Enter the OER Ninja: School Librarians as Curators and Co-Curators of STEM Learning

As a movement, Open Educational Resources, or OER, was born in the early 2000s amid disruptive forces in Internet publishing and usage models, propelled by a vision of equitable access to high-quality curriculum for all. OER allow educators to use and reuse digital content without cost, and without needing permission. Flexible and adaptable, OER can be personalized to meet the individual learning needs of students. The use of OER has been shown to be a key part in educator professional development through fostering collaborative practices that enable educators to critique, contribute to, and improve educational content for their own classroom use and for others (Petrides & Jimes 2006; Frydenberg & Matkin 2007; Huberman & Wilkinson 2007; Petrides, Jimes, Karaglani, Middleton-Detzner 2008; Casserly & Smith 2008).

While aware of the existence and potential benefits of OER, many educators find it difficult to effectively identify and use OER to meet local classroom needs (Boston Consulting Group 2013). Educators are, however, well-positioned to utilize OER: according to a recent national survey of 1,100 math and ELA teachers, educators are utilizing materials they find or create themselves to a much greater extent than the proprietary materials offered by publishing companies (RAND 2016). Similarly, a Harvard University study of teachers’ use of instructional resources across five states found that the majority of teachers surveyed primarily rely on “homegrown” instructional materials to meet the Common Core State Standards, while a large percentage indicated that they also look to free online platforms to find resources that meet the new standards (Kane, Owens, Marinell, Thal, Staiger 2016).

Enter the OER Ninja

OER Ninja: a person highly skilled in using OER

As digital curators, K-12 librarians are needed now more than ever to research, locate, and organize digital materials to support teaching and learning goals and grow student engagement. In taking on the role of OER ninja, school librarians are confident in evaluating and understanding copyright licenses and terms of use for the resources they curate. They valiantly collaborate with colleagues across disciplines, their district, and even their state, to find the best content and innovative approaches. They elevate their voices in the field and advocate for OER in social media.

As OER ninjas, librarians are advancing a skill set called Open Educational Practice (OEP). OEP comprises skills in collaboration, curation, curricular design, and leadership around using OER. OEP builds teacher and librarian capacity to improve curriculum and instruction, to gain skills in digital resource curation and curriculum creation, and to actively collaborate in and advocate for innovative approaches using OER. OEP, importantly, also comprises skills in understanding and leading inquiry-driven and project-based learning approaches to instruction across disciplines.

Since 2014, the work of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) and its partners in the School Librarians Advancing STEM Learning project (https://www.oercommons.org/hubs/imls) has been supporting cohorts of librarians and STEM teachers to gain skills and strategies as curriculum leaders and to address inquiry and literacy through the integration of informational texts and primary sources into STEM classrooms, through the use and creation of OER.

Librarians in the project are working on the forefront of digital curation when they model the integration of inquiry-focused reading to build students’ STEM-based investigative skills. They scaffold student learning around interpreting publicly accessible data sets and producing evidence drawn from openly licensed and other informational text sources. By interpreting crosscutting concepts within the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects, the librarian-teacher cohorts develop a shared understanding of the standards and the classroom priorities. Together, they create OER and co-implement it in the classroom.

As one example, a powerhouse team of OER ninjas made up of a New Hampshire school library media specialist and two high school physics teachers created an instructional unit titled “Power Grid” that illustrates the fusion of complementary strengths toward producing standards-aligned STEM inquiry instructional resources (Swift, Petrie, Carle 2017). “Power Grid” addresses a complex Common Core science literacy standard that requires students to gather and analyze information to clarify issues, identify costs and benefits from a social, cultural, or environmental perspective, predict the consequences of action or inaction, and propose possible solutions. The curriculum’s co-creators intend the OER unit to be adapted, whether to fit local settings or to be improved or updated by other inspired educators.

Through this collaborative approach, librarians are building new skills and capacities as instructional partners around OER. Feedback from participating librarians, as well as STEM teachers, indicates that professional learning in OEP is positively impacting their professional roles and perceptions of those roles.

What’s Next?

As the greater educational community awaits the release of new national standards for school libraries, the time is ripe for school librarian leaders to evaluate the current level of awareness and use of OER and OEP by their learning communities. In this regard, librarians need to develop strategies to move their programs forward and engage in action that will resonate with administrators and decisionmakers so that they are recognized as catalysts for school change and learning for the digital age. One easy-to-implement strategy is to take advantage of high-quality OER that already exists. Identifying, evaluating, and curating well-designed OER units of instruction and assessment can provide evidence of the relevance and effectiveness of the school librarian’s contributions to instructional design and delivery.

Additionally, as part of ALA’s “Libraries Transform” initiative, ALA President Julie Todaro appointed a task force through “Libraries Transform: the Expert in the Library.” Within this effort, a dedicated corps of librarians, assisted by an expert panel, has focused on the development of the critical skill set that librarians need in the evolving information and learning environment. Recognizing that the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSELs), from the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, were reflective in many instances of school librarian expertise, the school library team 1) identified eleven competency areas–the original ten plus Literacy and Reading–for building-level school librarians, 2) developed a rubric for practitioners to self-assess their school library leadership competencies, and 3) compiled a dynamic list of resources in order to help them build their expertise. Within this construct, leading the effort to ensure that students and teachers effectively find and use OER is a critical competency that librarians need to achieve.

Unlike ninjas of lore, there is no need to be stealthy and “invisible” in embracing OER and OEP–in fact, the opposite is true. School librarians must strive to be visible and vocal learning-community leaders who seek digital inclusion and participation by understanding OER, and have the knowledge and skills to secure and sustain these digital opportunities for their communities.

Works Cited

Casserly, Catherine M. and Marshall S. Smith. “Revolutionizing Education through Innovation: Can Openness Transform Teaching and Learning?” In Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, edited by Toru Iiyoshi and M. S. Vijay Kumar, 261-276. 2009.

Frydenberg, Jia. and Gary W. Matkin. “Open Textbooks: Why? What? How? When?” In The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Open Textbook Conference Proceedings. 2009.

Kane, Thomas J., Antoniya M. Owens, William H. Marinell, Daniel R. C. Thal, and Douglas O. Staiger. Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation. Center for Education Policy Research Harvard University, 2016.

Opfer, Darleen V., Julia H. Kaufman, and Lindsey E. Thompson. Implementation of K-12 State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy: Findings from the American Teacher Panel. RAND Corporation, 2016.

Petrides, Lisa, and Cynthia Jimes. “Open Educational Resources: Toward a New Educational Paradigm.” iJournal Insight into Student Services, 14. 2006.

Petrides, Lisa, Cynthia Jimes, Anastasia Karaglani, and Clare Middleton-Detzner. “WGBH’s Teachers’ Domain: Producing Open Materials and Engaging Users,” Working paper. ISKME, 2008.

Swift, Charles, Lisa Petrie, and Nathan Carle. Power Grid, Transforming New Hampshire’s Energy Future. OER Commons. 2017. https://www.oercommons.org/authoring/16143-power-grid-transforming-new-hampshire-s-energy-fut (accessed June 5, 2017).

The Boston Consulting Group. The Open Education Resources Ecosystem: An Evaluation of the OER Movement’s Current State and Its Progress toward Mainstream Adoption, Presentation. William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2013.

Wilkinson, Dennis M., and Bernardo A. Huberman. Assessing the Value of Cooperation in Wikipedia. First Monday. April 2007. http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1763/1643.

About the Authors

Susan D. Ballard, MS, is vice president of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity and a past president of AASL. She served on the Editorial Board for the AASL Standards and Guidelines Editorial Board, responsible for writing the National School Library Standards for Learners, Librarians and School Libraries. She is a current a member of the AASL CAEP Coordinating Committee involved in revision of the Standards for Preparation of School Librarians. Follow her on Twitter @nholb or email her at sdballard@comcast.net or sdballard@digitalequity.us.

Amee Godwin, MPS, is the Director of Innovation at ISKME (iskme.org), in Half Moon Bay, CA, and founding Program Director of OER Commons (oercommons.org), its public digital library of OER. She earned her master’s from New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. She recently co-authored a forthcoming ACRL book chapter on open educational practice and school librarian leadership. Email amee@iskme.org.

Cynthia Jimes, PhD, is Director of Research and Learning at ISKME, in Half Moon Bay, CA. She obtained her doctorate in information science from Uppsala University, Sweden. Jimes has authored several studies on the use and impact of open educational resources in K-20 education, both in the U.S. context and internationally.

MLA Citation Godwin, Amee, Cynthia Jimes, and Susan D. Ballard. "Enter the OER Ninja: School Librarians as Curators and Co-Curators of STEM Learning." School Library Connection, October 2017, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2126766.

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