instructional day. 

Despite these upfront costs, there are notable ongoing savings. As of summer 2021, the initiative had curated more than 200 literature, science and math resources, along with a collection of 40 Alberta curriculum textbooks. This saved each school district the cost of purchasing new materials and ongoing replacement costs. Resources that used to be photocopied are now digital, significantly reducing the cost of paper and other related copier costs. Additionally, cost savings have emerged related to professional development. 

Previously, instructional rounds, which required substitute teachers and professional collaboration around planning and instructional practices, were limited to the school setting. With a shared collection of Workspaces educators, there is much greater access to the work of other teachers. This content can be reviewed asynchronously. 

Nicolson also mentioned that traditionally-printed professional development books will shift to digital, another cost savings. Ripkens added that there is also an opportunity for cost-savings for new teachers. That’s because they have access to high-quality resources and Workspaces which they can modify for their own needs. This reduces the amount of time and energy these educators put into planning as they begin their professional journey.

Professional support for school districts using OER

Lastly, Kristin Basaraba described the professional development aspect of this initiative, which involved developing a Community of Practice (COP). The topics addressed within the COP included:

  • ongoing support related to using Hāpara
  • opportunities for public presentations of learning, including sharing Workspaces

The level of collaboration that took place during these sessions led to a deep camaraderie. The COP members used Jamboards to exchange their ideas. Basaraba cited the COP as helping take this initiative to scale. It removed the geographical boundaries working across such a large area and allowed for effective collaboration. 

The leadership of the project reached out to their teachers and asked them to contribute their work. They specifically wanted them to help create more content for Career and Technology Studies courses. This specific work resulted in addressing educational equity by filling a much-needed gap in student-facing resources. Basaraba added that parents appreciate being able to see what students are working on and what is expected. 

Reflections on the OER project

Penner noted that Digital Backpack has been helpful for families in rural areas, where access to libraries is difficult. She went on to say, “When we looked at that equity piece, around that dream of ‘How can every kid in Alberta have the same quality of education?’ was it possible to have the same thing in your hand [no matter where you live]?” 

She went on to point out that for school districts using OER, those resources can be adapted to meet the needs of learners anytime and anywhere. Unlike traditional textbooks that are outdated by the time they get to our shelves, OER stay updated through the collaborative effort within this initiative.

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