It’s Time We Say, “Goodbye and Thank You” to Northern California

While Navigation North is NOT going away, we are regretfully transitioning from our long-time Northern California home-base in Chico where it all began for our company.

For our founders, and a number of our staff, Chico is the hometown where we went to college while working in coffee shops and record stores, taught in local schools, raised our families, served on school boards, volunteered, coached sports, ran Girls Who Code camps, and somewhere in between all that, built Navigation North as a start-up educational technology business.

Over the last 8 years however, success and growth has called us to more and more projects abroad, beyond our beloved little town. While we still have a number of critical projects in the Golden State, our Chico office team is transitioning to various points around the country. So while we will keep some ties to our professional presence in Northern California with our partnering teams there, most of our core staff will be taking up positions in more urban centers where we can continue to recruit and build top talent and increase our capacity to foster innovative educational technology products and resources for public education.

With that said, we have some unfinished business here in Northern California with many friends, former education colleagues, partner agencies, and most importantly with a commitment we made to recovery-assistance for Paradise CA students and teachers.

As many know, a number of our staff are from the small Sierra mountain community of Paradise CA. Many also know that we took a one month pause from our work obligations to volunteer our time and resources and funds to coordinate refurbishing and distributing 2000+ Chromebooks, resources, and financial contributions and direct support to Paradise students, teachers, and campuses through December and January last year.

We also called upon our network of colleagues and friends to spearhead, and match funds with a number of business associates, partnering agencies, and local tech. companies to generate direct dollars to assist students and teachers with acquiring technology equipment and content to continue education services for all kids affected by the Camp Fires of last fall.

Help us make a final impact for Paradise Teachers and Students rebooting this year against all odds!

As part of our outgoing “Hoo-Rah!” we are asking for your final push of donations to help us contribute to the core of teachers who have amazingly and painstakingly re-opened schools within that community this year.

NOW IS THE TIME to join us in contributing resources to getting these committed staff and students appropriate tech. devices, labs, infrastructure, and digital resources to create equitable education opportunities in a town that needs all the support it can get.

We are working with the district and the new site principals of both Paradise Intermediate School and Paradise High School to transfer 100% of these dollars directly to educational technology equipment and services as requested by staff who are there rebuilding learning for students. Join us in putting an exclamation point at the end of Navigation North’s good-bye to this wonderful community that has been NavNorth’s home for the last 15 years by supporting these educators and kids.

To our family and friends in Northern California and beyond…THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

-Navigation North


For EdTech, Summer Time is Testing Time

Summertime means testing time for those teams wanting to grab input from educators. Thinking, planning, and designing systems to increase the use of digital learning resources and enabling educators in sharing how they create richer, more equitable, and differentiated classrooms for students is our passion.

Therefore, we typically contact educators just as the school year concludes. The idea is to plant the seed of what is to come by briefly introducing the nature of our projects, the resources being developed, and what we hope to accomplish. We don’t impede between them and their summer plans however; we just frame the ideas and then off they go to their much-deserved family trips, solo adventures, or to tackle a long-neglected home project. We in turn finalize development through June and conduct internal Alpha testing and begin staging to catch those same educators for Beta testing as they begin to trickle back to their regular day to day lives late July through August.

This means, we are right now in the midst of moving systems into Beta staging at Navigation North in anticipation of two huge platform launches later this summer. Working to get product executed and shipped in advance of schools starting back up in August makes for both an exciting and chaotic work environment, as our own staff gears up to introduce new tools, features, and designs to awaiting client teams and their stakeholder groups. Where white-board drawings, concepts, storyboards, and early stage mockups once dominated our space, we now refine interfaces, tools, and verify data-structures and resources integrated throughout our new platforms.

Digital Inquiry Sets…coming soon.

With ample time spent in both Discovery and User-Centered Design phases, the hope is to validate structural, feature, and user experience decisions formulated over the last 6 – 10 months. However, where changes need to be pursued, the testing regimens and user-findings will help us to make final adjustments to hone more effective and efficient delivery of resources, programs, and services for educators across the country.

Without exposing too much of the upcoming releases, we wanted to share how very excited we are about these new products coming out this summer on behalf of our client-partners.

Just through our own internal testing, with many of us being former educators, we can readily see how these projects will promote increased use of exemplary digital learning resources across many, many classrooms. We are now keenly focused on the open beta engagements as we head into the first 4-6 weeks of introducing these new systems to the targeted teacher teams who will help us further analyze and refine the tools, resources, and features we’ve been researching and designing over this last year.

