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District : Broken Arrow Public Schools

State : Oklahoma

Level : P-12

District Enrollment : 10,001-40,000 students

Community Type : Suburban

Related Tags : #GoOpen, Openly Licensed Educational Resources

Broken Arrow Public Schools: Using OER to Improve Quality and Tackle Challenges

Broken Arrow Public Schools, in Oklahoma, serve more than 18,000 students with a mission to “educate, equip, and empower a community of learners by providing dynamic learning opportunities which enable all students to be successful.” However, the district was dealt a substantial blow when their budget for the 2016-2017 school year was cut by 7.3 million dollars. Fortunately, two years prior, a Broken Arrow Science Specialist had begun to urge the administration to move away from the standard textbook toward a more cost-effective alternative. After extensive research, planning, and collaboration, Broken Arrow has been able to mitigate some of their financial burden while providing their students with a higher quality of education with the aid of openly licensed educational resources, or OER as they are more commonly known. OER allow teachers to curate and design educational resources that are free and legal to reuse, remix, revise, retain, and redistribute.

In the initial stages of the OER pilot, advocates for OER in the Broken Arrow district faced tremendous skepticism from various members of administration and faculty. How could the district move forward with the spending reductions and not compromise on the quality of education their students would receive? Concerned teachers and administrators feared that the elimination of standardized textbooks in the classroom would reduce the quality of education that their students received and generate community backlash. Supporters of OER responded optimistically and promised that if quality was in danger of being compromised by pursuing the implementation of OER, they wouldn’t undertake the new approach. Cautiously, the administration adopted the new approach and allowed the faculty to implement OER in the Broken Arrow middle and high school science classes.

One year later, the district has determined that the use of OER has been a success. Mark Officer, the Executive Director of Secondary Administration, says “teachers were energized and empowered.” They were able to take ownership of their work by adding their own reflections and examples to content that had previously been scarce in standard textbooks. If the new materials became outdated, they were quickly updated. With control over their educational resources, teachers began to collaborate with each other. Peer-to-peer review of lesson plans and learning resources became the norm. Mr. Officer also claims, “In comparison to standard text-based materials, student engagement improved with the use of customized and locally tailored material.” Increasingly, with the support of their teachers, students embraced OER and made them their own by annotating the materials. Broken Arrow asserts that switching to OER was not only a cost-saving move on their part, but an educational advancement.

The Broken Arrow #GoOpen team currently includes district leaders and classroom teachers to drive growth and development in curriculum and instruction. Initially, the district convened a team of over 200 teachers to be part of the development process. As a result of their work, Broken Arrow added six openly licensed courses in the fall of 2016, including subjects such as creative writing, social studies, math, and science. The team is planning to release K-5 ELA and math OER curricula for the 2017-2018 school year.
Broken Arrow believes that collaboration and guidance are critical aspects of the implementation of OER. For new schools choosing to embrace OER, they advise them to consider the following:

  1. Regional Context – Take advantage of the flexibility that OER offers by working with other districts and regions. Unlike standard textbooks, you can revise and remix, so customize the material to fit the needs of a variety of students and contexts. It will offer the students the most reward.
  2. Take It Slow – To some, the process of adopting OER can seem daunting. Take it step by step. You do not want to overwhelm your teachers. It is about the students and giving them a quality education.
  3. Keep Trying. It’s Worth It – While some districts fear that openly licensed educational resources are of lower quality in comparison to professionally-created instructional materials, that does not have to be the case. Mr. Officer says, “If strong organizational processes are in place and districts invest resources to train teachers and set up consistent quality control processes, the results are powerful. And, although difficult as it may be, it is worthwhile to convince skeptics of the benefits that OER offers to students and teachers.”

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Mark Officer

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