How Williamsfield schools decided to #GoOpen
The Williamsfield School District is a small, rural district serving approximately 300 students in one building—Pre-K through 12th grade—with fewer than 100 students attending the high school. Located in a village of 650 residents, the school is the hub of the community. Several staff and faculty members have deep familial ties to the village, reflective of a community whose size and demographics have remained relatively consistent over the years.
The administration, teachers, and other district leaders recognized that the majority of their learning materials had limitations.“No matter how good the pictures are in a [traditional] textbook, it’s still just words on a page,” said Lori Secrist, a science teacher in the district. “It’s not living, breathing, current, or what really hits home with [students] and gets them to ask questions.” Instructional material was outdated and not aligned to new learning standards; textbooks were one-size-fits-all with few accessibility features; and texts were rigid and unmodifiable, making it hard for teachers to personalize the learning experience.
Although teachers had been leveraging openly licensed educational resources (OER) previously, Williamsfield’s formal decision to #GoOpen occurred in May of 2013. The move coincided with the decision not to purchase a math textbook series. As Williamsfield studied the issue, the district realized they could stretch resources further and have a positive impact on more kids by redirecting budgeted textbook money toward investments in technology and technological infrastructure.
Some of the district’s teachers took the initiative to find new, more capable instructional materials on their own, which led them down the OER path. They soon had the full support of Superintendent Farquer who had previously worked with the Illinois Open Education Resource development team readying open tools for district and teacher use. Working together, the team was able to replace several textbooks with openly licensed educational resources. This allowed the district to reinvest the money saved—in combination with REAP and Title I and II funds—towards purchasing devices for each student, and supporting the creation of a cutting edge STEM program that otherwise would have been impossible with traditional resources. Building on openly licensed resources from EngageNY, Illinois Shared Learning Environment, The Dana Center, and other sources, Williamsfield leveraged educational technology to save families and taxpayers money while providing unique, targeted learning opportunities for each student.
The decision to #GoOpen provided Williamsfield with the opportunity to put living breathing resources in front of kids on a daily basis. It freed the district from the static nature of textbooks and transformed classrooms into dynamic learning environments where students are actively engaged. As a small rural school district, it also provides the flexibility to expand course offerings and give students access to cutting edge learning materials from universities around the world. The decision to #GoOpen has increased student access to top notch learning opportunities and has removed walls from the classrooms. Students no longer sit isolated at desks in the middle of Williamsfield, Illinois. They solve real world problems by collaboratively engaging with learning materials from places like MIT, Stanford, and Ohio State. “The walls break down,” Zack Binder, the Pre K-12 Principal and Director of Student Services said. “You’re no longer in Williamsfield, Illinois. You have the same access to this information that anyone in the world does.”
Today, the use of openly licensed educational resources is a vital part of what it means for Williamsfield to be Future Ready. “Instead of having one prescribed way to do things that comes from a textbook, kids can do things where they’re truly interested,” says Lori Secrist. “When they’re truly interested, they’re engaged. And when they’re engaged, they learn.”
The biggest challenges Williamsfield faced was anxiety around OER quality and the amount of time it would take to locate needed resources. Although those initial anxieties have now lessened, some of this feeling justifiably remains. The district is optimistic that the tools in the OER marketplace will continually improve as the movement becomes mainstream. To assist in this effort, Williamfield began publishing openly licensed learning materials vetted by our local team.
The continuous nature of an OER transition is challenging.The knowledge that the work is never “done” is a hard adjustment for some to make. Williamsfield encourages other districts to accept the #GoOpen challenge and leverage the power of OER in their classrooms. Remix and re-share quality resources. And when districts do, they should do so with the knowledge that going open is not about the resources. It’s about seeing doors of opportunity #GoOpen for kids.
From Williamsfield Community School District :
From the U.S. Department of Education: