Q&A: CK-12 Says OER & Tech Can Unlock Cheaper, Better Learning

Neeru Khosla, the Co-founder and Chair behind the growing open educational resources (OER) nonprofit CK-12 Foundation, joins us today to share her motivation, aspirations and goals in bringing higher quality educational materials to more educators and students across the globe – for free.
Khosla attended Stanford University’s education and teaching program simply to learn more – from an insider’s perspective – about the ways that teachers today are being groomed from the classroom. CK-12 is a leading disruptive innovation in the OER market, shaking up the increasing costs for educational content today.

Q: What motivates you to change education with OER?

A: I love to learn! I am a big believer in the power of education. Culturally, we have been made to think that nothing is better than the power of education. But when I look around, I see that today’s younger generation is demotivated to learn through the current education system. I became concerned, when I realized this was because of a lack of access. I want to ensure that we are not allowing the lack of access and affordability to get in the way of learning. These factors are within our control, some others are harder to deal with.
With knowledge and learning comes the power to create incredible things and ideas. More importantly any of the creations can become game changers. To allow for accessibility, I felt that we needed to provide additional options. The very thought that we may help encourage another Einstein becomes a reward for me!

Q: What was your biggest takeaway from Stanford’s education program?

A: The most valuable thing I took away from Stanford was that there is a huge gap between research and implementation. Each professor is focused on his or her own research, as they should be. However, this single mindedness tends to pit peoples’ ideologies about education in ways that are not productive. For example, we have seen the pendulum swing for many philosophies – practice is good, practice is not good, whole word versus phonetic learning, math wars, etc., which leads to a complete tearing apart of the system. And it leaves us paralyzed in many ways. It’s time we understood that we have to work together and take what one person has discovered and continues to build upon it to improve student proficiency in our classrooms. Hence, I would like to see professors’ work on teams to bring many perspectives together to help solve problems we are facing in the education industry today.
Furthermore, teachers are finding it hard to implement the research findings, because classroom teaching is already so demanding that it’s very difficult to find time to learn new methodologies or find out about creative practices. It requires tremendous time and energy to implement such things. Not only that, but much of the research is not available to teachers, because it is expensive to access  journals and resources.  Hence many of the nuggets from research tend to be lost within academia.
In addition to limited time and energy for self-development the lack of agreement between educators “on what makes an educated person” makes it very hard for this system to be successful. Most professors or educators tend to view education reform from their own perspective – a single dimension. This kind of thinking – “what I say is the answer” – can be very destructive and does not help the current students in the system or the system itself. We need a holistic view of education to create solutions.

Q: If you could construct an education and teaching program that you feel would be suitable to deliver the skills students today need to be successful in the future, what would be the key elements? What would you change about the Stanford program?

A: To take a stab at making the education and teaching system work, we have to recognize that there is no one single answer to this problem. How can you educate a class full of students with a spectrum of abilities, varying interests, and differing starting points by one single method?
Learning is a personal process. We cannot ignore the fact that students are unique, with varying paces of learning, interests, and end-goals. To create student engagement, a learning process requires individualization and customization of content and delivery methods. I believe concept-based, customizable learning materials with feedback to the student in real time will achieve stronger student engagement and higher achievement. We still have a lot to learn about this way of teaching and learning.
CK-12 aims to provide the following to foster student success through:

  • Individualization
  • Starting from where the student is, rather than starting from where you want them to be. We will take the students from where they are by scaffolding their learning and bringing them to where we want them to be or where the students want to be in their learning
  • Different modalities – visual, auditory, kinesthetic – supported through different types of media. This allows students to become immersed and interact with the same concept in many ways and provides them different alternatives – almost like practice; and
  • Collaboration through peer-to-peer learning and meaningful learning.

Q: Teachers today are short the resources and funding to bring new, quality content resources into the classroom. In what ways is CK-12 making it easier for teachers to have access to quality content?

A: The mission of CK-12 is providing resources through which students can learn via multiple modalities, supported by different media. We provide content that the teacher can use – because it is standards based (National and state standards, Common Core aligned, and knowledge based system). We try to make it as easy as we can for all learners to learn using our system.
In addition, we deliver the content via many sources. You can access our content on any browser: on computer, mobile device, or laptop. You can use it with any e-reader or tablet: Kindle, iPad, NOOK, or Android. We also recognize that not everyone has access to technology. So we are committed to providing print templates for printing. The exciting part is that our content is modular, so that you can use what you want and leave the rest.
Our content is also always free to all of our users. There is a need for high quality content for everyone, and we remove the barrier to access by ensuring that anyone can afford to use CK-12.

Q: In the debate around open education resources (OER), many raise the concern about quality, accuracy, and relevance when using open content in education. What is CK-12 doing to ensure quality control of its open resources?

A: Quality, accuracy, and relevance are always of concern. They should be. Are all publishers providing quality, accurate, and relevant content?
OER is in its infancy. Let it mature, as has the publishing industry, and then we can talk! Seriously, when we started, we thought we would let user generation be our model. The only thing is that it takes time, as was the case with the often-cited example of Wikipedia. Look where they are today! Looking at the state adoption process – many of these will show how many mistakes publishers make. Also, you have to think: how long does it take to fix a mistake a big publisher made after they’ve sent the books to print? With CK-12’s platform, corrections can be made immediately by the teacher. I think this is just noise and distraction. We can waste all our energy on this argument or go on and do what makes it better.
At CK-12, we follow an extremely academic process for our content development that parallels a publisher’s process. We have a quality assurance process for development of our software, so why not for our content? We recruit authors that have subject matter expertise, as well as teaching and curriculum design experience. They work with our book managers and domain experts in developing the content. This process is followed by  technical reviews, peer content reviews, and copyediting It’s all a matter of priorities! If OER projects don’t meet the user requirements, then they will go away. No one will use them. If OER projects are able to show users we have what you need, then they are here to stay.

Q: CK-12 offers several different ways to access and learn the material: video, diagram, text, etc. How can we leverage technology to meet the individual learning needs of each student?

A: This is the fundamental belief we started CK-12 with – offer many different ways to access and learn material. How can we provide these things to the students? Paper and pen only provide certain media support – technology advances have made it possible for us to create interactive materials and provide multi-modality to students in ways that many technology leaders have envisioned. Students can now learn at their own pace. The only thing that holds us back is providing technology to every student – there’s currently a large cost. This will change.
Historically, education has been the last sector to embrace technology.  We are not leveraging technological advances that are improving our physical world. Technology allows us the ability to have all kinds of things “a button away.” Push a button and you can get different versions, push it again and get different media in one platform, a third time to get to your peers or teachers for help. Why wouldn’t we want to make students’ learning more efficient? Students can use technology to access information instead of going to the library, and thus use that added time to enrich their minds.
Another important aspect of using technology in the classroom is that it bridges the needs of the students and the role of the teacher. Technology allows for us to focus on what is learned, rather than on what is taught. The ability to get information anytime, anywhere takes away unnecessary and extreme dependence on the teacher. Learning becomes the learner’s journey!
More to come! Learn more about us and access free, quality learning materials at www.ck12.org.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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