This issue of PILOTed is an interview with Bobbi Kursham, Executive Director of Curriki. Curriki’s goal is to make great educational content available to everyone, free. Bobbi is also the keynote speaker at the SIIA’s Ed Tech Industry Summit in San Francisco on April 15 to 17.
BK: Let me first give a little background on Curriki before you start with your questions. Curriki is a nonprofit and was originally created by the founders of Sun Microsystems in 2004. Our goal is to provide the best curriculum, free, just a click away. We have over 20,000 members and had 1 million page views in January.
MW: If you’re providing the best content free, what is the role of for profit educational publishers versus the role of Curriki?
BK: That’s getting right to a main issue. We are looking for a win/win. Publishers can provide services that wrap around our content. They will have access. They can make modifications. They can distribute it. They can be like Red Hat is to Linux or Sun is to java. We are in conversations with several publishers, and some of them really get it.
MW: What are the five year goals for Curriki, in terms of numbers of students using it, reputation, size of organization?
BK: We want to be like Wikipedia, but in curriculum: the first place people go to find curriculum. Whether it is top up or bottom down, if someone wants to teach something, we want them to look for it here first. They can make derivatives of it, teachers can make lesson plans from it, and they can post it back to the community for others to use. We are also in conversation with a number of countries, states, and ministries of education to set up local instances of Curriki.
A lot of material gets funded by ministries, foundations, or the US Department of Education. But when the funding runs out, what happens to that great material? Curriki is looking to be a home for that orphaned content.
MW: If I am a teacher, and I’ve created a great lesson plan for teaching, say, simple multiplication, what do I have to do to make it available to the world?
BK: Just go and upload it. We don’t require some homogenized version. To make it easier though, we are creating a series of templates that will be available in March. When you upload it, you create tags, so people can find it. Then when others create derivatives based on it, the derivatives will inherit your tags and those authors can add their own.
We’ve created a list of educational key words for tagging, to make it easier.
Also, you can take content that is already there and modify it for your own use. There are two types of modifications. You can assemble multiple resources and put them together; this would be then called a collection. It’s like a play list. Or you can take something and create your own version of it; this would be called a derivative.
When you post something, by default we use the Creative Commons Attribution license, which allows for sharing, modifying, and distribution with attribution. If you want a different set of rights, you can opt out, and we flag the work and limit what others can do with it.
A lot of teacher created great content is not digital; it’s on paper. We’re having a conversation with a large copying company, for them to offer free scanning and uploading of paper-based educational materials that will appear on Curriki.
MW: If I were a teacher and wanted to use something in my class, how could I know if it’s good without having to go through every item on my own?
BK: We have a review process, and when you look at an object, you can see what level of review it has received. Our initial review is to make sure it does not have anything inciteful or pornographic, before anyone can see it. We wouldn’t want a recipe for making a bomb, for example.
At the next level, we have subject matter experts review it, a teacher or one of our internal curriculum people. We are in partnership discussions with the National Association for Retired Teachers for them to become reviewers. As people retire, they still want to remain active. If you have subject matter expertise, becoming a Curriki reviewer will be an option on the AARP web site.
Moving forward, some materials will be research reviewed by a department of education or university. These will be labeled as premium content.
MW: How are you working with other open educational resources?
BK: No one knows what’s going to happen with open source in education. Will there be multiple sources? Will one be dominant, like a Google in Search or a Microsoft in desktop operating systems? It will take a lot of money and a lot of persistance for someone to become the Google of open source education.
Most funding is short term. What is MIT going to do when their Hewlett Foundation grant expires? How are they going to make OpenCoursWare sustainable? The organizations that can figure out the sustainability question will be successful.
Maybe the open source publishers will join together in an umbrella organization. Instead of each one raising $4 million, the central organization will raise the funds. Just like Pearson has many divisions.
I come from Venture Capital. I’m used to working with and collaborating with different publishers. We are going to work with the other providers. We are talking to many of the projects funded by the Hewlett foundation, although they are really in higher education. We are working with eduCommons in Utah. We are doing joint research with four different projects in Africa.
We are going to work with different people.
MW: So, what happens if a teacher wants to pull something from Curriki, something from some other source, and, maybe something from a for-profit publisher into a lesson?
BK: We don’t know yet. That’s one of the areas we are trying to find common ground and standards. We’re working on that. At this point, you can publish your content on Curriki, and then you can also publish it on X. A teacher could have multiple points to access it. That’s not the long term solution, though.
MW: Do you have capabilities for collaboration, on building content or for students?
BK: We know teachers want to share information. This is not just school curriculum, this is social networking.
For development, you can take materials that someone created and you can build derivatives or you can build collections. You can create a work group to work on your content. You can mark sections closed once they are approved.
We’re adding tools to help people build content. We have templates for lesson plans, textbooks, activities, assessments, and courses.
We will eventually add tools for students to collaborate, but we first need a critical mass of content.
MW: Do you have anything you want to close with?
BK: As Scott McNealy points out; there are 100 million kids that do not have access to primary educational materials. We want to change that. We want to help kids learn as much as they can as fast as they can. This is a transformative idea and it will happen quickly.
Where we’ll be
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be busy at a few conferences. Please let us know if you are going to be there also. We hope to see you.
March 26 to 28: IIR’s Education Industry Investment Forum. This conference is designed for those who want to invest in K12 or Higher Ed companies, and for education companies interested in meeting investors. We are giving a pre-conference workshop on the 26th on Developing Outside Investments to Help Drive Growth. We understand that if you use the code XU2253MW you will receive a 15% discount.
March 28 to 30: CoSN’s K12 School Networking Conference, in San Francisco. This conference is for K12 Tech coordinators at the district, state, and federal levels. You’ll hear how different school system use tech to solve problems and overcome the problems that tech creates.
April 15 to 17: SIIA’s Ed Tech Industry Summit, in San Francisco. This show offers how-to sessions and great networking for Ed Tech publishers.
On a personal note
Since this blog is on learning, here are three things I learned recently.
When your wife asks you how you like something she bought for the house (like drapes, or sheets, or whatever) the correct response is, “I really like them, they’re great.” This first one I actually knew; what I messed up on is part 2.
When you answer the question, you first need to look at whatever it was that was bought. Without looking at the item, even the correct answer is wrong.
This is just peripherally related to the first two. If you have a guest bedroom, it’s a good idea to make sure that the bed is comfortable.