About 8 years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a face to face course in web development through the continuing studies department at a local community college. The course was developed by the head of the certificate program that the course was part of. As I started talking to him about the course & the content to cover, he handed me a massive paper textbook that he created and said “here is the course I want you to teach.” Well, never having taught this course before, I was grateful to have the resource. Here was the entire course. All I had to do was deliver the content in the book and all would be good.
As I went through the course the first time, I noticed a number of problems. I made notes of things I wanted to change the next time I taught it, concepts I thought were missing or needed to be enhanced or dropped. I also received a number of constructive comments from the students after the course finished on ways that the course could be improved.
Post-course I went back to the original developer with the changes I had that I thought would make the course better. I asked him for the source file for the textbook (students could only buy a print copy of the textbook at the time) so I could both modify the content & make it available electronically for the students. His answer was an emphatic no. This was his content, he didn’t want it changed and he certainly didn’t want to “give away” the textbook to the students.
The course WAS the textbook, and, for him, the value of the course was the content (ironic since it covered web development which, even at that time, there were no shortage of great free resources available on the web). I taught the course for a couple of years and, despite the insistence on teaching from the book, I found ways to incorporate the things I wanted to do into the course. I could have rebuilt my own book from scratch, but there were really good pieces from his book that I wanted to use. Gradually my enthusiasm for teaching his content his way waned. I wasn’t passionate about teaching someone else’s way with someone else’s content. And I wasn’t making much headway into changing that core book, although he did eventually relent and let me post a PDF version of the book online. Everything I did on my own was peripheral to that book – it still formed the core of the material – and eventually I grew bored & quit.
I didn’t know the term “teacher proofing” at the time. In fact, until this week I had never heard the term (thanks Mary & David). But I now realize that my personal experience was “teacher proofing” in action.
Teacher proofing is a very curriculum centered approach to education where the content IS the course and designed generically enough that (in theory) anyone could teach the course & have the same outcomes. The teacher is interchangeable. Their input is not needed. Anyone can deliver the course.
It’s an old, long-discarded industrial model that considers students as products and teachers as replaceable parts, far more suitable for building cars than educating children. Dr. Richard Curwin
You can see the danger here, for not only students, but for the teacher.
Not only do students suffer from scripted programs, teachers suffer, too. Teachers lose their creativity, their enthusiasm and their love of teaching. They lose their desire to be teachers. Many quit. Dr. Richard Curwin
Not only is this disillusionment possible (as I experienced through my example above), but teacher proofing can also lead to a deskilling of teachers by distancing them from the act of designing curriculum, which means that teachers lose those key skills and become nothing more than the deliverers of content.
When a school decides to adopt OER, on the other hand, this policy requires teachers to identify resources, judge their quality, align them to standards, aggregate them in meaningful collections, and choose or design accompanying activities and assessments. Teachers and staff also become involved in ongoing processes of evaluation and continuous quality improvement. Where “teacher-proof” curriculum assumes few or no skills on the part of the local teacher, adopting OER is the ultimate expression of confidence, empowering teachers to bring all their expertise to bear in the classroom. Tonks, Weston, Wiley & Barbour, 2013
OER’s can help counter teacher proofing because they give educators control over the learning resources. Because they are openly licensed, educators can modify, customize and personalize the content to fit THEIR style to meet THEIR learning needs.
While OER’s may appear the same as copyright materials in that they are often built by others, the difference is that the open license gives educators the legal ability to modify the content. It puts the control of curriculum back into the educators hand and encourages a deeper connection to the material. You become personally invested in something that you create. It then becomes something unique to you, something you become passionate about because of that personal investment you have to the material.
Teacher proofing leads to generic plug and play courses. The McDonaldization of higher education where someone (paid at $8 an hour) delivers a generic meal to you that tastes the same as every other meal. That $8 an hour person doesn’t really care about the meal they are putting down in front of you. They’ve followed the recipe. They know that it will be good enough. Beyond the final steps of heating the food, they have no idea how the food is actually made. Chances are, they really don’t care. They are completely divested of any involvement in the actual quality of the food. They are more concerned about filling orders and pushing bodies through the door. Feed and move on. Feed and move on. For $8 an hour.
The university system has turned into a “cookie-cutter” system. One can expect to find the same courses being taught, the same teaching system being utilized, the same textbooks being used, and the same type of examinations in just about every university. Because of this, a unique college experience is difficult to find. The McDonaldization of Higher Education
Using OER’s and, crucially, developing the digital skills to modify and adapt OER’s to meet specific learning needs, helps fight against this McDonaldization of education. It helps create better learning experiences by empowering educators to connect deeply with their learning resources because they are creating those resources. They are connected to the “food” in the same way that a good chef is, picking and choosing what they think the best ingredients are and then turning that into something delicious and wonderful. And along the way, by using their skills on a regular basis they are improving their skills and becoming better chefs.
But what makes a truly great chef, like a truly great educator, is passion. For me, what I’ve learned from my own experience that when I am teaching using content I have had a hand in creating and adapting based on what I am seeing happen in my classroom, I become a more passionate educator. I am doing the course the way that I think it should be done to meet the needs of my learners, and not the way that Pearson or McGraw-Hill think it should be done.
Photo: Senidal®: Acciones rurales by Left Hand Rotation used under CC-BY-NC license