09:10 PM

Interview with Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Rhode Island

Keynote Speaker at PreK-12 Leadership Forum on OER, December 7

A pioneer in education innovation, Richard Culatta will be the keynote speaker at the PreK-12 Learning Group’s Leadership Forum OER and the Learning Resource Industry – Blended or on the Rocks? on December 7 in NYC. Culatta will discuss the relationship between educators, OER, and traditional publishers as well as what business models truly make sense for publisher/OER developer partnerships. We caught up with him to talk about his experience with and views on OER and to hear about what Rhode Island is doing with new educational platforms.

If you’d like to continue the discussion, attend the PreK-12 Leadership Forum. Registration is now open. AAP members receive a discount.

We know that people have different definitions of OER, how do you define it?

I don’t like the term open educational resources or OER. I use openly licensed materials instead because I think it shows that the license for educational material is open not that the material is free. It is a license that allows for use, modification and redistribution of educational resources without any licensing fees. That is the important difference. Using this terminology helps diminish any confusion. People who truly understand the world of OER and open license materials know that it is not synonymous with free content.

People who truly understand the world of OER and open license materials know that it is not synonymous with free content.
Richard Culatta, Chief Innovation Officer for the State of Rhode Island

Where do you see a role for publishers in developing OER?

There are a variety of approaches for publishers to be at the forefront of open education. The first thing to make abundantly clear, though, is that you still need to pay to develop content. Content is not free. Especially high quality content, which is really important in education. I think that point can sometimes get lost in discussions about what we want for schools. Quality content that is developed by experts and thoroughly researched for maximum learning outcomes is the critical emphasis in creating leading educational materials. Then, once that content is created, the license is open, meaning the material is free to use and distribute to schools, districts and teachers.One approach is not to consider the content itself as the profit margin. Instead, focus on producing professional development, training and tools that schools invest in to incorporate open license materials. Another tactic is to develop different versions of material, like premium packs with paid options for additional media production (videos, simulations, etc.) or extra supplementary material as needed.

Where do you see the biggest growth or change in OER?

One of my biggest talking points and biggest worries is that we outsource our greatest intellectual capital as an educational ecosystem - our curriculum. There are plenty of things in an educational system that should be outsourced, like transportation and food, but giving our teachers a chance to take the lead with what they teach should not be on that list.Supporting and advocating for openly licensed materials is much more about empowering teachers than saving money. Their ability to let the teacher tailor lessons to the needs of individual students is of paramount importance to creating a thriving educational system. This all has to start with solid, engaging content.

What are some of the challenges with incorporating OER into schools?

I am a realist about this. There are definitely some areas where there are no high quality resources (open or non-open) to be found. We must be really clear that having an open license is a great strategy, but when there just is no high quality option you need to understand that OER is not a viable option.

How do we help our teachers gain the skills and capacity to take on full curriculum planning?

There are three main paths here.

  1. Understanding the huge burden of activity there would be if every teacher had to do all the planning for themselves. The answer is make this a group effort.
  2. We also need to look closely at how we’re providing teachers professional development. In Rhode Island, we’re working to incorporate preparation and training that covers how to sort through online content resources.
  3. And finally, we need to consider programs for people training to become teachers. Starting the conversation early, preparing teachers to understand licensing and the value of content.

Can you provide some examples of how you are using OER in Rhode Island?

We’re really just getting into this like many other states. We have signed on as a #GoOpen state which basically marks our commitment to work with schools transitioning to open license resources.

There are two situations we’re exploring: one, where there is complete textbook replacement and two, where there is a whole variety of materials that teachers pull together and examine what is best. In these situations, there is also the need to help manage and search for quality content.

While you were at the U.S. Department of Education you started working on the GoOpen initiative, how did the Department of Education get involved with the #GoOpen initiative? Why were they offering their increased support for OER?

I began my work on open licensing for Senator Patty Murray. She was the first to introduce legislative language into the rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) around open licensing. In this particular example, the role of big data was covered. So when I transitioned into the Department of Education, my interest in open licensing was already there. At the Department of Education, there is no weighing in on curriculum issues. We didn’t comment on anything in that realm, but we did use our heightened national role to do a public awareness campaign about open licensing and open education. Under my tenure as the Director of the Office of Educational Technology, we created the first Chief Open Officer for open learning and created the National Ed Tech Plan. Really, our stance was to highlight awareness around open licensing as a critical piece of information for school districts.