Teacher Voice: How A Tennessee School District Went Open Source

March 11, 2015 | admin

Dr. Dan Lawson is currently the superintendent of schools in Tullahoma, Tennessee and has served in that position for the past eighteen years. The Tullahoma District has begun a digital migration to an open educational resource environment and leads Tennessee and the southeast in those efforts.

Each spring and summer nearly every board of education in our state hears the same refrain:  It is going to be a tight budget.  And they are right. Challenges notwithstanding, we have begun the process of implementing new and relevant curricular materials to meet the needs of our students and teachers. We believe that we are on the way to accomplishing this challenge by re-tasking the dollars that we already spend to assist us in accomplishing the goals of a rigorous and relevant curriculum aligned with standards and sufficient technology and proficiency with technology to assure that we are able to assess content online.

Our schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in our small district to acquire textbooks.  We adopt and purchase those textbooks on a six-year cycle so the idea of “current” is naive at best.  Our textbook purchase usually includes the acquisition of some titles that cost over $100 each. This model leads to excessive expenditures to acquire outdated materials. We had trouble finding a better option until we researched and began our utilization of open source materials. Open source assumes obsolesce and provides both a model and expectation to update educational materials. We understand the challenges associated with the digital revolution in which we are involved. However, these digital devices can serve as the conduit to some amazing resources freely available and aligned with standards.

Where did we start?  We started with a belief that we had to build a highway before we bought a car. After the network infrastructure was in place, we began our “open source” migration with the utilization of online digital products that have taken the place of many licensed software programs in our schools.

In the K-12 community the pioneering force in the “open source” movement is the CK-12 Foundation whose mission is “…dedicated to increasing access to high quality educational, materials for K-12 students all over the world.”  As we began our process of migrating to an “open source” environment, several questions emerged that were pertinent: What device is necessary? Why would we modify?  And the cynic’s question that I almost always pose first – What is the downside?

world-historyWhat device?  Our local dialogue mirrors that of CK-12. We see advantages to many devices and are confident that so do our student and teacher users.  The CK-12 platform is not platform specific. In our implementation we have supported the program by upgrading our network infrastructure and security to allow for a comprehensive bring your own device (BYOD) initiative.

Why would we need to modify our materials? The materials on the devices were all downloaded from CK-12 and all delivered on different devices.   Furthermore, each “book” presented was customized with more recent updates or local references.  As we consider the issue of local reference, we are drawn to the discussion of making our curriculum more “rigorous and relevant.”  The dialogue of relevance seems to be excessively focused on the relevance to a standardized test or a specific related outcome.  We believe that one of the most powerful components of a locally “relevant” curriculum is the fact that we include names, places and events of local importance from people and places that our students know. Another example: within hours of the rover landing, we updated our seventh grade science “FlexBook” and presented new materials to our board of mayor and aldermen.  In addition to video information provided by NASA and added media providers, we included reference to the parachutes involved in slowing the descent of the rover.  While many communities may have little reason to care about something like a parachute on Mars, we knew that the unit and almost everything that flies or goes into space is tested in Tullahoma. Curiosity immediately was brought to the forefront of our students’ interest based on the connection between them, Arnold Engineering Development Complex and Mars. Make no mistake; this is powerful stuff and a real object lesson in how we can accomplish curricular relevance in all of our communities.

geometry- fbThe downsides?  Truly as we continue our transition, the single biggest downside we have found is that notion that we have never done business this way before.  But we have. Our best integrated resources provided with student interests to make the learning real, relevant and applicable to where they live, and those that they know. Another downside is that many want to dialogue about the device.  We intentionally are device agnostic. Our focus is on function.  Certainly, as we continue our transition to a 1-1 environment, we know that our platform will become standardized. But as we standardize, we will do so to meet our needs and expectations.

Our transition to an “open source” environment, and specifically to the CK-12 platform was not an instant fix or a “silver bullet.”  Instead, we considered this effective transition to an “open source” environment as one that allows us the ability to re-task limited funds to provide our students with relevant and timely curricular materials aligned with our standards. Our work is well underway and we have positively impacted our community, our students and our teachers in the effort. As our resources are stretched, we will continue to look for avenues to best serve our students and communities and we are confident that a greater utilization of “open source” resources and CK-12 will be integral to execute our vision.



  1. Dan Lawson

    Certainly we welcome assistance and would love to know what others are doing in similar work. We know that there is an abundance of people developing high quality materials and we would love to share our work and access the work of others!