CTE/STEM Curriculum…coming soon.

When it comes to helping thousands and thousands of educators document, share, and refine their instructional practice in open, collaborative online communities…Navigation North is laser focused on what it takes to help our partners achieve desired outcomes. Another exciting and rigorous summer of development and testing has begun, and we look forward to sharing the results in the coming months.

As with all projects we sign on to, the sites and their resources will be open and free to use by any educators and students, schools and community groups, and anyone else interested in promoting learning and growth. Let us know if you’d like to know more by contacting us directly.


Big Projects on the Way @ Navigation North

Busy, Busy @ Navigation North

A few of our long time clients have decided now is the time to make strategic and significant investments in extending their existing systems. Therefore, things are moving fast within the Navigation North offices as these big projects make their way through our design and development processes.

The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has recently joined forces with two of their exceptional museums to envision a year’s worth of system advancements, new feature development, and related learning design research for the award-winning Smithsonian Learning Lab. We look forward to exploring ways to extend the powerful learning and resources of the National Museum of African American History and Culture though the Learning Lab in the coming months. (On that note, the Learning Lab is currently a finalist for this year’s Webby Awards for Best Educational Website!)

Fuzheado [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
Across the street from the Smithsonian offices, our partners at the U.S. Department of Education recently tapped Navigation North to lead a complete overhaul of the website for their largest internal team, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Drawing on our existing contracts and experience working with both their Office of Educational Technology and the Office of Innovation and Improvement, we are drawing on our expertise to move all program data, resources, and content into a new CMS, while modernizing the overall design, their content publishing processes, and integrating advanced analytics reporting.

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#Inclusive History

In the meantime, out on the West coast, Navigation North is working feverishly with the California Historical Society and the University of California’s History-Social Science Project to prepare a new History curriculum site, Teaching California. The launch is scheduled for this coming summer to be ready for outreach, orientation and use by educators and students next school year. The platform is designed to eloquently blend rich, primary source materials from numerous libraries, museums, archives, and historical collections with standards aligned curriculum and historical relevance and strategies for the California History-Social Science Frameworks.

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These projects represent part of our ongoing commitment to #GoOpen. Any teams that have worked with us know that a cornerstone of our culture at Navigation North lies in creating more, freely accessible digital learning resources for students and teachers. Across the past decade, we have led in the design and development of platforms, tools, and data-structures to help resource providers unite their materials with the instructional thinking of creative educators to enrich and engage youth.

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Let us know how you are working to better leverage your agency’s knowledge and expertise or are interested in exploring how to enable online communities of educators in bettering public education for all communities. Contact Navigation North and help us re-imagine education for the 21st century!



La Purísima Mission

An easy way to promote the learning resource you or your teams develop on the Smithsonian Learning Lab, is to use the embed code to drop a functional version of your collection on any webpage where you share information with your constituents!


Thank You to Our Clients and Partners!

Some could easily see this is a general thank you to our clients and partners for the year coming to an end. Well, yes…it is that, but it is quite a bit more than just “business” this year in particular.

Most of those who work regularly with us know that our neighboring community of Paradise CA suffered a disastrous wildfire that almost entirely destroyed their city, and with it the schools of 5000+ students. They also know of our long-time involvement with our local schools, educators, and students. Therefore, we wanted to actually take a moment to move beyond a business-oriented recognition…to express a very heart-felt thank you to our clients abroad and also to our local partners for all the support that was given to us, so that we in turn, could take the time we needed to help the students and families from that community.

Many that work with us know that 3 of our core leadership team have deep roots in the community of Paradise CA. Two of us grew up and attended school there, one taught there, and we all have life-long connections with friends, families, and educators we know and love there. We’d like to acknowledge that each of our clients engaged us in early November as the tragic wildland fire events were unfolding, and immediately inquired how they might assist in any way to help students and families. Not only did individual team members from various organizations that we work for make personal contributions to recovery funds, but they also made room for us to shift much of our time and effort towards assistance with the school districts, teachers, and students and families for over a month to provide aid, volunteer days, and help coordinate laptop and materials distributions across the county to schools.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Specifically, our long-time friends at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access reached out to us immediately to know how they could help and made personal contributions to our local recovery funds, while our newest partners at the California Historical Society sent a care-package to share with the displaced families staying with some of our staff, and started every meeting by covering “How is everyone doing?” and “What more support or resources do you need?” Our local partners via Chico Grow Tech, without fanfare, or questions…just plain and simple showed up to help with every part of the aid we needed to quickly coordinate laptops and backpacks to high school and middle school students who lost everything. We even had former colleagues reach out to us and make direct contributions to the children of the families we were collectively hosting for the months following the fire.

This has been an absolute affirmation of what we already knew. We have always loved the partners we get to work with in their efforts to help support education, learning, and increased access to equitable resources for all communities. And because of that, we end up developing meaningful relationships with the people behind those projects through a shared passion, vision, and drive for the work. The last few months of 2018 solidified the spirit and the heart of those teams we are so fortunate to alongside throughout the years.

With your help to date, we distributed over 1600 laptops and 500 backpacks directly to students who have returned to Paradise Schools in their new locations and centers across Chico. We have 400 more laptops scheduled to be picked up and distributed to Paradise students that are now enrolled in one of 7 different school sites in Chico, and are soliciting the donations to secure 200 more for students that were forced to move out of the area with their parents.

If you can donate to help address this remaining push, please do, as we have direct contact with these displaced students and families in need as coordinated with their school site leadership teams.

Donate Button

With 2018 coming to an end, our whole team at Navigation North says THANK YOU! and wishes each and every one of you the Happiest of New Years. As always, we look forward to working with you in 2019 and beyond!

With Much Love and Appreciation,

– The NavNorth Team


Company News Uncategorized

Please Help Us Get Online and to Our Students! – Northern CA Schools

“We need to get online now and find our students!” a local Northern California school site administrator implored us two days after the fires decimated the town of Paradise CA just miles from our offices.

Last Thursday – November 8th, members of the Navigation North team in Northern California woke up to head into the office and quickly noted an eerie hue to the sky.  Despite the call for clear weather and mild temperatures, a large dark cloud hung heavy to the east over the foothills east of Chico and seemed to be visually growing and expanding as it competed with the sunrise. As we filed into our workspace, we noticed it had gotten progressively and oddly darker outside as the first hour of the morning unfolded. One staff member went outside to snap a picture of the surreal colors of the clouds that now filled the entire sky above our offices and the city of Chico.

Just after 8:30am, team-members started getting notifications that, what we thought to be a cloud, was indeed smoke from an erupting and fast-moving fire that was quickly encroaching on the city of Paradise just 15 miles away in the foothills above Chico. And then the social-media feeds started coming in. News that many of our friends and family members were being evacuated and scattered images that seemed to show sections of the town’s center on fire were confusing and unbelievable.

Two staff members who grew up in the community of Paradise, and had taught at Paradise schools knew all too well the probable outcomes for this heavily wooded town in the Sierra Nevadas, hemmed in with thousands of tall pine trees and brush with limited roadways leading out. This scenario had been feared for years. What nobody predicted was just how fast, and devastating the fires would be once aided by 30 – 40 mile per hour winds. We sat horrified watching video after video of people we directly knew driving through active flames in the middle of a modern, fully developed city through downed powerlines, flying embers, and collapsing buildings while weaving through burnt out vehicles to narrowly escape the exploding flames.

As Thursday come to an end, evacuation-ready notices were extended to some of our own neighborhoods in Chico and surrounding towns, but the news coming out of Paradise was one of utter and complete devastation. It would take a few more days for the full picture to come into view. But where a town of some 30,000 residents once lived, was now 95% gone. Schools, stores, post offices, churches,  and over 12,6oo residences at last count. The fatalities are still being calculated to this day, and the physical and emotional toll is now settling in across all affected parties. Our town of Chico has now become the temporary home for an estimated 40,000 evacuees. They quickly maxed out the emergency shelters, homes of friends, available apartments, hotel rooms, trailers or RVs and tent-cities have emerged over-night in various locations across town. Nobody has been left untouched on some level, as families, elderly, and others not having a place to land have ended up sleeping in cars and make-shift shelters wherever they can. The city of Chico and its residents and businesses are working tirelessly to lessen the impact with impromptu food and clothing drives and distribution efforts, but the need is overwhelming.

Beyond hosting displaced families in our own homes, the Navigation North team has thrown their professional efforts, expertise, and relationships beyond our community and state behind helping re-gather and re-establish the schools of Paradise. With no facilities left, and no access back into Paradise in sight for months due to toxic ash and pending Winter weather, site and district leaders that oversee the 5,000 displaced students are scrambling to secure temporary facilities in any and all commercially available sites throughout Chico. Having participated in two major convenings of Paradise educator teams and students hosted at local high schools in Chico this last week since the fire, we were struck by the outpouring of aid for these families, and the sheer weight of the situation stitched across the faces of the teachers of the Paradise community. We moved through groups of teachers that we had taught with, and have known in our professional work now for over 20 years and just rolled from one hug to another as tears flowed and stories of harrowing escape unfolded from school sites across the ridge.

NOW WHAT? – Navigation North has jumped in on the efforts with the public education recovery teams locally. We have proposed to secure 5,000 chromebooks for ALL displaced students to immediately tether with Verizon community broadband recently made wide-open so we can connect kids with their teachers and peers and content immediately!

We have hundreds of teachers who need their students. We have thousands of students who need their teachers and one another. We will not have physical facility to bring them together for weeks and quite possible months. All affected school sites and leadership teams have told us, “Get us devices. Get us online. Get us to our students!”

We are calling on all of our past and current partners within California and across the United States to please donate!

We have set up a fund with the schools to secure the purchase of the first 3500 Chromebooks for the middle and high school students and teachers so we can begin distribution immediately. Once we have the needs of grades 6-12 students and teachers met, we will look at grades K-5. We are also targeting these funds for setting up facilities networking in the buildings being provisioned on the fly to serve as learning centers over the next 4 – 6 months to get these schools and their students through the remainder of this school year. These learning centers will become the closest thing to schools to help provide the secondary students a blended, flexible model for proceeding with their education, while also serving as community resource centers for affected families.

Please pass along this information across all of your networks. This student technology emergency fund is set up through the North Valley Community Foundation as to ensure funds are expressly spent on just what was outlined above, and to provide you or your agency a tax-deductible contribution. Navigation North will work to distribute these funds exclusively to the school site leads affected by these fires, and will ensure that these will ONLY go into the hands of students and teachers.

We want to also thank the efforts of our partners, the Paradise Unified School District, the Paradise Charter Schools Community, the Butte County Office of Education, our local GrowTech Industry Team, and Instructure and Edmentum for their commitment of integrated LMS services and courseware for all students and faculty to get education up and running for these children and their families!

Thank You from the bottom of our hearts – Navigation North




Using Visual Prototyping to Unlock the Lessons of History

Navigation North traveled to San Francisco to do some early-stage visual prototyping with the California Historical Society team. In the heart of the CHS research center, amongst transitioning exhibitions, offices bustling with varied expertise and passion, and a blend of artwork and manuscripts that shape the history of the Golden State, a small room was set aside for a day of thinking and dreaming.

On the horizon for this team, is a new and vibrant site being prepared for California classroom teachers and students that will help provide key curriculum and resources tied to California’s new History – Social Science Framework.

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With an audience of primary source specialists, curators, digital archivists and manuscript librarians, Navigation North led a reflective review of key findings around effective, research-based digital curriculum design for education. Teams were then asked to disregard traditional constraints, and open themselves up to dream, design, and create what they would consider the “gift” they’d like to deliver to teachers. But first, we turned off the laptops, silenced our phones and broke out the crafts.

What was a respectable meeting room adorned with handsome, historical portraits from California’s past, became a free-for-all of poster paper, markers, yarn, crayons, sample artifacts, clothes pins, pipe cleaner, clay, common interface buttons, scissors, tape, and glue. With some guidance, discussions began on the topic of intentions, values, and calibration around common desired outcomes.

Team members reviewed findings on teachers’ use of digital curriculum and reflected on the value of primary sources as keys to unlocking history, then engaged in creating prototype models that blended all of the above. Will educators navigate lessons and activities in order to surface primary source documents and resources? Or would it make sense to front-load intriguing and exquisite artifacts, intimate excerpts from the journals of noted historical figures, or the true stories of more obscure families and populations that represent the foundation of our state’s origins and growth as a means to initiate inquiry? These were the questions generated by a dichotomy of historical specialists and experts, who then worked to translate their approaches to proposed interfaces, tools, and features of a future site still collectively taking shape in their minds.

people inspect a series of design posters

Once glue had dried, markers were placed back in their boxes, post-its were notated and organized, participating team members collected their visions and shared their visual prototypes. Colleagues posed inquiries about each other’s designs, discussed features, and proposed methods for helping teachers and students, “Interrogate the primary source for its story”. Participants were asked to then walk about and identify their favorite elements of each other’s designs. Navigation North staff recorded the data, captured pictures, and carefully collected all the resulting work items to bring back for further analysis and compilation of findings.

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As part of the Discovery Process, this was merely a simple first step towards helping diverse team members construct a more comprehensive and shared conceptual approach to envisioning a robust, digital, curricular resource. With additional steps pending, we were happy to see the team readily shed their reservations with a new and relatively foreign process and engage some early User Interface design thinking.  Stay tuned as this adept team works with the California History – Social Science Subject Matter Projects teams to craft an incredible product to help bring more voices to the story of California’s past.

If you’d like more information about visual prototyping to help define collective product design, or to help craft a shared team vision for digital resource development, please contact us at Navigation North.


Navigation North to Release New OER-LTI Tools

Having spent the last 5 years refining OER systems and tools with some of the nation’s largest Learning Resource distributors and recently conducting a body of research and analysis on educator and agency use of OER, Navigation North is preparing to release a new series of robust learning resource distribution and tracking tools.

 We examined and documented the needs facing educators and those facing campus digital learning officers and administrators when increasing the amount of digital learning resources presented to learners.

Trends show that more educators are being asked to increase their use of OER as a way to create more personalized learning options while also creating viable alternatives to expensive textbooks for their schools and students. As part of this process, educators do seek out curated educational resource repositories and resource providers they know and trust for quality materials, but also depend heavily on micro-repositories of their own curation from non-education sources and colleagues.

image of canvas page content with Smithsonian video embed
Instructor annotated video from Smithsonian Learning Lab embedded into page of Forensics course content.

Educators also look for ways to instructionally frame or scaffold those resources for their own learners. This can range from simple introductory annotation to the development of comprehensive inquiry frameworks that guide learners’ entire journeys through one or more resources.

And where more educators are stepping up to those challenges and leveraging more of their classrooms and coursework across digital learning management systems , more campus digital learning officers and administrators are faced with two unique challenges:

1. Agencies are investigating how to better find, access, and/or create and share high-quality OER repositories ensuring their faculty are utilizing diverse, vetted materials from valid collections, known programs, and trusted resource providers.

2. Agencies are also considering how to best document and monitor the growing volume of OER being utilized in terms of coursework, frequency, and outcomes to gauge effectiveness.

New CharED OER instructor and admin. management tools.

With these issues in mind, Navigation North is excited to release a new series of OER instructional integration and management tools for educators and agencies using any number of popular Learning Management Systems. Applying our knowledge, experience, and observations to a robust tool series, we intend to shape what we’ve learned and move them to the learning environments nationally in use across leading Postsecondary and K-12 initiatives.


Two Canvas Projects and Some Fun Summer Learning

Demanding More from Their Learning Management Systems

Requests to help more and more education agencies make full use of their LMS (Canvas or otherwise) to optimize online and blended course offerings seems to be in high gear lately. Universities, colleges, and districts are pushing to leverage their LMS investments as part of providing more learners online learning experiences, and to embrace a number of textbook free course initiatives ramping up across many states. And now that robust Learning Management Systems have become standard fare at almost every postsecondary institution across the country, high schools are the first tier of the K-12 system quickly following suit.

While most K-12 districts are at the early stages of assessing LMS needs, other districts, having crossed that bridge years ago, have joined their postsecondary peers in moving beyond basic implementation to expose more advanced needs for extended tools, features, and resources.

This was reflected in two recent projects this summer that immersed us in some of our favorite work: digital content development and creating tools that help teachers better blend their instructional creativity with OER.

With both clients using Canvas as their principal LMS, we found ourselves deeply engaged in Canvas’ features, tools and architecture while designing methods to help teachers create robust, blended coursework. In the process, we spent considerable time building extensions to the system and some LTI integrations to help better manage teachers’ use of their own selected OER with combined access to expansive and diverse external OER repositories and district curated collections.

This work comes after a previous year of our extensive deployment of Canvas Open Source for a number of agencies, so we thought it made for a good excuse to attend Instructure’s annual get-together in Keystone, Colorado to meet with Canvas enthusiasts, examine other projects and efforts, and share a bit of what we’ve learned too. We presented on the work we are doing to finalize a custom OER repository and integration tool to help educators source and embed OER into their Canvas content pages and assessments. We also outlined our methods and strategies used to draw out and publish some exceptional coursework from teams of California teachers authoring new, online courses in Canvas for state piloting.

Jodi Halligan prior to NavNorth presentation.

Learning and Sharing at Instructure’s Carnival

So first let’s just get this out of the way, we had way too much fun at InstructureCon! But, as stated, we were there to learn and share, so we still considered it officially work, just really fun work. We found that lots of people were interested in learning strategies and models to guide teacher teams in creating rich, online course content, and what tools we found critical in helping districts manage the selection and use of OER to supplant textbooks and traditional materials. You can review our full presentation slide deck here, but below are 3 big ideas that seemed to resonate with those attending our session, along with what we’ve observed and learned from others while there.

