Creating an Open Source Curriculum Instead of Textbooks #EdChat

A few weeks ago, I participated in #EdChat to discuss Open Source Curriculum (more specifically, the question posed was “Is it possible to create a modern, relevant curriculum using open sources from the Internet instead of textbooks?” I enjoyed the discussion, as I regularly encourage my teachers and students to look for outside sources to supplement their curriculum, so the idea of making that the only curriculum was intriguing.

As a result of this talk, Nancy Blair invited me to join her and Tom Whitby on their EdChat Podcast. It’s about 17 minutes long and we go into a little bit of our thoughts on the discussion from the EdChat. If interested, you can checkout the podcast here:

As a result of this, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some of my thoughts on the topic a little further.

First, I understand that Tom wanted to move the conversation on to things we could actually affect, but I think there is an important point to be made here about the real feasibility in terms of publishing companies. As it stands, and I’ve discussed here before, the publishing companies make the standardized tests and the curriculum (in many parts of the country). They are unlikely to release this death-grip on education any time soon. Tom is correct that there is little we can do about this on an individual level, but I think the point needs to be made. It is one of the biggest problems with education right (in my opinion), and we need to continue to talk about it if it will ever change. “The people” need to know that this is the reality of our profession.

Moving past this block, the other big barrier I see is time. We know this is the constant battle in education, to find the time to do anything “extra”, so it won’t surprise anyone that here again, it is a barrier. The issue is that building a curriculum from open sources requires collecting open sources. Many of them. It requires planning what needs to be covered, how you want to cover it, and then finding the various sources you will use to do so. There is a significant investment of time to add supplemental materials as is, so starting from scratch is daunting. This barrier will hit newer teachers the hardest, as they haven’t built up the sources over time as many veteran teachers already have, and beginning teachers are already inundated with extra responsibilities for certification and new teacher training.

However, it is important to consider the benefits. As we discussed in the podcast, the information we teach changes. Sure, Romeo and Juliet is more-or-less timeless, but does any student have the a textbook that includes the name of the current president? How many students study the election process based on how it worked 4, 8, or 24 years ago? Using open sources would allow us to give students the most current information without a lengthy textbook adoption committee process.

An open source curriculum also does a better job of reaching students in a real way. As an adult, I don’t have one book I go to every time I want to improve my pedagogy. I use many sources, and those sources change regularly. An open source curriculum would match this learning style. Further, with the addition of student centered learning, students can find the resources themselves based on a set of standards and goals, thus putting the onus of learning on the students and reducing the time burden on the teachers.

In the end, I have to say that currently, I don’t see it as feasible. There are a lot of barriers. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We need to encourage teachers and students alike to supplement their existing curriculum with open sources, and over time, we can shift the percentages of textbook and open source to slowly introduce this change. The benefits are there to make it worth the effort.

Lastly, thanks to Tom and Nancy for having me on your show. It was a lot of fun talking with you both about this.