How – and why – to use ARP funds for open education resources (OER)

Openly licensed resources are customizable and sustainable, benefiting students, teachers, and districts.
Bridget Mariano is Coordinator K-12 Programs and Grants at Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Bridget Mariano is Coordinator K-12 Programs and Grants at Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

Public schools have faced unprecedented challenges, compelling us to change the ways we work. The American Rescue Plan funds will undoubtedly help districts like ours, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS), to adapt, recover, and innovate in ways we never expected. Investing the time, human capital, and funding to develop openly licensed resources is an important possibility to explore.

Open educational resources (OER) are educational materials—everything from lesson plans to entire textbooks—that are openly licensed and free. While free is appealing, the true power of OER is that they’re customizable, which benefits students and teachers, and they’re more sustainable than commercial textbooks, which benefits districts.

These aspects of OER are amplified with investments in building teachers’ capacity to curate, customize, and create OER. According to Dr. Kipp Rogers, VBCPS’s Chief Academic Officer, “It makes perfect sense to employ the best people for the job when it comes to addressing unfinished learning and we know that those people would be teachers who are far more familiar with what it will take to accelerate our students’ learning. OER built for OUR students and OUR division ecosystem by OUR staff would provide that custom fit and personalization we know is best for students.”

In 2020, VBCPS used ESSR Funds to help cover Instructional Delivery Supports, providing evening tutors access to instructional resources and professional learning on curriculum and instruction while also offering students ongoing feedback and support. The OER developed include materials for professional development, small group instruction, data-driven instructional support, and strategies for tutors. A state grant supported OER preparation for the state’s #GoOpenVA repository. Educators were compensated for completing the OER training and OER contributions.

Jean Weller is Educational Technology Specialist at the Virginia Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.
Jean Weller is Educational Technology Specialist at the Virginia Department of Education Office of Educational Technology.

While this work began before the pandemic, our team quickly shifted focus to address priority standards and adapt learning experiences for virtual learning. Unlike packaged and copyrighted curriculum, OER are agile, accessible, and modular. School districts use various Learning Management Systems, and OER materials are platform-agnostic, promoting sharing across the state. For example, when our district needed to develop the curriculum and resources for the new state Pharmacy Tech course, we opted to customize an openly licensed textbook and shared it broadly on #GoOpenVA.

Most importantly, we retain any OER developed and continue to improve them for years to come, creating a more sustainable and practical approach to curriculum. Students and teachers won’t lose access to OER like they do with subscription-based resources, which enables teachers to address unfinished learning.

Related: Use open educational resources to boost teacher collaboration, curriculum coherence

You might be thinking: “These are free resources, so why do we need to fund them?” According to a statement developed by the advocacy group K-12 Voices for Open, the key is making a commitment to devote time, human capital, and funds to creating strong structures for OER curation, creation, and customization. There are four key steps districts can take:

  1. Agree on a goal. Identify how OER can support your overall strategic plan and include teachers. Consider these questions:
  • Do you wish to supplement your current learning resources or to support/provide a full curriculum?
  • How do you expect the use of individualized lessons to impact student learning?
  • How will the development of OER impact your teachers?
  1. Start small. In VBCPS, we began with a small pilot group of teachers and will expand to include even more teachers in the coming years. Consider how to compensate teachers for their work, and potentially create new roles or working arrangements to provide ample time to do it. While we currently use local funding to support curriculum writing centrally, we certainly see the potential for various grants to support our teams as well. You can also start small in terms of the types of resources you target—for example, working to incorporate openly licensed supplemental materials rather than shifting to openly licensed core textbooks. You can also choose to start with a focus on a single subject area or pedagogical approach.
  1. Plan to provide professional learning. Teachers must understand copyright and open licensing, as well as how to curate, customize, and create OER. In VBCPS, we partnered with Virtual Virginia to train our pilot group of teachers on these topics. There are several other options for training. For example, in Virginia, we have a training resource created by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education and, nationally, many resources are found on OER Commons.
  1. Share the results. VBCPS continues to upload our resources to our state’s OER platform, #GoOpenVA, to share with others. Sharing these products helps create a community of devoted educators and strengthens educators’ work.

By shifting long-term investments in commercial resources toward OER, while also allocating incentives and time for teachers to learn, collaborate, and develop strong resources, your district can use ARP funds more efficiently and effectively, generating positive and lasting impacts on teacher practice and student learning.

Bridget Mariano is the Coordinator of K-12 Programs and Grants at Virginia Beach Public Schools. Before taking on her current role, Mariano was an Instructional Technology Specialist at Ocean Lakes High School and Computer Resource Specialist at Kempsville High School. She began her career teaching chemistry at Ocean Lakes High School in 2001.

Jean Weller is the Educational Technology Specialist in the Office of STEM & Innovation for the Virginia Department of Education. She is currently the administrator of #GoOpenVa, an open education resource community and repository for all teachers in Virginia.

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