CMSD to lead in national 'open learning' movement






Andrew Hazzard



The Columbus Municipal School District was named one of six ambassador districts nationwide in a national program encouraging schools to use openly licensed educational materials.


CMSD superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman attended the Symposium on Open Education hosted at the White House with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology in Washington, D.C. last week. There, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launch of #GoOpen--an initiative to promote states and school districts to use openly licensed digital materials and begin phasing out traditional tools.


"In order to ensure that all students -- no matter their zip code -- have access to high-quality learning resources, we are encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks and toward freely accessibly, openly-licensed materials," Duncan said in a statement. "Districts across the country are transforming learning by using materials that can be constantly updated and adjusted to meet students' needs."



The federal government defines openly licensed materials as "learning materials that can be used for teaching, learning, and assessment without cost." They can be copied and remixed by teachers across the country, without violating copyright laws. Supporters say this will cause innovative lesson plans to be easily shared and ultimately cut out expensive textbooks. Critics worry that open learning materials will not receive the same vetting as traditional textbooks.


The Department of Education believes #GoOpen will help level the playing field among lower-income districts, such as CMSD.


"By requiring an open license, we will ensure that high-quality resources created through our public funds are shared with the public, thereby ensuring equal access for all teachers and students regardless of their location or background," said John King, senior advisor delegated the duty of the Deputy Secretary of Education. "We are excited to join other federal agencies leading on this work to ensure that we are part of the solution to helping classrooms transition to next generation materials."


At the Oct. 29 symposium, the Department of Education announced a proposal that all copyright-able intellectual property that receives federal grant funding to have an open license.


At CMSD and the other ambassador districts, use of openly licensed material has begun. This means the district is using resources such as LearningRegistry.Org to access meta-data on thousands of possible lesson plans and accessible learning materials.


"I'm excited that Columbus Municipal School District will represent the nation's education system and impact change on a national level," Hickman said.


Currently, Hickman said the district uses a program called FishTree -- a $49,000 program Trustees approved in July -- as an open licensed source.


As an ambassador district, Hickman said CMSD will work with the White House, Google and Amazon among other organizations partnering with the national effort.


"They're almost like curators of open resources," Hickman said of the corporate partners. "They verify all of the information."


"Our teachers are currently using open-ed resources that are built into their lesson plans," Hickman said. "Our instructional model in our classrooms looks different district wide with our High Impact Centers. We have a 21st century model that focuses on collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking... Now, we start from a textbook and explore from there."


As an ambassador district, CMSD will demonstrate these resources to other local schools. Hickman said DeSoto County School District will be sending teachers and administrators to examine openly licensed education.





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