11/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Disruptive Innovation of Curriculum 2.0

In this
age of rampant information sharing, why aren’t educational materials as ‘open’
as some other things – like some computer code? This is the question that Scott
McNealy, who revolutionized software development with Sun Microsystems, asked
himself about instructional materials while he was trying to find a way to
explain electricity to one of his school-aged sons. As he wrestled with this
question, he came up with an idea.  Why
not apply the same collaborative spirit that drives the open source software world
to K-12 education material? From that brainstorm, Curriki
 burst onto the scene. Today we’re one of the
largest K-12 open source education sites in the world with more than 85,000
registered members and close to 250,000 “friends of Curriki” on our mailing
.  Curriki is used by educators
from Boston to Bangalore and in virtually every country around the world.  The model of sharing Open Educational
Resources (OER) is already fundamentally changing teaching and learning. As
technology spreads across the globe through low-cost laptops and even cell
phones,  open content has the potential
to bridge the education divide between those with and without access to high
quality instructional materials.

The Curriki site itself offers educators the
ability to do three main things:  Find free
and open source educational resources; Contribute
their own classroom-tested curriculum; and Connect with
other educators using our group tools to collaboratively develop new content.

Community Power

Educators who are looking for classroom
materials can search our
repository of more than 30,000 free and open source resources.  The content comes from for-profit and
non-profit publishers and from our large and growing community of educators. It
includes full courses, units of instruction and individual lessons, many with
simulations, animations and video.  Using
Curriki, members can create collections of curricula for use in their
classrooms, similar to assembling an iTunes playlist for use at a party or the
gym.  Teachers build collections of
resources that they find in the repository and then can add to them with their
own best lessons and units of instruction. If the teacher decides that one way
of explaining how to add fractions will be more engaging than another, he or
she can simply swap one in for the other. 
By everyone sharing their best content, all teachers gain access to a
wealth of different approaches to all of the most common teaching activities.

With Curriki, the process of sharing is
streamlined, so that teachers who want to contribute can
use simple templates designed around popular pedagogical styles such as
Understanding by Design or Constructivism to create content right on the site.
Users can also upload Word, PowerPoint or virtually any other kind of
file.  Some districts are now using the
site as a tool for knowledge management so that when veteran teachers retire,
the great content they’ve created over the years doesn’t have to retire with
them.   Preserving and sharing high
quality curriculum: sometimes some of the most powerful ways to improve
teaching and learning are also the simplest.

Teacher Collaboration

Teachers who want to collaborate to build new
curriculum can come together using the Curriki group tools. This easy-to-use
set of tools lets members set up a group around a specific area of focus. For
example, the Parlin School uses
Curriki to share curriculum and then invites other schools and teachers to
collaborate around their contributions. The group can start with content that’s
found in the repository and then add to it with their own material, or they can
develop everything themselves from scratch.


With any
open site, “How do you make sure the content is good?” is one of the first
questions people raise. With an equal opportunity system of contributing, a
quality vetting process is vital and Curriki’s review process is therefore
appropriately thorough. Any content that a member uploads is first reviewed for
its educational relevance. Next, a team of experienced subject matter experts
review content and provide both numerical scores and detailed analysis for
technical completeness, content accuracy and appropriate pedagogy.  We also have a Comments feature on every
resource, that allows members to post ratings and write comments on what worked
and didn’t work in their classrooms. This process allows for input from a
community with a lot of opinions – teachers.

there is an impact from these efforts both in the U. S. and around the
world.  In just a few years, nearly 1
million lessons have been downloaded from our site.  In districts such as San Jose, California and
on Long Island, New York, and in Nepal and Indonesia and Yemen, the feedback is
that this model of sharing makes obvious sense. We’re just at the beginning of
the Open Educational Resource movement, but we need continued funding to keep
things rolling.  To grow globally, this
new, altruistic model of sharing information needs additional supporters. To
date, we’ve been generously supported by benefactors, ranging from committed
wealthy individuals to foundations. As money gets tighter and tighter, we’re
spending an increasing amount of time following up on every lead, from stimulus
grants to wealthy high tech execs with Web 2.0 funding techniques.

David vs.

One such
opportunity came from a former Google executive Paul Buchheit, who announced
this summer that he was planning to give away “a lot of money” and wanted the
community to tell him where to spend it. Groups were asked to post their ideas
and then to let the community vote for the ideas they liked best. Through email
newsletters and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, Curriki organized our forces
and reached out to our entire community – and they responded and continue to vote.
Within a few weeks we were competing for the number one spot with the
deep-pocketed Clinton Global Initiative. The
Chronicle of Philanthropy
wrote a story about how Curriki is the David
challenging Goliath.

metaphor resonates on many levels. David as the smaller organization – and
David as the upstart new model of information sharing. Questions and challenges
still abound. How to motivate teachers to contribute?  Will the philanthropic community maintain the
necessary support? It’s not a Goliath amount of money, but the question of
sustainability is ever-present. Perhaps a community of believers will click
Obama-style and donate
in small increments.  The model is being
honed as it’s being invented.

This new
model of leveraging the collective knowledge of the community is beginning to
deliver on its promise of revolutionizing learning. The challenge is how to
make it sustainable.