The Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources (SABIER) welcomes the Feb. 22nd announcement by the Bush Foundation that it will devote most of the $7 million-plus it spends annually on education to the “School Design for Individualized Learning” initiative. The Bush Foundation awarded the MPCC, The Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum, the Local Government Innovation School Category, Overall Winner in  2015.  SABIER, is taking the work of the MPCC to the next level by ensuring that teachers have the necessary support to engage in large scale customized learning.

The Minnesota teachers of the MPCC are well on the their way to innovating a shift where students’ learning styles, cultural backgrounds and career aspirations are all taken into account.  Encouraging teachers to use the openly licensed and Minnesota standards aligned curriculum that has already been created and paid for by 206 Minnesota school districts allows them to make the crucial classroom and student level decisions about curriculum that are necessary. Teachers can revise and tweak the content for their students using their direct knowledge of the students’ learning styles, cultural backgrounds and career aspirations.

When well-designed full course Open Education Resources (OER) are used with a learning management system along with the professional development and training for this type of learning, students no longer necessarily need to be physically present in a classroom to gain the learning experience necessary to apply real-life skills. Also, approaches like Project-based learning can be leveraged allowing students to not only learn new facts, but to apply them as they will someday be required to do in their careers. In addition to gaining social learning experiences with their classmates, the digital learning experience opens the world to the student, allowing them to converse and learn from people around the world. Imagine, in the middle of a cold winter in Minnesota a snow-day is turned into learning journey to another part of the world from the comfort and safety of their home.

All current generation Learning Management Systems allow districts to report the results on any kind of assessment as frequently as they want. More importantly, students can be  given immediate and specific feedback about their responses by their teachers. Teachers can use this type of tool combined with their experience to quickly correct misconceptions and provide students a better understanding of concepts. This is already available; districts just need to decide to start doing it.

The Bush Foundation spending on education is about 3% of the approximately $240 million per year spent on textbooks in Minnesota. The state could realize a savings amounting to 3 times the Bush Foundation spending by merely not spending 10% of what is currently being spent on textbooks and instead use free openly licensed materials that are just as good or better than those textbooks. But even better, the award winning, high quality, free, digital, full course learning materials enable interactive engagement of students and allows teachers to then accommodate those different learning styles, cultural backgrounds and career aspirations.


Missing so far in the implementation of the free open education resource curricula and the realization of all the possible customization has been a way to take the money that’s currently being spent on textbooks and divert it to paying for teachers to acquire the training and skill to make all of the possible customization a reality.  The Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources, SABIER, was created to supply that missing element consistent with the 2016 Online Digital Learning Advisory Council Final Report, a Minnesota legislatively established council. SABIER works with school districts to make the changes necessary so that all of the customization and personalization is realized. Districts are able to use existing money and available philanthropy dollars to pay for the initial teacher training that’s necessary to become proficient at using open education resources.  It’s the next step in transforming ‘how kids experience school, how teachers teach and even how classrooms look.’

This post was a collaborative effort of the following:

Lori A. Peterson, PhD., RODC, SABIER Board Chair and Consulting Director of Integral Consulting Group

Sheila Norton Rindahl, SABIER Open Practice Consultant and eLearning Product Manager at cmERDC

Elliot Soloway, PhD., SABIER adviser, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, University of Michigan, Co-Director of the Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center

Seth Leavitt, SABIER Board Member, Mathematics Teacher, Online Learning, Minneapolis Public Schools

Olivia Mullins, PhD., SABIER adviser, President of Science-Delivered

Dewey Sloan , Attorney, SABIER Board Member, former middle school science teacher

Dan McGuire, SABIER Executive Director and former elementary teacher.


