"We serve a 100 percent dropout population. We started out to create a learning environment that was different than what was not working. We knew we needed a flexible environment that could help students self-advocate and utilize resources when the teacher was not available."
Dave Meyer, Executive Director of Instructional Technology and Learning Support, SIATech
Dave Meyer is one of the founders of the School for Integrated Academics and Technologies (SIATech), which is a network of public charter high schools with campuses in Arkansas, California and Florida. He is responsible for curriculum planning, development and implementation at SIATech, and brings more than 20 years of teaching, curriculum development and professional development experience to his work there. Prior to founding SIATech in 1999, Meyer worked in the Poway Unified School District in California, and earned his Master of Education degree with an emphasis in technology from National University in San Diego, CA. In his work, Meyer emphasizes the importance of effective technology in the classroom as well as blended and online learning models.
SIATech is designed to "re-engage disconnected students through an innovative curriculum that integrates technology with academics and provides the opportunity to earn a high school diploma." Meyer says that certain challenges are inherent in the school's teaching philosophy.
"We serve a 100 percent dropout population," Meyer explains. "We started out to create a learning environment that was different than what was not working. We knew we needed a flexible environment that could help students self-advocate and utilize resources when the teacher was not available."
According to Meyer, many SIATech students experience barriers to completing a high school degree program due to factors beyond their control.
"A lot of our students, their time frame to try to get their education in is relatively short because of all sorts of situations in their lives," says Meyer. "We don't call them at-risk. They are at-promise. But, things can cut their learning short; maybe they have to take care of life issues, so they need a flexible schedule."
The OER used by SIATech is part of a blended approach that includes classroom-based instruction and complements the school'scompetency-based model. This model gives students the ability to accelerate their own learning, Meyer says. He utilizes OER as an important element to help achieve these instructional goals and has done so since the school's first days when his team was looking to create their own content.
"We wanted to help [our students] become independent learners," Meyer explains. "We started out developing our own resources to find things that were affordable or free, in the case of OER materials. Over the years, we have found both, and made effective use of both OER and items we have created, and subsequently made available in the OER realm."
Meyer looks for the most effective and engaging resources that students can relate to their individual learning needs. These resources are used to give students immediate feedback. But he doesn't just look for OER; he contributes it as well. Today, some of SIATech's self-created learning objects can be found on hippocampus.org (screen shot below), a free academic web site that delivers multimedia content for middle and high-school subjects.
In addition to hippocampus.org, Meyer mentions the Monterey Institute for Technologyand Education'sNational Repository of Online Courses project (NROC) as one way to access quality OER through their networked repository of online courses and resources. Meyer and SIATech have contributed nearly 40 English Language Arts lessons to the network.
Meyer says that SIATech has a robust professional development program, managed by a separate team.
"We provide separate content area training for all content including OER resources that we make available," Meyer explains. "We train on how to access, evaluate and utilize [OER] for specific classroom needs using the Angel Learning Management System as a repository that we make available with a menu of items they can utilize (pictured below)."
Some SIATech teaching resources can be modified by instructors. Each teacher decides how to use them; learning objects can be rearranged, or replaced with even better resources. A formal review process for courses or content takes place with multiple teachers, and includes a rubric modified from the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses.
Although Meyer and SIATech have become adept at utilizing OER, he says that there are some remaining barriers, most notably technical challenges. Specifically, Meyer mentions that incorporating different kinds of resources into a Learning Management System (LMS) can be challenging, because they may not always be compatible with other systems. Additionally, he notes that filtering settings in place at a school can restrict access.
Moving forward, Meyer plans to continue growing and defining the work of his team, including finishing a new developmental English course. He sees value in continuing to determine the most cost-effective resources and working toward accessible, flexible courses for SIATech students.
Dave Meyer, Executive Director of Instructional Technology and Learning Support