1. Assembling Balanced Teams – 

What we presented Teams, not individuals, should be involved in collaboratively developing coursework in common. The heavy lift of content development on those teams should be conducted by a balance of teachers with deep content knowledge, and also teachers who posses specific creative instructional thinking and strategies particularly suited for engaging learners via online environments and tools. Lending the core content team some expertise with online learning design, accessibility, and advanced use of the platform itself should be the domain of instructional designers who can put that “last-mile” effort into getting the content optimized for direct use by learners and distribution across the campus or district.

What we found At the postsecondary level, many faculty work independently (not in teams) on creating coursework to support a course they have ample experience teaching with some guidance afforded by a campus or district instructional design team who are adept with the platform, accessibility issues, etc. At the secondary level, there seems to be far more instances of teachers organized into grade level and subject area cohorts by the site or district, but they regularly lack any specialized, online instructional designers lending direct support to the process, and are typically working with a district lead staff who is also just getting familiar with operations of the LMS.

2. Don’t Completely Abandon Analog Supports/Processes –

Simple course template with guiding content for teacher cohorts.

What we presented Sometimes when dealing with online learning design, and new digital environments, agencies might tend to abandon a number of simple analog processes. For instance, if time is not built in to adequately orient teachers to the finer operations of the LMS, consider allowing them to use common tools they are already competent with for content development. In our pilot programs, we did not have access to the budget required to gather our teacher cohorts together even once, let alone for a sustained period of 1-2 weeks with follow-ups to go deep with the LMS and then with how to use it to ensure a specific learning design structure. Because of this we opted to lean on Google Docs with simple templates that guided the design we were looking to achieve. This easily allowed each of them their own workspace, with access to see and reflect upon each other’s work and progress for norming of content, voice, instructional congruencies, pacing, etc. It simply removed the burden of learning the platform as a precedent to building the content, and got us up and moving quickly.

Along with basic constructs like benchmarks and deadlines guiding the amount of content to be developed, teams were given precise time frames and development phases with models of sample content shaped by a lead instructor and the instructional designer to provide a beacon point for expected deliverables. Teams also had required online meetings every other week, and optional weekly drop-ins for those teachers needing more regular group face-to-face via Zoom videoconferencing and one-on-ones with the lead instructional designer. This helped keep everyone on track, responsive, and provided for quick re-calibrations and guidance on content specificity and rigor and if any fidelity-drift started to occur with the content or resources.

What we found In many instances, teams were by default, immersed in the LMS environment managing unfamiliar instructional framing terminology (modules, nodes, etc.), along with tools that force disconnects in the natural learning design flow that resonates with most instructors when developing instruction. This is standard question most LMS tools ask of educators when forcing them into unnatural segmentation decisions when authoring a page, an activity, a discussion, an external resource, or an assessment, instead of allowing for the ubiquitous blending of many of those as is a natural condition of learning design flow. Requiring teachers to wrestle with learning a new set of tools that also introduces this seemingly fractured parsing of instructional sequence adds unnecessary barriers to creating effective content.

3. Provide All Educators Some Role in Content and Resource Curation –

Sample content page from NavNorth project with embedded Smithsonian OER.

What we presented One element of research repeatedly confirmed in practice has to do with the relationship between an instructor’s familiarity with the content as it relates to their ability to deliver it to students. Instructors involved in the process of content design, development and curation of embedded open education resources (OER) report higher levels of understanding and comfort with content than peers who were merely trained on the use of content in which they had no role designing. As most would suspect, when teachers have a direct hand in the design thinking and development of course content, embedded resources, instructional activities, and assessments, they are much more adept at delivering the course with fidelity and guiding students in the full and effective use of the course to achieve targeted outcomes.

What we found In the case of postsecondary faculty who are often the sole designers and implementers of their own course, and also for secondary cohort teams that were selected to be directly involved in the development of shared coursework, these teams benefit from the process. However when the content is then handed off to non-cohort teachers, with no direct involvement in the content development, they struggle to implement coursework with the same level of competence as their peers who designed the content. To compound this issue, most districts lock down a master copy of the course developed by the cohort teams, and prohibit teachers from making modifications for their own classrooms. We urge districts to lock core segments of the content they deem non-negotiable for adaptation, but engage teachers in reviewing and making appropriate modifications to remaining elements such as the OER within the content, the formative assessments, and even extend or build upon the summative assessments with project-based activities reinforcing the primary objectives. Beyond just increased competence with content delivery, research shows that when teachers are engaged in reviewing, reflecting upon, and personalizing the content, they modify in ways that make it more accessible to the learners they are accustomed to supporting.

