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A proposal for open educational resource adoption through a curriculum alignment hub

Students take notes from their iPads at the Steve Jobs school in Sneek

In 2020, EdTech Hub began a collaboration with Learning Equality, a nonprofit organisation supporting the creation, adaptation, and distribution of Open Educational Resources (OER) in disconnected environments. The following post by Learning Equality’s Global Curriculum Specialist, Shivi Chandra, explores how individual efforts to address some of the challenges in adopting OER could become more powerful, receive recognition, and build upon one another through a centralised coordination hub.

How much lesson planning could you do in fifteen minutes? 

In my work with OER, I come back to that number often. On a research trip to Rajasthan, India, in 2017, our team at Learning Equality interviewed six teachers at an under-resourced rural school to find that that was the average amount of time they had to select materials for their weekly digital learning class. Our Kolibri Content Library is stocked with varied OERs — games, books, lessons, videos, simulations, and more — but at the end of the day, it wasn’t necessarily relevance, capacity, training, or buy-in that made the difference in whether those materials became part of classroom practice or not. It was just time. Teachers simply did not have enough of it to engage in many of the best practices that we and other capacity-building experts recommend to make use of OER, that is, add assessments, vet the resource beforehand, devise a sequence, and more.

Within a vibrant community of educators, we understand how OER can improve learning outcomes, provide teachers with flexibility, and enable an exciting spirit of collaboration. Yet many educators, particularly in under-resourced school settings, might still choose to use a textbook for the simple reason that, since a textbook is aligned to the curriculum, it caters to what a teacher can do in fifteen minutes. 

Curricular alignment and OER: the next big challenge 

Unlike textbooks, it’s harder to align an OER collection to a curriculum. When materials are aligned, they’re organised according to their applicability to curricular objectives within a given country curriculum. 

That’s especially important for learning management systems, virtual learning environments, and repositories that rely on using digital materials from different sources to fulfil needs met by a textbook — a single source, created by one publisher to the specifications of the official curriculum. But for the educators of today’s world, who facilitate the movement of diverse resources to engage global citizens and meet the diversity of learner needs, one source isn’t enough anymore. 

In Learning Equality’s work, when we receive feedback from educators globally about the use of OER or materials in our Library, we hear about the need for an improved understanding of relevance, challenges with discoverability, or the need for additional guidance for lesson planning or assessments to ascertain knowledge acquisition. Alignment addresses such issues as matching the structure, vocabulary, navigation, and assessment mechanisms of diverse materials in a way which saves educators’ time when using these materials.

Proposing a curriculum alignment hub: an initiative to share efforts

What is exciting is that digital alignment work is happening! Hardworking teachers and curriculum institutions align resources they like to their local curriculum, often unpaid, and content providers release their materials aligned to various curricular standards. 

These efforts need to be recognised, acknowledged, accessed by implementers of education initiatives and potential funders, and tracked to avoid duplication of work. To share our thinking on this and develop it together with others, we’re collectively proposing the idea of a hub that brings together existing efforts on curricular alignment. The need for this is clear, particularly based on our observations and feedback through curriculum alignment initiatives in Jordan, Kenya, and Uganda, as well as our ongoing work on public goods with NORAD, UNHCR, and Google.org.

A curriculum alignment hub would be a centralised, dynamic hub to coordinate, train, standardise, and share alignment efforts. We suggest four components that each address common challenges:

  1. A dynamically updated tracker of existing alignment efforts by curriculum and content source. 
  2. An approved, publicly viewable database of professionals qualified to align materials.
  3. A discussion and announcement area for funding and sponsorship drives for alignment efforts. 
  4. A diverse kit of training materials featuring best practices, downloadable and interoperable templates for sharing, and other onboarding tools.

We’ve kept the concept note in a Google Doc to encourage feedback so please feel free to add your comments.

Curriculum alignment efforts often suffer from challenges of coordination, sharing, and lack of standardisation. Many are constrained in terms of their mismatch with the speed of content creation: each must be replicated when new digital content is added to a library, or old content is updated. Since these efforts are decentralised, there is difficulty in informing others about these initiatives, which would result in duplicated work. 

Aligning and refining: realising the initiative

At this conceptual stage, what are your thoughts on such a proposed hub? 

We already know that teachers can do a lot in fifteen minutes. Our collaboration with EdTech Hub is based on the idea that those of us preparing digital technologies and educational programmes at scale can use our time to save teachers time, and curricular alignment is one high-impact way to do so. We’d love to hear any feedback on the concept note, in particular the structure of a curriculum alignment hub and its usefulness, ideas on which organisation is best positioned to head this effort, and expressions of interest in development and / or investment. Anything that we produce as part of this work will always be open and available as a public good, and we want our consultation and ideation process to adhere to that spirit of openness as well.

We’ve kept the concept note in a Google Doc to encourage feedback so please feel free to add your comments.

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