Fantastic & Free First Fridays: Skills Commons

Happy March!! Spring is in the air...sort of. 'Tis the season when we are teased by spring-like weather one day and then get slapped in the face with a snowstorm the next. Or, when some regions of the country today are getting hit by my favorite new term of the past year, a bombogenisis. (Sorry, New Englanders...hold tight!) Here in Chicago, there is still a large subset of the population that for some reason believes we are supposed to be getting 80-degree days on a regular basis in March because of that one time six years ago we had unseasonably summer-like weather over St. Patrick's Day weekend, then find themselves shocked when they see snow in the current 10-day forecast. (Sorry, hold tight, too!)

Soon, people. Soon. 

Needless to say, March weather for those of us in the northern parts of the country can be pretty tumultuous. The same could be said for the adult education system at this time of year as well, where now is the time local providers need to begin submitting their Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act RFP proposals for the 2018-19 federal calendar year. 

We are currently in what technically is the first year in which WIOA was implemented at the local level. With this new legislation, states and localities had to ensure adult education providers were including sufficient services in the newly required areas of career pathways and integrated education and training. What this means on the ground level is still a bit vague; however, according to WIOA language, Integrated Education and Training is defined as:
“…a service approach that provides adult education and literacy activities concurrently and contextually with workforce preparation activities and workforce training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster for the purpose of educational and career advancement.”
Despite the legislation's good intentions, this all is far easier said than done. And, beyond the relationships and programmatic coordination that needs to be built amongst various entities administered under the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, there stands the additional questions of: "What the heck are we supposed to teach?" and "Where do we find resources that will help us teach that?"

Fortunately, between the years of 2011 and 2014, the Department of Labor issued a series of grants called the the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant program. (Given this really rolls off the tongue, it is more commonly referred to as the "TAACCCT grant.") This nearly $2 billion grant series was designed to inspire community college consortia to develop training programs that align to high-growth industries within regions and bridge adult learners toward post-secondary education and training programs and locally recognized credentials that result in family-sustaining jobs. The best part? As a requirement of this grant initiative, the curriculum and training materials developed by grant awardees needed to be made freely available to others by way of being offered as "open source" through Creative Commons licensing. 

Over the course of the initiative, it became clear that something needed to be done to house and organize the curricular materials that were being developed as part of TAACCCT. The result? A great repository of resources housed in the aptly named site—and this month's F^4 resource of the month—Skills Commons

As adult educators work to figure out how to infuse more integrated education and training into their programming, Skills Commons is a great resource for finding materials. The commons is chock full of strong resources that have been developed in partnership with industry and employers and reviewed by subject matter experts. (See their stat sheet.)
Interactive filtering tools, resource
 "Showcases," and the ability to browse by industry,
credential, and career make exploring content within
Skills Commons relatively user friendly.

Like any other repositories of content, there are definitely challenges to sifting through loads of resources to find things that might be relevant to a particular instructor or training program. However, I really love the ways in which content is organized within the commons, which makes filtering down to particular resources a much more enjoyable exploration activity than other such repositories. In particular, Skills Commons allows for users to browse "showcases" that feature projects within a number of different categories, including model examples of how resources developed by one source have been taken, remixed, and redistributed by another source (the true spirit of OER!). Drill-down filters also exist in relation to industry, credential, and career, helping to narrow down one's search for materials based on their program's area of focus. 

Skills Commons also has excellent tracking tools that help users get a snapshot of what types of resources are commonly being used, which resources are most commonly viewed, and which resources and projects are most commonly downloaded. Such statistics provide insights to users as to which resources might be the most readily usable within the repository. 

Here are some particularly great resources that I have found based on some light browsing of the commons: 
  • Basic Computer Skills MOOC | This fully ready-to-use curriculum contains an incredibly comprehensive set of lessons around various computer skills, from basic understanding of computing devices to using email, the internet, and social media. It is also a featured project within Skills Commons' "reuse" showcase." Originally developed by Northcentral Technical College, the course was reused by Northwest State Community College, and the link I've provided here leads you to the version housed by Wisconsin Technical Colleges. 
  • Mechanical Systems Course | Found within the Manufacturing Open Courseware directory of the Open Course Showcase, this expansive text-based course includes modules on manufacturing processes, electrical systems, industrial robots, high-tech manufacturing, and mechatroics. The Open Course Showcase itself has courses in the industries of health care, manufacturing, IT, business management & administration, human resources, energy, and public administration.
  • Developmental Education Courseware | Tucked within the aforementioned Open Course Showcase is a set of developmental education courseware in the areas of Writing, Pre-algebra, Algebra 1, Basic Academic Skills, an Introduction to Distance Education, and Computer Basics.
At a time when adult education providers need to increase the alignment of their curriculum to workforce and career-related contexts, Skills Commons is a great resource for finding content they previously have not had to consider and for which, in many cases, providers don't necessarily know where to even go to find. Because nearly all of the materials are licensed under Creative Commons, content can be reused and remixed to be more tailored to the specifics of individual programs. 

At CrowdED Learning, we are committed to supporting adult educators and learners in finding the best open and freely available resources out there. In the world of WIOA, where adult education providers are now being stretched to provide learning opportunities that align to industries and careers that help learners gain self-reliance and economic mobility, we understand it's difficult to know where to begin in regard to curriculum. That's why it's extremely heartening to see the availability of resources such as Skills Commons that make it easier for instructors to find ready-to-use resources that support the new requirements they must meet.

Go ahead and check out Skills Commons today. Find a particularly interesting resource? Please let us know about it!

Want to join the crowd and be part of the solution? 

Please check out www.crowdedlearning.orgThere, you can learn more and sign up to volunteer your expertise, stay in touch, or make content recommendations. We look forward to hearing from you!