Teams That Inspired Us

So yes, we love to have fun and learn and meet new people. Whenever we get an opportunity to meet scores of other teams and people in our same line of work, we can readily admire cool, and technically sophisticated tools and resources on a certain level. But, we are more apt to be drawn to teams that also have conviction for teachers and students, and see their work in relation to making quality education more readily available to all communities. With that said, we want to give a shout-out to some people we met at InstructureCon that had some really cool tools, some cool ideas too, but also inspired us.

First, the Instructure staff themselves who created an atmosphere of reverence and respect for educators all wrapped up in lots of fun and positive energy. Second, the team from Knowbly Learning Systems, whose cool applications and resources were only surpassed by their really fun team-members’ who shared a collective desire to help make learning content more accessible and engaging for learners. Third the combined work of the Learnosity and Atomic Jolt teams for their understanding of engaging online assessments, and how to design tools to make LMS platforms work better for teachers. Next is Unicheck a team whose youth is matched by their passion to put together a solid application that is responsive to educators’ needs and is provided at a price point to keep it accessible to schools and districts. One of our favorite presentations was delivered by Dr. Chuck Severance who has been deeply involved in technology-enhanced teaching and learning and digital tool interoperability, but kept it simple and real when he included this statement, “Can we all agree that just putting up PDF’s in Canvas…this is NOT where teaching and learning happen?” And finally, the team from Beaverton School District showed the pragmatic steps it takes to actually move a K-12 district forward in the use of innovative tools and resources, and later showed what it takes to move it forward on the dance floor as well. It was a pleasure learning from you all!

Chris from Beaverton School District and Jodi Halligan @ InstructureCon Carnival Dance Party




What Are Your Thoughts on OER?

Gooru Learning recently posed the question, “What are your thoughts on OER?”, and given our role in OER systems development and research over the last 15 years, generating a comprehensive answer seemed like a valid exercise. 

Diagram of OER Providers

OER can be an emerging key ingredient in helping all schools and all teachers formulate a more rich and diverse learning environment for students. OER can help negate some of the last remaining expenses standing between students with need and a quality education, yet can add expenses elsewhere if not thoughtfully approached. Today’s openly available learning resources have been technically designed for easy integration, and can often be readily adapted to suit a given teacher’s instructional styles and strategies. For many skilled teachers, a key piece to creating rich learning experiences lies in finding and assembling materials, snippets of content, demonstrable examples, targeted video segments, and the like to best help students with initial context and understanding of concepts, processes and development of skills in which they have limited prior knowledge. How does one simplify a square root? How did transcontinental travel transform regions? What are comparative equivalents to the space between electrons and their nucleus? How can you structure and produce effective descriptive writing? Who was Alexander Hamilton, and why has he become so popular?

Many of our team members and our technical colleagues around the nation have focused largely the last decade on solving issues around sharing and discoverability. In order to help teachers find, and utilize resources, the work of making things more discoverable digs deep into establishing extensible taxonomies and schema, data structures and sharing protocols that work to better catalog and transmit information targeting:

  • Where the native OER materials/content is stored?
  • What the native OER is in terms of file-type and/or object type?
  • Who the OER was designed to benefit in terms instructor guidance (lessons, curriculum models, units) or direct student learning support(manipulatives/interactives, learning content, assessments)?

Much of this work from the educational technology community has been underpinned by the belief that a highly discoverable, well designed and adaptable ecosystem of learning resources, with complete metadata specifications that can transmit resource information to external platforms or environments supporting educator communities of practice, will compel the education community at large to move towards increased use of OER as a core content source. This is a tricky assertion, and requires continued examination of how teachers are conditioned to consider, select, and integrate new types of learning resources. The technology and teams working to create more quality open learning resources and content along with tools to better integrate them into strong instructional practice and online content, are certainly holding up their part of the deal as the quality and adaptability of OER continues to improve. However, a key shift that will open more classroom doors to OER use comes in the form of designing tools to better integrate the teacher as the lead orchestrator directing the use and instructional design of the resources. Research we have been involved in producing and using to inform OER tool development for educators along with research published by the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA), along with findings of top researchers Kurt Squire and April Luehmann.

Consider just a handful of the projects, programs, and agencies working to help teachers create inspiring and dynamic learning content and experiences with their resources. Along with our partners at SCLDA,  we spent years observing, assessing, analyzing, and applying the needs of teachers in combination with student use of digital resources to integrate the nation’s most rich collections of objects, artifacts, and expertise from their partner museums with tools to allow the practitioners and learners to structure their own learning experiences.