I met this past Wednesday with Minnesota State Senator Patricia Torres Ray to discuss how to increase the opportunities for Minnesota teachers and students to use Open Education Resources – Creative Commons licensed curriculum. We decided to not try to add it to this bill, SF 158, dealing with STEM COURSE GRANTS; APPROPRIATION  which we had discussed the previous week, but rather to attempt to add it to this bill, SF 1554, which is for “an act relating to education; modifying the duties and expiration of the Online and Digital Learning Advisory Council; providing for a grant program to support digital curriculum development in Minnesota schools.”

SF 1554 already specifies that “The commissioner must award at least one grant to an applicant that proposes to create a new, digital, open educational  resource for statewide use.” Our thinking was, why stop there? If all other things were equal or, at least, similar, wouldn’t it make sense to use OER content instead of proprietary content whenever possible. The immediate dollar savings to the school districts and the state would be significant but probably even more important would be the affordances that the OER content would provide for teachers and students to modify the content to personalize or customize the content to meet the individual needs of every student. Modifications that were useful could be shared with other teachers in the building, district, state, or  anywhere. As Minnesota State Rep. Carlos Mariani said when discussing a different bill in one of the Education Committee hearings later in the day on Wednesday, ‘We need to be able to learn from the investments we make.’ Investing in OER is only a matter of investing in the necessary implementation that is required in order for teachers to use the free, digital, standards aligned curriculum effectively with their students. The learning from that investment comes when teachers and students are able to share what they’ve learned with others, which is what is encouraged by open education resources, OER.

So, this post is to ask for suggestions from you as to the best language to propose to include in Minnesota SF 1554. Any evidence or reasons you’d like to offer as to why adding such language would be useful is also appreciated.  You are welcome to send your thoughts directly to Senator Torres Ray using this email form, or you may add them as comments here, or in an email to me at dan@sabier.org; I’ll compile a summary and forward it to Senator Torres Ray.

OER Platform* Comparisons

February 14, 2017

I was at Venture Academy in Minneapolis for the viewing of Most Likely To Succeed on Monday evening, Feb. 6. The following day, Tuesday, we got a tour of Venture Academy and then about four hours of workshop/discussion with a team from Summit Learning which Venture Academy is using. Venture Academy also got money from the Gates Foundation; their school is doing good things.

I observed that SABIER is essentially doing the same thing as Summit Learning with a few differences.

The differences are:

SABIER is platform agnostic (although, we like Moodle a lot. And, I don’t think Facebook developers actually really understand K12 education.) All of their content requires a keyboard – can’t use iPads or tablets???

SABIER starts in 3rd grade instead of 6th (and maybe in earlier grades if we get a collaboration going with the principal I met at the event.)

SABIER focuses on ‘traditional’ public schools rather than charters

SABIER encourages a lot more interaction in online content between student and teacher

SABIER doesn’t have Zuckerberg’s money

        There are probably more, but that’s a start.
I found it reassuring to have proof of concept demonstrated by Facebook (Summit is financed by Mark Zuckerberg.)

OER via an LMS such as SABIER promotes and which is consistent with Education Reimagined’s five interrelated elements characterizing student centered learning could be considered best practice for education in 2017. The accessibility to content in a digital format for those who choose something other than English on paper is what will really drive the future of learning.  The creation of an electronic record or archive of student work and teacher comments from which reports about how students actually understand aligned material is also crucial. There’s a lot of chatter these days about the need for aligned content but very little talk  about how assessment of student learning of the aligned materials gets accomplished. Using standardized tests is Not going to be adequate or desirable.

I think it will be useful to compare the various offerings of OER content that are accompanied by targeted and extensive professional development which is key to making OER work effectively for students. To that end, I’ve created a comparison table on a Google doc. I’m aware of what Lumen Learning is doing and have included them in the table. Please add your thoughts and suggestions for additional ‘platforms’ here or on the doc in comments.
 Below is a re-posting from http://developingprofessionalstaff-mpls.blogspot.com/2017/01/for-profit-involvement-in-oer-part-5.html

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For-Profit Involvement in OER – Part 5

This is a continuation of a discussion from Part 4

In a blog post yesterday, David Wiley said:

“The conversation needs to be larger, the sense of urgency needs to be greater, and the vision and imagination of what’s possible needs to be far, far broader.

