Schools Turning To Free, Curated Open Educational Resources

In the last hundred years students have gone from attending one-room schoolhouses with handheld slates, to classrooms with handheld devices of a more high-tech sort. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed — the use of expensive and, in many cases, outdated textbooks as their main source of content. The Internet has made it possible for teachers and experts to share a wide variety of open educational resources (OER), but organizing, managing and delivering this content has been an arduous, time-consuming challenge. Now that may be changing.

Net Texts is a free, web-based system that provides teachers access to a library of OER content, which they can then combine with their own resources to create and publish lessons directly to students’ iPads, Android tablets, or computers. Schools can save up to $250 per student per year by reducing or eliminating costs for textbooks and curriculum materials.

“Our teachers are delivering content in ways our students find interesting and engaging, and outside the classroom it’s really no different than if they took their teacher home with them. It is simply amazing," said Patty Childs, principal of St. Jude the Apostle, one of the Atlanta schools that piloted the system in 2011 as part of a Diocesan 1:1 iPad initiative for eighth grade students.

More than just a content management system, Net Texts is a teaching and learning tool that helps schools maximize their investments in tablets and 1:1 computing initiatives. Teachers can find, build and customize multimedia courses from Net Texts’ mix-and-match library of more than 21,000 free OER items from providers like Curriki, Khan Academy, and some of the world’s top colleges and universities. Complete lessons, units and courses are available in subjects ranging from British and American Literature to Calculus, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry, and U.S. and World History.

Net Texts also allows teachers to add their own content and resources, change or update lessons at any time, and deliver them directly to students. Using the free Net Texts app, students can download the courses to their tablets and engage in interactive learning at any time, inside and outside the classroom. Because the content is stored locally on the devices, there is no need for students to have Wi-Fi access in order to view and complete their assignments.

A noted technology innovator, Burlington Public Schools (BPS) in Massachusetts has started using Net Texts to manage its transition away from textbooks.

“What we are doing is giving our faculty and our students more ways to connect and share dynamic content,” said Andrew Marcinek, instructional technology specialist at BPS. “A digital resource created by teachers in conjunction with OER does not require edition upgrades. What’s more, teachers can change and update content when they need to. This option gives them full autonomy over their classroom content.”

Shannon Blake, a social studies teacher in Charleston, S.C., believes Net Texts has allowed her the opportunity to create a more student-centered classroom with ease. “With Net Texts, I am able to create and deliver several reading assignments at different reading levels to accommodate the individual needs of all my students. And when students are absent, they can easily keep up with their missed assignments. I have started to post my lectures now so students can listen to the lecture at home as many times as they need to grasp the content,” she said.

In addition to social studies, Blake’s school, the Charleston Catholic School, uses Net Texts across all curriculum offerings including math, science, language arts, reading and religion. “This year even our yearbook and photography classes are using the program via their iPads,” she said. “It’s a wonderful tool to have.”