Smithsonian Learning Collection – Transcontinental Railroad

Similar efforts from teams we know at the National Archives have resulted in their specific learning site Docs Teach, matching their historical documents and media with activity tools, along with the Digital Public Library of America team that has amassed over 20 million objects freely available for classroom use.

There are also programs working to aggregate and distribute more quality resources expressly for education like the great folks at OER Commons and CK-12 who have expanded their collections and curriculum organizer tools. One of our favorite aggregators, OpenEd has nearly a half million free, designed resources aligned by standard, grade, and curriculum element. And then there is specialized content like the popular TED series that has now combined with instructional tools and supporting media as an extended education platform TEDEd Lessons where their materials can be modified and personalized by teachers or students directly.

Of course the widely used Khan Academy is a go-to for many students wanting to learn and practice pin-point skills along with more continuous, adaptive learning sequences that can be integrated as whole parts of a given curriculum – and obviously Gooru for prompting this write up today and providing great work in this space for almost a decade now.

Curriculum Institute – led by Jodi Halligan 

The path to getting more high-quality, appropriately designed OER to students, will inevitably involve teacher adoption and practice, despite all other issues technical or otherwise. Where we have seen OER best managed and integrated within daily teacher practice have been programs that apply a format of Curriculum Development-as-Professional Development. Cohorts of teachers are focused on specific curriculum development using identified repositories along with materials of their own. The cohorts are networked with common tools and processes as a community of practice where the resulting OER infused curricular products are then shared as readily usable, direct resources for all teachers within the district or state. These deeply structured curriculum models present the larger teacher community with “classroom ready” resources that also serve as blueprints for the use of OER.

This is a powerful framework for learning-design that blends teacher exploration and experimentation, building digital resource familiarity and use, and weaves in a teacher’s individual instructional skills and natural inclination to create robust learning activities with their peers. In California, we spent years implementing and refining this Curriculum Development-as-Professional Development. To help integrate the use of OER into strong career ready instructional practice across secondary, and now postsecondary programs. As a purely voluntary community of practice, CTE Online now hosts over 100,000 CTE and STEM educators that are involved in creating or adapting curriculum models that exclusively use OER as the primary content for delivery of instruction. CTE Online Overview Video.

The ongoing evolution of OER has much to do with technical efforts related to specifications like LRMI or SKOS, or research from iNACOL, or in testing LTI integrations with PowerSchool or Canvas Learning Management Systems for a district. But OER is clearest to us, and holds more promise when we see rooms where the time and expense has been forged to gather:

  • 30 middle school teachers across various disciplines looking at increasing PBL in their school, or
  • 40 postsecondary instructors working with 35 secondary instructors on increasing OER integration into grades 9-14 sequenced pathways.
  • A handful of K-2 teachers from the same school working on Next Gen. Science Standards-based assignments
Allison Frenzel, Windsor High School Teacher – Curriculum Writing Institute

And in these instances, we continue to hope to see resulting curriculum examples that integrate resources from NASA or EdSitement or Merlot or the California Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students, where the resulting models are documented and shared out for use with Google Classroom, or as open and eloquent learning content/activities with Smithsonian’s Learning Lab or OER Commons or Gooru or distributed via LTI through Canvas or PowerSchool, etc. This is how OER can eventually become the principal source of compelling, quality, diverse resources that helps make sure all learners have access to exceptional content regardless of their income or community. And on our team, we tie the continued growth, distribution, and efficacy of OER commensurate with equitable access to high quality education and an inextricable piece of preparing students with 21st Century learning skills required in both academia and industry. 

So in short, what are our thoughts about OER?…Simple. It is important to be clear on what you’re looking for and knowledgable about what’s available and how it works.

It is also more complicated than providing lists of digital resource sites, playlists, or collections of online materials sequenced with basic tools to distribute digitally to students. Educators need annotation tools to blend their pedagogical strategies with the OER, and agencies need the means to manage and observe the OER being used, the methods by which the instructors frame the OER use, and the eventual ways the learners apply the OER and instructor’s treatment successfully or not, to mitigate learning needs. Falling short of this approach wont prevent any one system or agency to move forward with an OER-rich/ text-book free coursework implementation that reduces the overall financial expense to the learner. That can happen independent of the fidelity we’ve alluded to above, yet there will be an additional expenses gained for those that were lost. It is the expense of not knowing what is being delivered, not knowing how it is being delivered, and not knowing what models are bearing the greatest results. And that is an expense none of us can afford.