As the classroom environment changes due to the influx of educational technology, the teaching dynamic is also changing. Traditionally, teaching a class meant delivering one lesson for one hour to one room full of students. Now, as technology plays a larger and larger role in the classroom, teachers are able to encourage students to discover the right mix of lessons that works for them anytime, anywhere.
To further this capability, recently two new free Web platforms hit the market that will allow educators even greater teaching flexibility. These platforms are OpenCurriculum and Activate Instruction. The platforms aim to put teachers in charge of the digital evolution of classrooms and shape the future of education.
In tandem with the growth of laptops and tablets in classrooms, Web platforms like these are enabling teachers to work more like DJs, selecting and creating experiences with an infinite pile of bytes at their disposal. At least some of the time, the classroom of the future may resemble a silent disco, with each student plugged in and grooving on a playlist partly of their own devising.
Most teachers have file folders and flash drives full of material that they use to generate lessons year after year. To convey their topic and engage their students, teachers employ activities, projects, discussion questions, texts, audio, and video, but they don’t always have easy ways to share their ideas or find new ones. Enter OpenCurriculum.
Designed to work as a GitHub for educational content, OpenCurriculum is a place where teachers can upload their stuff from anywhere and create, edit, and share open material in the browser.
Just as Github enables “forking” and easy version control of a single program, OpenCurriculum lets teachers do the same thing with lesson plans.
Varun Arora, founder of OpenCurriculum, is originally from Qatar and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon. He has an acute awareness of the international hunger for free learning content that’s also locally relevant. “One of the biggest hindrances to adoption of open educational resources is that teachers don’t know where it fits in the local curriculum,” he says. OpenCurriculum is reaching out to at least 100 organizations and local education communities in Pittsburgh, South Africa, and Nepal, to enable circles of sharing.
In contrast to OpenCurriculum’s indie nonprofit origins, Activate Instruction is a project of Summit Schools, one of Bill Gates’s favorite charter school networks, with Illuminate, a for-profit company that tracks and handles student data. The free resources on their platform are all designed to meet the needs of new state standardized tests, and on the back end they feed into student data systems so that when a student completes a quiz using the platform, it can be tracked for the student’s final grade and matched with other information. (It’s worth noting, of course, that the big-data-fication of schools is raising persistent privacy concerns). But the major difference with OpenCurriculum is that Activate allows teachers to create individualized playlists combining texts, videos, exercises, and games–one for each student in the class.
“The great thing about it is that it makes it very, very easy to personalize and individualize things for students,” says Kevin Bock, a chemistry teacher at Everest, one of the Summit schools in California, which has been testing the platform for the past year.