Technology Integration

Radical Curriculum Sharing at the Open High School of Utah

English teacher Emily Peterson and blogger Todd Finley share some excellent free resources for English/language arts

July 25, 2011

With flippy red hair, Emily Anderson looks like post-millennial Yvonne Craig (a/k/a Batgirl) -- with a mic headset instead of a mask, and posing as an English teacher at the virtual Open High School of Utah. Talking to me via Skype, her face is poised, but kinetic. She is probably tapping her toes and simultaneously managing twelve student chat rooms.

Anderson's students communicate with her from libraries and homes all over Utah, with some scattered as far away as Guatemala. She admits that switching between information channels and facilitating the needs of 130 kids challenges her, particularly when her kids prefer to study after midnight. "And I'm not a late night girl!"

Before OHSU, Anderson taught for six years in a traditional brick and mortar language arts classroom. After freeze-tagging her professional life and starting a family, she joined the faculty of OHSU. As she struggled to master the different technologies of the charter school, she reminded herself that integrating Web 2.0 technologies, like those that follow, would help her students succeed in the 21st century:

  • Oneeko: Screensharing
  • Sliderocket: Slide sharing
  • Scribblar: A multi-user whiteboard
  • Grockit: A test preparation community

OSHU also uses commercial systems, like MoodleRooms (a fully supported learning management system called an LMS) and Highrise (a contact manager and tracking application). In coordination with Highrise, OHSU manages scheduling, student data, and reporting with Genius SIS -- designed specifically for virtual schools -- that allows Anderson and parents to view student data on an intuitive information dashboard. Parents "can look at how a student is doing. It's right there. Boom! Is the kid a brainiac in science, but not in my class? If so, then I can play off that. I get a better overview."

Given the current test score fetishization, sophisticated tracking technologies like those employed by OHSU presages the day when every micro teacher and learner signal that can be captured will be quantified and standardized, leading to teaching as a paint-by-numbers activity. Anderson, however, focuses on how the Genius SIS data helps her modify and target instruction.

Free Drag and Drop Curriculum Remixing is Now!

The age of comprehensive drag-and-drop curriculum planning is here, once only the province of commercial web sites and texts. Abundant non-commercial English/Language Arts resources have been posted about the Internet since the late 1990s, although most lack breadth and depth. Today, those sites that freely share coherent, good quality, comprehensive, multimedia-rich lessons and activities linked to common core standards might be only counted on one hand, but their utility is impressive.

Imagine the English teacher unloading a handcart of curriculum file drawers into your classroom, each neatly tabbed by grade, theme, goals and objectives. Using these resources, a teacher can construct a semester-long course in minutes (naturally, that should just be the first step of planning).

As popularized by the Creative Commons, OHSU encourages faculty to harvest, remix and reshare curriculum from multiple repositories. It freely shares course shells (see OCW). What does that do to your brain?

In Search of Radical Sharing Curriculum Repositories

Inspired by OHSU, I spent a week eagerly searching for free and broad secondary ELA curriculum. Of the non-commercial comprehensive curriculum resources designed specifically for secondary English teachers, a few resources stand out.

  • The Common Core Curriculum Map uses an intuitive interface to present in-depth thematic units plans and materials, roughly six per grade level that connects activities with skills outlined in the Common Core Curriculum.
  • The Virtual Library of Instruction hosts many excellent unit plans designed at the University of Georgia's by Dr. Peter Smagorinsky's secondary English majors. Scroll down to see units listed by grade. Titles listed in pink are the best.
  • At Teaching That Makes Sense (, Steve Peha has created a ridiculous amount of materials useful for writing instructors and students. Drill, baby, drill into his site.
  • Open Culture archives hundreds of free courses. While many of them share everything, other links dead-end at a thumbnail description. Check out the excellent courses and materials related to the teaching of literature.
  • has standards-aligned high quality multi-media activity kits for ninth- to twelfth-grade language arts teachers.

Some of the sites I discovered were created by college professors and might be too difficult for students who are not academically gifted. Nonetheless, there are treasures here:

  • Journalistic Ethics contains YouTube lectures by UCLA professors. Content is sophisticated. The audio is not always state-of-the-art.
  • MIT's Opencourseware hosts complete online courses, going back to Fall 2002. Advanced Essay Workshop, Becoming Digital, Writing and Reading Short Stories, Writing and Reading Poems are multi-media rich.
  • English Courses from Yale I've watched Dr. Amy Hungerford's lecture on the American Novel four or five times.
  • How to Teach Writing: A Resource for UCLA TAs has a comprehensive and detailed collection of practical resources and multimedia.
  • Utah State University also shares many useful resources.

I did not find any OCW materials that reinvented content-user interaction. Radical curriculum sharing has a long way to go until it revolutionizes teaching (see the mighty Smarthistory). If you know of a resource I missed, please add it to the comment section of this blog.

What is the most helpful teaching technology for Batgirl . . . er . . . Emily Anderson? Google docs, where students watch her grade. "It takes 10 minutes and they walk away with a better paper, knowing what to do!"

Technology still hasn't solved the biggest time crunch: reading, responding, and grading essays. "And let me tell you," she laughs, "My grading inbox is frightening." Nor does technology alleviate the need for her presence "They want me there, commenting. But I can't always be there as much as I want to be."

Despite these limitations, Anderson is buoyed by the opportunities that OHSU affords her to help others. "I've been to conferences," says Anderson, "Where participants are like, you have curriculum and you are willing to share it with me? And I say, 'Yeah, take it.' We want the best out there for people."

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  • Curriculum Planning
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  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12 High School

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