HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Open Learning, Open Content: Emerging Trends in Education

by Caren N. Levine Issue: iSchool

Social media and Web 2.0 resources can facilitate the ways in which we create and share educational resources. There is a developing trend towards a new openness in learning regarding access to people, content, and other resources. The power of new social media lies in its ability to help forge connections between people and other people, ideas, resources, and content. Characteristics of this new learning culture include transforming information and resources, creating one’s own resources and building on others, developing and participating in personal/professional learning networks, and personalized learning.

Open Learning and Social Media

The 2010 Horizon Report projects that open content will hit a critical adoption point within the next year (nmc.org/pdf/2010-Horizon-Report.pdf). However, open content is just one piece of the equation. It is part of a larger culture of choice, customization, and participation in one’s own learning.

Learning is becoming more custom tailored to the individual learner, and it is becoming more social and collaborative. Open learning supports this type of collaborative learning and teaching.

Below are different types of resources that day school educators can take advantage of to further their own professional development and learning, as well as that of their students.

Curriculum and Content Sharing Sites

More people than ever have access to information and resources that had once been secluded behind the walls of classrooms. Institutions of higher learning like MIT are making their course content available online for free through their Open Courseware initiative (ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm). This content is often bundled in ways that make it more usable for learners. For example, MIT developed a pathway designed specifically for high school students and teachers. Other institutions such as the University of the People (uopeople.org) were created specifically to level the global academic playing field.

In addition to resources from schools of higher learning, there are content sharing sites developed for educators and learners. These platforms support the development and distribution of content modules. Examples include:

Connexions (cnx.org): a place to view and share educational material made up of small knowledge chunks that can be organized as courses, books, reports, etc. Anyone may view or contribute: authors create and collaborate; instructors rapidly build and share custom collections; learners find and explore content.

Curriki (curriki.org): a website where the community shares and collaborates on free and open-source curricula.

MERLOT (merlot.org): collects peer-reviewed teaching and learning materials, and where educators can find peer reviewed online teaching and learning materials; share advice and expertise about education with expert colleagues; and be recognized for contributions to quality education.

Peer to Peer Learning Platforms

New resources are becoming available that facilitate peer to peer learning. Some of these are free (with limitations) while others offer premium services at additional cost. These services can be used for online teaching; typically they include a webinar presentation tool and the ability to conduct online discussions. They target both those who would like to teach as well as those who would like to learn.

Often these platforms serve as a “shadchan” by providing ways to match up those with an interest in teaching specific content to link up with participants who are eager to learn it. These platforms encourage educators who have expertise to share with a broader group and offers support to students seeking new challenges or reinforcement of their learning through tutorials and supplemental study or peer teaching.

Examples of these learning platforms include:

Learn Central (learncentral.org): a new social learning network for education sponsored by Elluminate. More than a social network or a learning community, this free, open environment represents the next logical step of combining asynchronous social networking and the ability to store, organize, and find educational resources with the live, online meeting and collaboration provided by Elluminate technology.

Supercool School (supercoolschool.com): Supercool School is an all-in-one education tool that allows participants to create live online classes, record them and then distribute them virally. Students can join the live sessions, watch recordings and even request classes themselves.

WiZiQ (wiziq.com): WiZiQ is a web-based platform for anyone and everyone who wants to teach and learn live, online. Teachers and students use WiZiQ for its state-of-the-art virtual classroom, to create and share online educational content and tests, and to connect with persons having similar subject interests.

Content Publishing and Dissemination

Educators and learners can also create, publish, and distribute their own textbooks. Sites like CK-12 Flexbook (ck12.org/flexr) provide tools for creating customized textbooks which are available for download on demand. Other more generic resources, like wikis, can help support the creation of educator and student-generated content. For example, a wiki can serve as the infrastructure for a “living textbook” developed by students and built on year to year by peers.

Jewish Open Learning Resources

There are a number of emerging open learning resources and projects created to support Jewish learning. These include:

Chinuch.org (chinuch.org): Chinuch.org began as a project to digitize over 15 years worth of collected materials from the Torah Umesorah Creative Learning Pavilion, which had been collecting and categorizing materials shared by thousands of educators. Materials now come from principals, teachers and lay leaders from the hundreds of Torah schools across America and around the world.

MediaMidrash (alpha.mediamidrash.org): MediaMidrash seeks to raise the quality of Jewish education by offering teachers easy access to 21st century multimedia technologies. Media Midrash is an online platform linking multimedia content to innovative curricula, providing Jewish educators the ability to bring art, animation, film and music directly into their classrooms.

On1Foot: Jewish Texts for Social Justice (on1foot.org): On1Foot is an online database of Jewish social justice texts designed to support and promote the teaching of social justice in the Jewish community. This educational resource allows users to search and browse hundreds of biblical, rabbinic and contemporary Jewish texts about social justice, upload new texts and create custom source sheets using the texts and suggested discussion questions. A project of American Jewish World Service.

Open Siddur Project (opensiddur.net): Open Siddur Project is creating an online workshop for crafting, publishing, and printing Jewish prayer books (siddurim). The intention is that the development of a free web application and digital library of liturgical texts (historic and contemporary, familiar and obscure) will preserve the diversity of Jewish traditions worldwide, encourage creative engagement and understanding in Jewish spiritual practice, and provide an urgently needed resource for Jews sharing and crafting new siddurim.

SMARTBoard Jewish Educational Database (legacyheritage.org/SJED): A database of SMART Board lessons submitted by educators throughout the world. In this site, participants may download lessons through a search or by browsing the various lesson subjects and topics. Educators may also submit a lesson, after filling out the appropriate form; each lesson will be reviewed and then posted. A project of Legacy Heritage.

Tagged Tanakh (taggedtanakh.org): Tagged Tanakh is a collaborative platform that joins curated content and user-generated commentary around the Jewish Bible. The words of the Torah create the foundation of the database. These words can then be cross-referenced, annotated, and connected—tagged—to other forms of media like videos, maps or games. Individual words or chunks of text can serve as stepping-stones for dynamic conversations that can cross educational and technological boundaries. A project of JPS.

Conclusion

Through the Internet, educators and their students have access to content that can be used to enhance and transform their practice and learning. They also gain access to colleagues with whom they may not have had opportunities to interact. Along with this access comes the responsibility to provide guidance and skills for participating in these opportunities effectively.

These resources put learning in the hands of the student and the educator. New tools and resources available on the Internet are being designed to mitigate technological barriers, allowing users to focus on what they want to do, not how.

Open learning is a new paradigm that opens up opportunities for sharing ideas, collaborating between people locally and in diverse locations, and facilitating more meaningful engagement in learning.

Note: Additional resources can be found on delicious.com/jlearn2.0.

Caren N. Levine is the founder and principal of Etheoreal, a consultancy for educational technology, the publisher of jlearn2.0, a blog about Jewish digital learning, and Director of the Learning Network at Darim Online. She can be reached at caren@etheoreal.com, twitter: jlearn20.

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iSchool

Schools need strategic leadership to select from the onslaught of new technological offerings and to keep the rudder always pointed toward effective education. This issue provides both perspectives that can inform leadership strategy and information about some of the directions and initiatives employing current technology to strengthen education.

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