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Open resources help CTE programs keep up with changes

By Nicole Krueger
March 8, 2018
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It took less than six years for Uber to disrupt the transportation industry, less than eight years for Airbnb to upend the travel industry and less than seven years for LinkedIn to make waves in the corporate recruiting market.

The pace of change is accelerating in almost every field — yet many students are still learning from 10-year-old textbooks.

Caught between technology’s rapid evolution and the mounting pressure to alleviate skilled labor shortages, career technical education (CTE) programs are struggling to realign their curricular offerings with the needs and realities of tomorrow’s workplace.

Disruptive technologies across nearly every industry are changing not only what students need to know, but which careers they need to prepare for. With artificial-intelligence-enabled automation poised to wipe out 30 percent of U.S. jobs by 2030, many careers are on their way to extinction while others have transformed so thoroughly they require entirely new skillsets.

“Curricula have changed even in woodworking, where today’s students learn to read blueprints, make detailed drawings and use machinery commonly used in a very different woodworking industry,” says EdSurge. “Similarly, automotive careers have adapted to a changing industry where computerized equipment, electronics and advanced materials are now standard, and students can choose to study fuel cells or electric car design.”

Since most schools can’t afford to update their instructional materials every time technology disrupts an industry, a growing number of CTE instructors are turning to open educational resources (OER) for help.

As the open content movement sweeps across the globe, educators are benefitting from the increasing availability of high-quality instructional materials with legally recognized open licenses, which means they’re free for teachers to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. From textbooks to lesson plans to full courses, OER exist in a variety of formats and are being vetted and shared through online platforms dedicated to fueling collaboration between teachers while making better learning materials available to all students.

“High-quality career and technical education is key to preparing a strong and modern workforce, and the cost of acquiring high-quality instructional materials and tools can be a significant barrier, particularly for those in our nation’s most economically distressed communities,” says Nicole Allen, director of open education for SPARC, a global coalition for open research and education. “A growing body of evidence shows that using open educational resources in place of purchasing traditional resources can yield the same or better student outcomes, while substantially reducing costs.”

Kristina Ishmael-Peters discovered OER as a classroom teacher in Nebraska, when she realized her district’s curriculum wasn’t cutting it for her students. Her interest in open resources and Creative Commons licensing eventually catapulted her into a fellowship with U.S. Department of Education, where she spent a year leading the #GoOpen movement to help states and districts incorporate OER. Now a fellow for public interest technology at New America, she continues to help educators find and use open resources.

She recommends the following sources for openly licensed CTE materials:

University of California’s MERLOT project: The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching is a vast, searchable repository where educators can find learning materials for nearly every discipline. “It was funded through a tax grant from the Department of Labor to create resources used in 100- to 200-level courses in post-secondary education, but they translate into secondary as well,” she says.

State departments of education: The heightened demand for CTE has prompted at least 39 states to enact new laws, policies or regulations to help fill the labor gap. Some have used public funding to create their own OER. “Nebraska has a very strong CTE program, for example,” she says. “Since taxpayer dollars pay for the creation of that content, it should be openly licensed.” While most of this content remains siloed within state departments for now, OER advocates are working to make it more widely available.

“I firmly believe in the power of OER,” Ishmael-Peters says. “Not only does it put resources that can be localized or customized into students’ hands, but I’ve also seen what it has done for teachers. It gives them license and control over what material is being brought into the classroom. They’re not just handed a textbook and told, ‘Here you go.’ They understand what their kids need to learn, and they can find their own resources for it.”

Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.

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