PDFs aren’t going to get us there. We need more efforts to provide the benefits of publishers’ “adaptive” systems while honoring and enabling the values of the OER community (e.g., the 5Rs and open pedagogy) and more support of these efforts.

The tl;dr (sic) is this: faculty (who make the decision about what resources will be used by students) love these systems, and with good reason – they can make things better for students and faculty alike. If the OER community doesn’t recognize that and start providing and promoting viable alternatives to publishers’ platforms, the best possible future for OER is being locked down inside a Pearson MyLab playing second fiddle to proprietary content. No 5Rs and no open pedagogy.”

Earlier in the post he said: “And don’t even start trying to explain how the LMS is the answer. Just don’t.”

I responded, ignoring his exhortation: “LMSs properly supported, are very good ‘platforms’ for all kinds of assessment and analytics. And, more importantly, control of the LMSs can remain in the hands of the faculty where it should be, if they choose to exercise that authority. Of course, if faculty are only interested in the easiest way to do things, well, then, they can always pay someone or have someone else pay for the difficult parts of teaching and learning.”

David responded to that by saying- “This is demonstrably false. Just taking the first example that comes to mind, LMSs cannot do Computerized Adaptive Testing no matter how they’re supported.”

I’m not sure where to start. Arguing that we shouldn’t consider LMSs for OER because LMSs can’t do CAT is a problem for at least two reasons: First, CAT is usually not OER in practice, today. But, secondly, LMSs can indeed to CAT if you want to use them for that.

David then went on to propose that I read what he’d written about LMSs and CMSs and OLNs back in 2009. I generally agree with what he wrote in 2009. Faculty adoption of all of the interactive, collaborative, student centered features of an LMS is a slow and extremely tedious process. We wrote about that in our book chapter and 2014 HLC Conference Best Paper describing such an initiative. David would do well, I think, to consider the work of one of his colleagues at BYU, Charles Graham, who we reference in our work. Graham, et al. point out that implementing a hybrid or blended system in an institution requires a whole lot more than was considered by David and Mott in their 2009 paper.
David clearly understood that there are a whole host of issues to consider as faculty change the very nature of how they do what they do. David’s approach regarding the task of transforming the way faculty approach how they interact with students in the teaching and learning process was not to show faculty how to do it. Instead, he created a for-profit company where OER is housed in an LMS that is connected to the institution’s LMS via LTI. The advantage to faculty is that they don’t need to learn how to install OER in their LMS courses and learn how to use the new, interactive, collaborative, student centered, wider community connected features of their LMS, or learn how to manage the analytics that are available with all current generation LMSs. The advantage to David is he gets to have a for-profit company that charges the students of those faculty who don’t want to learn how to do all of that difficult ‘platform stuff.’ Sure the students save money compared to what they would pay if they bought the books from proprietary publishers, but the faculty stay ignorant about how to really manage learning using a learning management system. Ignorant faculty are good for profit making.

Below is a copy of a blog post that I made on another blog  June 15, 2016. Here’s a link to that blog

For-Profit Involvement in OER – Part 4

I’m genuinely glad that Lumen is doing what they’re doing, and I applaud the announcement this past Monday of the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources. But, I also still have significant reservations about the particular model that’s being used to provide access to the OER. And, I don’t think discussing the model of delivery and the specific nature of how and to where the money flows is merely ‘academic,’ as Dr. Wiley described it in his comment on my previous post, For-Profit Involvement in OER – Part 3. It may be that the Lumen model is exactly what’s needed at this stage in the development of OER, but I’m concerned that without a clearer understanding of the details (like documentation other than what’s on Git hub and a support network other than Lumen staff), we might be missing greater opportunity. Bluntly, I don’t want the purposes of a for-profit company spoiling the possibilities.


The really great thing about Lumen’s approach is that it is providing significant immediate savings to students and thereby enhancing the sustainability of the institutions where they’re studying. (Go ahead and quote me.) The for-profit textbook publishers have created a worldwide orchard with a whole lot of low hanging fruit.

Here’s the distinctions I want to make:

  1.  Putting the OER in a separate platform and connecting to the LMS via LTI is only really useful if you want more money going to those that run the separate platform instead of keeping the money for running the LMS. I’m pretty sure that Lumen is already working with Instructure and other LMS purveyors to blur that line even more, which will come with the argument that that is the way of most opportunity which is Dr. Wiley’s proclaimed rationale for Lumen being a for-profit entity.

  1. The supporting functions that are necessary for the continued flourishing of OER can be provided by a for-profit entity, but the best value to community colleges, students and faculty will be when they are provided on a fee for service basis. The structure of the entity providing the supporting functions might be for-profit corporate, for-profit individuals,  non-profit corporate, consortia of governmental orgs, or combinations of the above. The particular mix of combinations matters, too.  The ultimate factoring to per student does not necessarily correlate to quantities. Sometimes it will be cheaper per student for a class of twenty-five students at a four year institution and sometimes it will be cheaper per student for all of the Algebra 1 students in the statewide CC system. As institutions including administration, IT support, faculty, libraries, student services, and students all come to understand all of the moving parts of OER, the institutions will better be able to determine which payment method for OER support is best for their particular circumstances.

As Dr. Wiley has pointed out, there is a need for all types of support. Different recipes produce different cookies. For now, cheers to Lumen and the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources.

The fact text messaging actually costs carriers nothing  combined with the fact that free wireless internet service is also available to connect students in Minneapolis with the servers at Minneapolis Public Schools means that students and teachers in Minneapolis should be able to use Twitter and Moodle in their “classrooms”  which could be anyplace in the city for free.  The only cost then becomes the cost of the devices and the cost of training teachers and students how to use these tools.  The cost of devices is not much more, if any, than the cost of textbooks.

Due to the nature of the system used by carriers to send text messages between phones, texting does not cost the carriers any money at all.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/business/28digi.html?_r=3&partner=rss&emc=rss   This is because SMS messages are designed to fit inside the bandwidth alloted to the “control channel”, which is used to establish communication between the mobile phone and the cellular tower. This channel is continuously active, so the messages are piggybacking on the control signal, for free.

It is essentially only our ability to think through the logistics of using the current technology that is keeping us from doing what is being done in colleges like the UT Dallas and will be done in UK elementary schools according to the recently announced plans.

I did a search on twitter in the classroom thinking I would get to the Youtube video of Monica Rankin and instead I found out that we’re already using Twitter in the classroom in Minneapolis.

The path seems to be getting shorter by the hour !  Now, we just need to get everybody on board.

With a two year contract, of course. see Stribune article from 4/18/09


This is a big deal because it means that there will likely be a more significant source for internet devices.  If the trend keeps up people and businesses will want a place to unload their ‘old’ netbooks.  Sabier will be there to provide the service of unloading them so that people can buy a new device guilt free.

The new Civic Garden of Wireless Minneapolis allows students and their families to access Minneapolis Public Schools websites including our Classroom Moodle . That means the only thing keeping a student from participating in the online learning environment at home is a device to access the Civic Garden. A $50 used desktop computer or a $150 used laptop would be fine for most of the stuff kids need to do today. As netbooks approach the $50 price, eventually without a contract for the older models, the availability of devices should increase.

The AT&T offering confirms what Wired has said in their piece in February, The Netbook Effect .  It’s pretty clear that internet devices will become increasingly affordable.  That brings me to the thought that maybe the resource that Sabier needs to focus on is teacher training rather providing devices for students.   Students might be able to get the devices on their own, but teachers are going to need lots of help getting to the point where they feel comfortable using netbooks in class.  Perhaps we can do a little of both.